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D-day: let us remember and give thanks

D-day: let us remember and give thanks

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Seventy years ago today the largest seaborne invasion in history took place. The Normandy landings, or D-Day, was a massive and daring military operation which undoubtedly contributed to the eventual triumph of the Allied forces but which saw thousands of troops pay the ultimate price.

Today is therefore, primarily, a day of celebration and thanksgiving: we celebrate the precious freedom we take for granted and the immense bravery, selflessness and sense of duty of the almost one million troops from thirty-nine Allied divisions who participated in the Battle of Normandy. And we give thanks not only to those in the Armed Forces but to the millions of other men and women in the Allied countries involved in the preparations for D-Day.

The veterans are inevitably dwindling in numbers - the youngest amongst them are now well into their 80s - and as such this is likely to be the last significant anniversary the vast majority will witness which makes it all the more special and poignant.

Three years ago I visited the sites of the Normandy landings. As I walked along the beaches, the sun beating down upon my back, the waves crashing softly on the rocks it was nigh on impossible to imagine the horrific and hellish scenes that had occurred at this very spot almost 70 years previous. Were it not for the massive concrete dugouts and the stone tributes I could have been standing on just another pretty beach anywhere in the world.

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 The starkest and darkest of contrasts.

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Bob Sales was only 18 at the time of the Normandy landings (having lied about his age) and recalls: "It was hell, I'll tell you. Men were dead everywhere. It was terrible."

"All I remember is mayhem", said George Allen who was a first lieutenant with a 1st infantry Division, "Bodies floating in the water, busted equipment. We lost a lot of good men that day."

Another veteran, 88-year-old Harry Billinge said: "It was a killing field."

More than 9000 Allied troops were killed or wounded on that first fateful and bloody day and at the conclusion of the Normandy campaign some eight weeks later those figures soared: over 200,000 casualties and fatalities.

The loss of life was not in vain, however. The Normandy invasion was a pivotal turning point in the war, the beginning of the end and the following spring, on May 8, 1945, the Allies formally accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany.  

Thus from the darkness, devastation and selfless sacrifice the bright lights of peace and freedom emerged. Without freedom and the right to act according to the dictates of our own conscience we are nothing. So to those who fought and died to ensure we have that most basic of human rights we owe everything. 

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 Photo by Brandon Beach, 21st Theater Sustainment Command Public Affairs

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17 Comments

  1. Like today’s effort GW…..

  2. My Uncle Ray was one of the chaps who was on the beaches at Dunkirk – he will be 94 this coming Sunday.

    Dad has a cousin who was killed a couple of days after D-Day and his war grave is in the cemetery at Ranville in Normandy. I took my parents there about seven years ago……we are the only family who have visited his resting place. I went back a couple of years later too.

    I have been to many of the war cemeteries around Normandy and the French/Belgian border, plus the beaches, the Menin Gate in Ypres. Everything is so beautifully kept and the local schools are assigned a particular graveyard to look after. When I went to Tyne Cot cemetery (that massive one that the BBC go to for Remembrance Sunday) I looked at all the graves (many have more than one name on a stone) and tried to visualise each stone being replaced by a person………that brought it home to me just how many people were represented in that one place alone.

    I found out a few years back that my maternal grandfather had been in the trenches in Belgium. Don’t know why it took so long to for that to be revealed! It came about when I went to the trenches and took photos.

    My lovely Uncle Ray lives in an old folks home now and over the past few years has declined in health but he still has his RAF jacket and hat in his wardrobe form all those years ago. Looking forward to seeing him when I am in the north in just over a week.

  3. A very fitting tribute GW thank you!!!!!

  4. Well said Ceri. Lovely tribute xxx

  5. A wonderful piece today, brought a tear to my eye. You just cannot imagine it. X

  6. Lovely words Ceri. We visited Vimy Ridge and the tunnels at Arras a few years ago, it was incredibly moving.

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