Lest we forget

There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood leads on to greatness

This morning I watched my 18 year old neighbour head off for the school where he’s just finishing his A level exams. When he’s completed them, he has three months of partying, travelling and a bit of part-time working before he goes to university.

70 years ago he – or those not much older than he anyway – would have been in a boat in the English Channel, laden down with heavy equipment and surrounded by comrades in arms, all of whom were probably as terrified as he.

70 years ago today, it was, to paraphrase a better writer than me ‘ the beginning of the end’. At breakfast this morning I was trying to explain to my seven year olds the significance of what we were listening to on the radio, finding it hard to do so without tears. They didn’t really get it. Thank God, they have no concept of what it really means nor of the huge price paid by thousands upon thousands upon of men, women and children.

Watching the remembrance service and the commemoration programmes on the TV today has meant that I have spent the entire day not exactly dry-eyed. Some of the stories the veterans have told are amazing, awe-inspiring, humbling.

You watch films like The Longest Day (which should be in the National Curriculum, in my opinion) or even the first part of Saving Private Ryan and think that it’s all been exaggerated for the movies. It hasn’t. The thought of thousands of soldiers coming off the landing crafts watching those going before them being mown down and yet still they carried on send shivers down my spine.

Take a look round your office – how many of the chaps you work with would, 70 years ago, have been fighting in France – and how few of them would have come back?

The weather today has been glorious – perfect for the commemoration. 70 years ago it was very different. It was so bad, so foggy that Field Marshall Rommel went off to celebrate his wife’s birthday on the grounds that no-one could be stupid enough to invade in that weather. But they did. They had to because the tides wouldn’t have been right for another fortnight. Another fortnight of German intelligence gathering could have meant a very different outcome. At the very least, giving the German forces more time to prepare for the invasion that they knew was coming, sometime, somewhere, could have prolonged the war, pushing victory back further into 1945.

I love the story on the news today of the 88year old veteran who was reported missing from the nursing home who couldn’t get him on an official trip to France for the ceremony. Guess where the police found him? Yup. France. He snuck out wearing his medals underneath his old raincoat. Bernard Jordan, former mayor of Hove, you are quite something.

The veterans who gathered in Bayeux for the ceremony today don’t think of themselves as heroes. They think of themselves as people who just did what they had to do. The heroes, so many of them said today, are the ones whose graves lie all over northern France. The heroes are the ones who didn’t come back.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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