As we approach Remembrance Day my mind wanders back to the days of my childhood. As a sickly child I missed a lot of school and spent much of my time with my grandparents. My grandfather would sit in his favorite chair, light his pipe and share his life and wisdom.
He was regular army before the start of World War II serving in a tank regiment with the Royal Hussars, but I don’t think any of his military experience could have prepared him for Dunkirk. For those of you who don’t know Dunkirk (or Dunkerque in French) was the beachhead in Northern France where the allies were forced into
the sea by the German army.
For nine days, from May 26th until June 4th 1940, the British
navy along with an armada of small ships worked tirelessly to evacuate 338,000 men.
Although my grandfather didn’t go into details, I can picture him as a young man, his feet sinking in the fine sand as he choked on black smoke, dodging mortar shells and bullets. He would have witnessed the wounded on the beach dying, some of them his friends. Then he would have waded into the sea and waited for hours, shoulder deep, in the water hoping the small ships would pick him up and carry him away from death. Some men drowned as their uniforms became heavy with water or simply succumbed to their injuries before they could be plucked from the sea.
Churchill called the evacuation “a miracle of deliverance” because he believed they would be lucky to save 50,000 and had prepared the country for the loss of many of its young men. And so the final number of those saved could only be seen as a miracle.
When I asked my grandfather about his experiences at Dunkirk he would only say that he lost a lot of friends, men he missed until the day he died.
Both my grandfathers fought and served in the British army, my paternal grandfather in the WWI and my maternal grandfather in WWII. Both men volunteered. This is surprising given that they were both Irish but I’m sure they had their reasons.
I’m proud to say that both were decorated and were lucky enough to return home to their families once their service was completed. Men of that period came home with no thought to their emotional injuries, there was no such thing as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Both were irreparably damaged by their experiences. How could anyone not be changed by the horrors of war? Unfortunately the cost of their sacrifice affected not only themselves but their wives and children too.
This leads me to an article I recently read on Johnny Jet’s blog where he describes his emotional experience of travelling from Atlanta to L.A. on a plane that was also transporting a fallen soldier.
As I read my eyes began to tear, I was touched not just by the sacrifice the soldier and his family had made for us, but also by the
respect shown to him. We send our men and women to fight for us, and protect our way of life. It is only right that we show them our support not just when they fall but when they need a helping hand.
If you do nothing else this Remembrance Day please buy a poppy and support our veterans.