It would have been his birthday tomorrow. Born on 10th January 1925, he would have been ninety-three years old. On 6th June 1944, he was nineteen years old. A member of the Fourth Battalion of the Royal Dragoon Guards, the tank in which he was a member of the crew was bound for Gold Beach on the Normandy coast as part of the Allied landings on D-Day. Tank landing craft were precarious vessels, seaworthy for only the briefest of voyages. As the landing craft and in which he was travelling approached the beach, it began to sink, hit by enemy fire, or just swamped by the waves, it would quickly become a deadly place to be. The young trooper was grabbed by the tank commander and physically pulled through the hatch, without such assistance he would have joined the list of those who died that day.
Looking at the photographs on the wall of his house, the pride his wife felt at him being present that day was evident. There were pictures from army days, and many pictures of subsequent reunions. A French souvenir of one of the anniversaries was captioned, “debarquement.” It seemed an innocuous word to use of such a moment; a word now associated with cross channel ferries seemed inadequate to express the violence and the horror of the occasion. In one frame, there was a photograph of the trooper, now a pensioner, in a veterans’ beret – beside his image, his medals had been mounted on red velvet.
Elsewhere in the room, there were all the usual family photographs, domestic and serene compared with those that evoked thoughts of D-Day. Of course, the domestic pictures were those that catalogued the bulk of his life, yet a day when he was nineteen seemed to have been the defining moment.
After the war, he was demobbed, getting work with a local builder before becoming self-employed. How hard it must have been, how hard the adjustment from moments when mere survival was a joy to the humdrum existence of workaday life.
Perhaps there would have been a whole community of understanding on the years after the war, millions had served in the armed forces and those at home and seen devastating, air raids, but with the passing years, veterans died and the collective memory faded.
Were the nineteen year old alive to celebrate his ninety-third birthday, would he have found the world attentive to his tales?Would he have found his memory valued? Would stories of the horrors he endured have been granted a hearing? Staring out from the picture frames, would the nineteen year old have recognised the ninety-three year old?