I sat down with Mr B this morning to watch the D Day commemorations from Portsmouth.
It’s not often
I spend time in front of the television of a morning - Mr B would like me to do it far more often as he says watching TV in company is much more fun than watching alone. I must state, here and now, that I am not making derogatory comments about daytime television
in general as so many people like to do. I happen to think that many of the truly excellent programmes televised during the day - think The Repair Shop for one - would more than hold their own with some of the less-than-scintillating evening fare. No, my problem
is that I am ever aware that my dear Mum would frown if I succumbed to what might pass as laziness, quoting that saying about the devil finding mischief for idle hands to do.
Not that we had a TV until I was ten years old. We never, as a family, watched the Queen’s Coronation on a pocket handkerchief-sized telly; my memories of that historic occasion, back in June 1953, was that Mr Bellamy, Chairman of the Governors,
came to school and gave us all a mind-blowingly boring book called “Royalty in Essex.” More impressive was the model of the Coronation procession, complete with gold coach and horses, that paraded across the windowsill in my classroom.
At least I have some memories, albeit childish ones, of the Coronation. The events of D Day happened exactly - to the day - three years before I was born. I didn’t
realise until I was almost grown-up, just how soon I had been born after the War, and how much the proximity to the War years influenced my childhood. My father’s determination to build a brave new world for his family; my mother’s insistence on
saving every scrap of food left over from our meals and neatly cutting sheets of horrid scratchy toilet paper in half before use.
I am, as regular readers know,
far too sentimental for my own good. Granddaughters Katie and Eleanor still like to remind me that I am the only person ever known to shed tears during a film called “Hotel For Dogs” and as for the end of International Velvet: “You never
got to keep your medal....” Oh, for heaven’s sake, I’m not welling up again, am I!?
Yet I make no apologies for my unbidden tears this morning
watching those D Day heroes proudly but modestly accepting the applause of an audience led by Her Maj and The Donald. To mention but two.
More than anything
it was the true life stories of ordinary men and women that moved me most, the letters and diary entries read by a cast that numbered the President of France and the Prime Ministers of Britain and Canada. Captain Norman Skinner of the Royal Army Service Corps,
tried to set down on paper all the things he had wanted to say to his wife, Gladys, had he been able to get home before he was sent into action. The letter, read by Theresa May, was moving enough but then, up on the massive screen behind her we could read
and hear the words of the telegram Gladys received to inform her that her husband was among those fatally injured. He died with his loving letter still in his pocket.
I’m not a military historian but I have found myself involved in two major research projects in the years since I retired - the Great War Project and Military Voices. I had to work hard to learn about the battles, military strategy, the language
of war. Listening to the voices of those who served, however, researching their lives, writing their case studies was the greatest privilege and a most humbling experience. At least two of the people I interviewed - the inspiring Vera Bartram who worked at
Bletchley Park and down to earth Albert Markwick who served in Burma - have died since. The youngest of the D Day veterans participating in today’s and tomorrow’s commemorations is ninety-one, the oldest 101. Soon, inevitably, the curtains will
be drawn on yesterday’s battles unless we find ways to keep alive the memories of those who served.
My hands may have been idle this morning but I am very
glad I sat, watched and wondered at the bravery of ordinary - nay, extraordinary - men and women.