This morning at Seaview there was a D-Day 70th Anniversary of Rememberance and Thanksgiving. Looking out across the Solent with the water sparkling in bright sunlight, I thought how wonderful it is to live is a peaceful and happy country. People in Britain think about the past, and care about the future. Because I did a great deal of research for my book which is about the D-Day rehearsals in Devon, I have spoken to many who remember themselves, or rememember their parents discussing what life was like in wartime Britain. They revere the men and woman who fought so hard, and take pride in their country’s bravery and sacrifice. The BBC caught the mood well on Friday evening: D-Day 70 Years On Radio 2 Concert at the Albert Hall shown in cinemas and available on line – well worth finding on your Iplayer.
In April of 1944 there were rehearsals for D-Day on Slapton Sands. You might like to read an extract of:
THE KID ON SLAPTON BEACH
Published by Wight Diamond Press
War is hard enough when your Dad is missing action, and even harder leaving home and not knowing where you will go. Twelve year old Harry is one of three thousand people ordered to leave the Devon coast. Though the locals don’t know it, their beach will be used for secret full-scale D-Day rehearsals. In the Slapton churchyard, Harry and his GI friend Mike discuss dying as Mike piles sandbags up the belfry wall to protect the ancient stained glass window.
‘Off then, Harry?’ Mike asked cheerfully.
Harry shrugged. Over in the graveyard he could see two GIs helping the farm worker lower old Abraham Thorn’s coffin into the ground. ‘Will you play killing games? When’s the invasion?’
Mike balanced the sandbag he was holding against the belfry wall. ‘Look, I might not see you again, Harry Beere.’
Harry pushed his hands deeper into the rubber bands and rubbish in his pockets. ‘No one ever answers anything.’
Over in the grave yard the farm worker took up his shovel. A first shower of earth went back into the grave.
‘Look kid, you don’t want to worry about all this. That old guy was… old.’
‘I’m not talking about him. It’s my Daddy. He’s missing in Italy.’
‘That’s what Mum says. What if he comes home and we’re not here?’
Two rooks began to circle the tall church spire.
‘He’ll find you.’
‘What happens to dead soldiers? Are they buried?’
Mike took the sandbag’s full weight back and heaved it up and onto the heap. ‘Yes.’
Mike dusted sand off his sleeve and frowned. ‘Got to be where they die right now. Where they fall.’ He glanced over at the graveyard himself. ‘Some corner of a foreign field.’ After a moment he reached into his pocket. ‘I sure am going miss you, Harry Beere.’
Harry shook his head at the offered gum. ‘What if no one buries them? What if no one even knows?’
Mike looked at him carefully. ‘Time takes care of it, I guess.’
‘What? Bones and stuff?’
‘Uh, huh.’ Mike opened a gum for himself, peeling the wrapping back very slowly.
‘And some soldiers never come home?’
‘That’s right.’ Mike looked up at the black rooks circling one more time. Then they dipped and flapped out across the chill blue sky to the high hill pastures. ‘But I guess they get remembered,’ he said. ‘If they don’t come home, the people who love them remember them.’
‘Is that all?’
Mike considered it. ‘Maybe that’s all any of us get, Harry,’ he said. ‘Maybe being remembered is the best sort of love.’