For All the Men and Women Who Serve
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.
11/9/2013 12:03:46 am
I do hope we never ever forget to sacrifices and courage men took to keep us free and give us peace. I am sorry for the hurts and pain caused. My dad didn't join in WWII because he was farming in Saskatchewan and they wanted farmers to stay home to grow the crops. But I had an Uncle and cousins who served. I am amazed today at their strenght. And often wonder how many would have been hiding their scars. My tears are with you.
11/9/2013 09:29:27 am
This blog really touched me, Maggie. My Dad was at Dunkirk too, and I think the experience changed him forever. Did I ever tell you that a few years ago a friend accompanied me to France and we walked the beach, from La Panne in Belgium to the memorial at Dunkirk. I even managed to meet someone who, as an eleven year-old boy, had known my Dad. One of the most special few days of my life. If you ever fancy going to Dunkirk some day to do something similar, I would be more than happy to accompany you!
11/9/2013 11:31:53 am
I would love to. After the war my grandfather had a very distant relationship with his family so in many ways we lost him. Visiting a place like Dunkirk that had such a profound effect on him would be like finding a small piece of him again.
11/9/2013 02:34:33 pm
If you have his service number, you can find out what unit he belonged to and then check if there's a war diary at The National Archives in London. That would tell you where he was stationed how he actually got to Dunkirk.
11/12/2013 04:37:15 am
Thanks Diana, I'm going to check into that.
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