Friday, 5 June 2009

Turn! Turn! Turn!

Sixty-five years ago tomorrow, the invasion of Europe began with the D-Day landings. Despite what is so often depicted in Hollywood movies, in total 75,215 British and Canadian troops and 57,500 US troops were landed by sea on the infamous beaches of Normandy on 6th June 1944.

I am sure most of you will know of the disgraceful actions of the French Government when it was confirmed that only the heads of state of France and America would be marking D-Day on the beaches where it all took place. No other heads of state were invited, including the head of state of Britain and Canada who, of course, is the same person and was actually in uniform herself during the war years. As far as I am aware, this decision has not been overturned.

Today, however, in a little corner of Britain an event occurred that made those watching cheer and clap with good old-fashioned English joyfulness and Jon, Graham and I went along to join in the excitement.

We were not quite up with the lark, but - for Jon at least - 6.00 am is as near as dammit for the CFZ. Appledore Book Festival had commissioned the construction of a panjandrum (a more detailed explanation of which you will find written by Graham elsewhere in today’s blog postings) to mark the 65th anniversary of the landings, and our destination on this bright summer morning was the beach at Westward Ho! This was the beach where the prototypes were tested, rather unsuccessfully, back in 1943. Our friend Jim Jackson had come up with the idea of the panjandrum and had invited us along to the event. Although we knew it would only be around two-thirds of the size of the originals, I am not sure that any of us really knew what to expect, and we would not have missed this for anything.

For Health and Safety reasons all the spectators had to remain on the pebble ridge. Climbing up on to that from the beach was an exercise of courage on my part I can tell you. I am not as spritely as I used to be and planning my route across large, slippery pebbles was not as easy as it was the last time I visited Westward Ho! back in the 70s.

With 5 minutes to go the Union Jack was unfurled to flutter in the faint breeze that came off the sea and then came the countdown, and three blows on the whistle. The Union Jack was waved with gusto to signal the off and it was ‘chocks away’. Off with a bang went the panjandrum, down its ramp as it began its explosive way down the beach. It was like watching a giant Catherine Wheel on Guy Fawkes Night. I am not sure how far they expected it to go, but it made its way slowly across the soggy sand, coming to a halt around 20 seconds later. It didn’t fall over and it didn’t veer off course – in fact it behaved itself perfectly.

There were no heads of state to witness this little episode of British commemoration – just a small crowd of onlookers. And yes, there was only the Union Jack flying, but it was done in true British style to pay our respects to ALL those who landed on those beaches on 6th June 1944 and participated in D-Day and the Battle of Normandy, in all the different armed services: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

“Ainsi les Pr├ęsidents Sarkozy et Obama, mettent cela dans des vos pipes respectives et le fument”. Or as we would say over here in good old Blighty, “So Presidents Sarkozy and Obama, put that in your respective pipes and smoke it.”
Lest We Forget*

* ‘Recessional’(1897) - Rudyard Kipling who attended the United Services College, Westward Ho! from January 1878 until 1882

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