Saturday, June 05, 2004

The Eve of Invasion

It's the 5th June 2004. Sixty years ago, it was the day before the Allied forces landed in Normandy on D-Day at the start of the reconquest of Europe.

Today was a glorious warm, occasionally sunny, day. We passed the morning pottering about the garden, pruning and shredding, doing normal domestic things. England played New Zealand in the 2nd Test at Headingley.

Over a sunny lunch in the garden, I sat and read to Judith and Tom from the reminiscences of veterans of D-Day, published in Time magazine. Later in the day, after barbecuing burgers and chicken for Tom and I, I read letters from soldiers and seaman caught up in D-Day from all the Allied forces, letters written in the days and weeks after the event. Heart-rending letters home from people who would be dead within hours. Jolly, stiff-upper-lip letters from junior officers to their chums, written in quiet moments in the orchards of Normandy. Poignant, fear-ridden letters to Mums and Dads from young men who had seen things no-one should ever have to see.

I read the recollections of a 22 year old German soldier who, through fate alone, found himself manning the main machine gun in the bunker above Omaha Beach, and who is "credited" with the deaths of more than 2,000 young Americans before they reached the high tide mark. I read the rationalisations he has used to console himself and deal with the guilt he has felt through all the intervening years - "it was them or me, what else could I do?".

And here we sit, 60 years later, enjoying the peace both sides paid for so dearly. Enjoying the sunshine thousands of them saw for the last time 60 years ago tomorrow.

Shortly, we will be voting in a European Parliamentary election. Various political parties, not least UKIP, are urging us effectively to vote to leave the European Union. I only hope that sufficient people pause to reflect during the anniversary tomorrow, and recall why we entered into this union. Our fathers created it to ensure,once and for all, that no more young men need die fighting against any nation's tyranny. Whatever the loss of freedom we endure from sharing power with our European neighbours, surely to God those losses are insignificant if they avoid anyone ever having to make the ultimate sacrifice in such huge and wasteful numbers again?


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