My grandparents didn’t have direct involvement in D-Day, the 70th anniversary of which we remember today. My granddad the Lancaster bomber was on leave that day (everyone needs a break!), and my grandpa’s war-time work was in radar so, while obviously important, he didn’t leave the UK. I had a great uncle who was very clever, spoke excellent German and worked in intelligence so perhaps he played a small part, I’m not sure.
But that doesn’t stop me recognising the day and what it meant.
I think how nervous and frightened many of those soldiers must have been.
They knew their cause was a just one but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t hear the sound of the guns as their boats swayed in the water.
The smell of vomit from comrades as they grappled with fear.
The longing glances at a photo of those back home – the wives, girlfriends, parents and children.
The wishing they could be with them instead. The wondering if they ever would be again.
But courage does not mean you are never scared. It means you are able to put that fear aside.
It’s oh so easy for me to say now.
I live in a time where the word “hero” or “legend” is used for anyone who wears a uniform, regardless of what they do. Or for people who step in and help someone else – something that should simply be described as “being a decent person”. Or, shamefully, for young men who kick a ball around a field, earning millions from it and behaving as if they have saved the world simply because they managed to kick the ball into the space between two metal posts.
Today all of those people must feel small. I feel small.
Because today, 70 years ago, bakers, butchers, teachers, students…so many thousands of different people together turned the tide of history.
It was a tide of fascism and hate, a tide of evil, a black cloud that was covering Europe and threatening to engulf the United Kingdom.
That tide must have seemed, at that time, so formidable.
But it was faced and turned by those who were willing to give so much and yet have asked for so little in return.
These days they go back to the Normandy coast year after year to remember but, having been hundreds a few years ago, they are now just a handful.
A handful of men who remember what it was to be truly courageous, to serve…and to sacrifice everything.
And, most endearingly, many do not even seem to realise why they are so special.