A Langport man, born on 10th January 1925, he would be ninety-six years old if he were still alive.
On this day in 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 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.
His wife was proud that he had been present that day. On the walls of her sitting room 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, by then an old age pensioner, in a veterans’ beret. Beside his image, mounted on red velvet, hung his medals.
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-sixth 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-six year old?
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