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Friday, 6 June 2014

Dan on D-Day

A clear day, and an early start. And all the boats with their precious cargo heading across to Normandy. And among them, a man I used to know.

Dan never mentioned his spell in the Army. And so when I thought about it - as I occasionally did, he having lived through two world wars, after all - I presumed he'd been too young for the first and maybe too old for the second. He'd have been in Dad's Army, I assumed.

But when he died and his widow, Ede, suddenly put a picture on the sideboard - they were proper Londoners, they had to have a sideboard - and he was in uniform in the picture, well obviously that was me better educated. But still no mention of what he did.

And when Ede died, and they went through the precious things, then, and only then, did a member of the family get Dan's medals. Not from the attic - from the Ministry of Defence. He'd never bothered getting them himself. Maybe he didn't see the campaign as a celebration. They also found his discharge papers - a battered old booklet. Very little information. Place of discharge, number, but also regiment and dates, obviously.

Turned out Dan was there, on the day or - possibly - in the evening of the first day. Driving a truck behind the boys in tanks. All the way from Sword, eastward and up.

Still, no more details than that. No clue to whether he was brave, what he saw. And, in the regimental history, they found the clue to why his daughter - whom he first saw when she was a year old - always treasured a bracelet made from Dutch coins.

As I say, he never mentioned it. Not once. Never said what it was like, to be a man pushing middle age watching all those young lads go out and many - on both sides - not go home. Never mentioned the weeks getting out of Normandy, or the schlep across northern Europe - or the feelings of boredom on that return to England, a sense of freedom in the office in Northampton, and the new discovery of a home in a village near Luton - the back of beyond to a Holloway boy, with space and fields instead of the miles of bomb sites and the broken windows.

As I say, never mentioned anything about it, at least not to me. Just drove his lorries, wore his trilby, smoked his fags, drank his beer and still ate jellied eels. But I bless him with all my heart.

3 comments :

  1. None of my immediate family went to war - too old, too young (my father was still in basic traing when peace broke out), or in essential industries. So I thought I'd get lots of exciting stories when I discovered that one of my parent's friends, an immigrant from the UK, had been in London during the Blitz.

    All she'd ever say was that she just did some first aid, and if she felt a bit upset by what she saw, she just told herself it was the fake blood that Mrs. So-and-so had used in the first aid course.

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  2. My father spent WWII near Newcastle in a reserved occupation. He did however join "Churchill's Secret Army", which was comprised of similar young men who would have gone underground in the case of a German invasion and performed sabotage behind enemy lines. Officially they were part of the Home Guard, and I have his battledress top with Home Guard on the shoulders, and his sargeant stripes. Yes, my father was Sargeant Wilson of the Home Guard.

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  3. I met a man twenty-odd years ago in Bolivia. On D-Day he was 18 and a half, the youngest commander of a landing craft. All he had to get him across the Channel was a map cut out of the Daily Graphic IIRC, and he went to the wrong beach. He spent a week pinned down on Omaha Beach, with only a tin of pineapple for company.

    He put it that he went away to serve the King, and came home to serve the King of Kings.

    Rest in peace, Douglas Edmonds. I'll be eating tinned pineapple tonight.

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