The 6th of June is remembered as D-Day, the day that allied forces forced a landing in Normandy that helped chande history – for the better. The media is full of D-Day. Newspapers are full of it, television replies with a barrage of interviews, film and re-enactments. This is seventy years on.
A few years ago I ment an old veteran in Dunbar. He claimed he was the oldest surviving veteran of the landings. I have no reason to disbelieve him. He told me about the celebrations of the sixtieth anniversary. He was one of a group of veterans who were taken to France to take part in the ceremonials. They were greeted by the world leaders. He recalled that the British leader responded to one of the veteran’s jokes as though he had been insulted. “No sense of humour”, the veteran concluded.
A politician would regard such a ceremony as above humour. It would be spoiled by trivia. The soldier might not agree. If they took the war too seriously they might never have survived. Dark humour helped many soldiers cope with the horrors they experienced on the beaches and beyond. It is the soldiers, after all, who are the only ones who can remember D-Day. They were there and experienced it. Those of us who were born after the war have only experienced the movies and they could not possibly convey the horrors, even if they tried.
How did soldiers cope with their experiences? The truth is many did not. Many veterans carried on with apparently normal lives after the war but nobody knew of the nightmares that blighted their lives. Some turned to the bottle. I had an uncle who had drink problems. He never spoke of the war but recently I learned he had been at Dunkirk and had fought his way from the Normandy beaches into Germany. How can we possibly understand the effects of war when we don’t know what really went on?I knew one man who flew Spitfires over France. His family didn’t see any significance in that. They knew little of what he did or saw.
The heroes of the European war were ordinary men. They went back to their ordinary jobs after the war and nobody really knew what it was like. They carried the effects into those ordinary lives and that has shaped our society in a subtle way. Some went into politics and had gained the wisdom to avoid wars where possible. Today we have politicians who only experienced war through the eyes of Hollywood. Is that why we have marched into so many conflicts in this new century?
If we want to remember wars then let it be a memory of the evil that is war and try to avoid it. The pomp and celebrations are all a bit late now. Let’s hope there are no plans for 2024.