The Long Hard Slog That Built Decades of Peace; Veterans May Be Fading, but We Must Never Forget What They Did

The Evening Standard (London, England), June 6, 2014 | Go to article overview

The Long Hard Slog That Built Decades of Peace; Veterans May Be Fading, but We Must Never Forget What They Did


Byline: Robert Fox commentary

"NO ONE remembers the date of the Battle of Shiloh. But the day we took Fox Green beach was the sixth of June, and the wind was blowing hard out of the northwest," wrote Ernest Hemingway in one of the most powerful despatches of the Second World War. Hemingway wrote of being jammed in the landing craft, shoulder to shoulder "in the stiff, awkward, uncomfortable, lonely companionship of men going to battle".

As luck had it, Fox Green saw some of the heaviest fighting on Omaha Beach, the most contested patch of coast that day.

In all, some 150,000 Allied personnel, in British, American and Canadian armies, were to land. Some 12,000 were killed and wounded, along with 9,000 Germans. In the whole Normandy operation, some 75,000 French civilians were killed or maimed. So what are we remembering on the 70th anniversary, and who is doing the remembering, and for whom? As a chaplain said on the 70th anniversary of another epic Second World War bat-tle, at Cassino in Italy last month, remembrance is as much about those doing the remembering as the remembered themselves.

D-Day and Operation Overlord saw the beginning of the freeing of Europe from Nazi control. It was the beginning of the hard slog that would lead to the surrender of Admiral Donitz on Luneburg Heath in May 1945. From that came the settlement that has brought peace to Europe for one of the longest periods in its history. More or less, it lasts to this day.

That's why the heads of state and heads of governments, the royals, the generals, the veterans and the families of the civilians are gathering on the Normandy beaches today.

It is particularly poignant for the veterans, 650 British among them, and especially for the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. They are veterans of the war, beacons of direct experience of the conflict in the collective memory. …

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