In July 2010 I went on a 5 day tour with ‘Poppy Travels’, run by the British Legion.
It’s hard to come close to imagine what I was trying to imagine. Standing in the sunshine in a fairly affluent coast facing blue waters… but attempting to comprehend 150,000 troops on crafts coming over the horizon towards the beaches.
Today we visited where my Great Uncle landed on D-Day; Sword Beach. It’s crazy to think of my relative jumping off those craft amongst everything. The waves, the other boats, the sickness. Someone I’m related to, someone who helped bring up my Dad. It’s crazy to think my Granddad did this. And to think about my Dad and how he never met his father due to this war, because he was out there fighting. I miss my Grandfather, which of course sounds stupid, as I never met him, but I do. I want to tell him all about my Dad, how proud he should be of him, how proud we are of him (Grandfather) and though none of us knew him, there’s a hole where he should be.
I’ve been to a lot of horrific places, places full of mass murder, mass genocide, places where the ‘guest books’ are full of the empty phrase of ‘never again’, but at these I never cry. War cemeteries like the ones I saw today seem to invoke something else.. I was trying to work out why this was. Auschwitz, S-21/Tuol Slueng (and more whose names mean nothing to most) are so disturbing and inhumane, but I never cry at the actual sites. Perhaps it’s the hatred that makes it different. Though places like Auschwitz remain there partially to remember and honour the victims and partially (and naively) to remember the history to stop it reoccurring they are also places of mass hatred; and you can’t escape that. The Jews were there because they were Jews. Nothing more, nothing less. There was no fight for anything. No reason – just pure, brainwashed, hatred. It’s just despair.
But this? These graves of twenty-year-old men I am surrounded by? This was hope. This was for freedom. This was for me. It may have been 66 years ago, 38 years before I graced the earth with my presence, but this was for me, my family, my friends. Reading the inscriptions of brothers, fathers and sons I can’t help but let the tears rolls. Maybe it’s a way of saying thank you. Thank you for putting your life down for me. Thank you for all the horrors you endured. And I’m sorry, so sorry, that we haven’t done enough to repay you.
You compare this to what the big men (read: yoots…) fight about today. There is no fighting ‘for’. They say respect… what a joke. I’ve come to see the more people talk about respect the more likely they don’t quite grasp the meaning of the word. In short, it disgusts me.
I’ve never been overly sentimental about the military, ‘the Heroes.’ But being here, learning more about real military life, rather than armchair generals and Daily Mail speculation, or even the left wing anti-war narrative, to which I generally subscribe; to my embarrassment things seem so different and I feel so ignorant. Being stood next to two veterans, my Great Aunt Vera, whose late husband landed on D-Day, and my father whose Dad died in Belgium and is now buried in Brugge, I honestly can’t help but think of them all of heroes, nor think of anything more appropriate to call them than that.