I watched a great deal of the commemorations on the anniversary of D Day on television last week. Far more than I probably needed to and yet I was glued to it. It wasn’t the speeches that held my attention or the range of BBC journalists and presenters that were wheeled out into action. And although I found the political sideshow of a an impromptu East West summit – Obama meets Putin with Ukraine in the middle intriguing (it was like a Cold War lesson from my sixth form days) that wasn’t it either. I was glued to the stories of the Veterans, the men and women who had made the largest and most daring of amphibious attacks possible 70 years ago. Their stories and actions were inspirational and their modesty utterly humbling. These people changed the world around them and contributed positively to the world we now live in.
The determination that the Veterans showed in getting either to Normandy or to local commemorations when the youngest would have been in their late eighties was remarkable. The events in France did them justice and so it should, but now the real work begins. The big commemorative events are for the veterans a form of recognition of what they did and those that made the sacrifice. However, even back at the 60th anniversary officials and politicians talked of that being the last big commemoration. It’s unlikely there will be a big event for the 80th after all how many veterans will there be? But the passing of the Veterans cannot and should not be an end to remembering the incredible events that were D Day and the whole of Operation Overlord and the defeat of Nazi Germany.
The job now is to ensure that for generations where the Second World War is distant history the heroic deeds of those days are not forgotten. Whilst politicians and royalty might not turn up every year in Normandy it’s important that visits to the beaches and the sites continue. It doesn’t have to be on 6 June, anytime of year will do (although it’s a bit cold in winter) as long as young people from the UK go to Normandy look up and down those beaches and hear the stories of those that fought their way up them, of those that enabled the day to take place and those that continued the battle after 6th June.
Anniversaries are great for drawing attention to events of the past but it’s the act of learning and reflecting that is one of the best ways of ensuring that the Veterans deeds remain impressive after the big ceremonies have petered out. It’s the individual stories from ordinary people that need to be recalled and that was what helped to make D Day so impressive, the actions of so many ordinary people called upon to do an extraordinary thing. Go and visit Normandy stand on the beach, look at the remains of the Mulberry Harbour, visit Pegasus Bridge take in the sites and pay your respect at the cemeteries and learn about how impressive a generation of men and women really were.
Paula Kitching History Tours Development Manager