This time next month I shall be embarking a five-day pilgrimage to France as part of a small battlefield touring group scheduled to visit specific WW1 and WW2 sites.
Last summer we made a similar expedition – given my background albeit varying knowledge in such matters, surprisingly my first – to the D-Day Landing beaches and other points of interest relevant to the Normandy campaign.
As is in the nature of these things and possibly inevitable, after we returned to Blighty it was not long before the rewards of that trip, not least the group camararderie generated, prompted chat of “What are we going to do next?”, i.e. in 2019.
A consensus immediately emerged that, along with all the other things that had gone right last year, our timing had been spot on because Normandy next month (the 75th anniversary, possibly – inevitably – the last ‘major’ commemoration to feature living veterans of these momentous events) will be crawling with national leaders, VIPs, and hundreds of thousands of family descendant and other tourists.
Flights, ferries and accommodation to hire will be sold out and no doubt at exorbitant prices.
Getting about, potentially even getting close to ‘the action’ at the major events, will be nigh impossible given the crush, which (I submit to you) casts another angle upon our sports department’s ongoing debate as to whether or not “being there” beats the alternative advantages available to anyone sitting at home and watching Great Events live on television.
And thus our decision was made to stay away from Normandy this year.
Instead for the WW2 leg of our forthcoming ‘mission behind enemy lines’ our small but highly-tuned team will travelling far further south to the site of an ill-fated campaign mounted by British ‘special forces’ troops as the D-Day Landings began, designed to harass and hamper prospective Panzer divisions being diverted north to Normandy in order to strengthen German efforts to repel the Allied invaders. A feature of our expedition this time will be that among our number will be the nephew of one of those who took part – and was killed – in the campaign we are going to be covering.
These past months – like many – I have been dipping in and out of the growing snowstorm of media previews of the D-Day 75th anniversary commemorations and as I have done so one thought has struck me. It is hardly novel and yet I find myself unable to apologise for that.
This far into the 21st Century there seems to be a now-blanket fashion for looking back into history and our past – glorious or not – with an accusative and jaundiced eye through a prism of what today is considered right and proper in politically-correct terms.
In principle I’m opposed neither to the free speech factor of this actualité, nor necessarily the specific ‘perceived wrongs being denounced’ of the moment because – although I’m an oldie – I accept the inevitability that human society constantly evolves and, in general terms, quite possibly for the better.
That lodged, I don’t personally accept the notion that – as an absolute – history and historical figures should be routinely re-written and/or condemned just because they can.
For me, people are always “of their time”. This applies to the ancient pharaohs of Egypt and to Alexander The Great, Charlemagne, Henry V, Henry VIII, Sir Walter Raleigh, Louis IV of France, Napoleon, Robert Clive, Queen Victoria, Hitler … and yes, even Neil Kinnock.
Make no mistake – as night follows day, this will also apply at some stage in the future to all those who, dripping with 2019 PC-orthodoxy, have been taking all-too-easy and convenient pot shots at the likes of Cecil Rhodes, Winston Churchill and all those other great men and women around the world that lived long ago – and contributed something to the course of history – whose attitudes were inevitably forged by the world as it was presented to them in both their youth and maturity.
In the context of Britain’s current troubles and anxieties, not least in Parliament, it is easy for those of a certain age like me to hark back to the golden age of our youth (and which frankly probably was nowhere quite as golden as we remember it!) when our nation’s population, for all the extremes of its inequalities, seemed to harbour a far-greater and heart-warming sense of collective ‘togetherness’ than the black-white, never-the-twain-shall-meet (Remain-Leave) extremes with which we are beset today.
For intelligent and sophisticated Millennials, no doubt, the evidence and tales they see and hear about of how things were during WW2 are a quaint and to some extent unreal snapshot of the past: in the context of the deprivations and hardships of those times – compared to how we live today – how could they be anything but a comfortable delusion?
And yet, from my experience of talking to those who lived through WW2 – not least my aunt who as a Wren between the ages of 18 and 23 served in Allied high command headquarters through Dunkirk, the North African campaign and the Normandy landings – the ‘sense of purpose’ and togetherness of the British people during those extraordinary times was every bit as real and wonderful as is portrayed in the historical records.
It is all very well during times of peace and relative prosperity for the average individual, or society generally, to have and take the luxury of high-moral and socially-responsible attitudes to what is right and wrong.
However, when the chips are down and national survival is genuinely at stake, and when ultimate right and wrong don’t come into it, such ‘enlightened’ attitudes rarely butter any parsnips.
When it came to combative effectiveness in WW1 and WW2 the Canadians and Antipodeans – and in WW2 the Poles – were probably tougher propositions, as indeed were the Germans.
I was reminded of this when I spotted this report upon some newly-colourised photographs of those times that features today upon the website of the Daily Mail.
Just look at the faces – particularly those of kids – of the Brit civilians that appear in them – see here – WW2 PHOTOGRAPHS