Saturday, 6 June 2009

D-Day 65 years on...........

My dad and mum in 1941 on their engagement in March
My dad was just 22 when the war began in 1940. A young man.
He landed on Sword Beach in Normandy on 6th June 1944, and was in the battle for Normandy, also being involved at Pegasus Bridge.
He would never talk about his experiences, except they were funny little anecdotes, which we all now know so well.
The hen,Clara, taken from a farm by his army sergeant, and travelling with their unit up through France and on into Germany, laying an egg for him each day!
The description of the Mayor of Colleville- sur- Mer, wearing a big shiny fireman's helmet and running up and down on the beach waving his arms in welcome!
Dad given a jeep to drive, never having driven in his life, but not knowing how to stop it and driving it into a tree in order to do so!!
Here, in his own words of annotated text in the book he gave us to read about his Division, the description of the mayor.
" I finally hitched a lift on a Sherman (with its 105mm) on DDay, and after seeing "fireman sam" on the beach, jumping up and down, I saw an extraordinary sight, a French courting couple strolling along in the fields, oblivious to the shelling and bombing going on: not to mention the hazard of tiptoeing through the minefields!!"
But he has never been able to talk about what he saw............
I remember as if it were yesterday, when I was 16, and I was talking to him about the fact that he survived, and if he hadn't I and my sister would not have been born.
He took hold of my hand and and said he had seen things it was better not to talk about, and he had had to do things which he found so awful, that it made him cry.
He did say that he had helped to bury bodies in a concentration camp, and that memory was seared into his brain. He was 25 years old then.
Afterwards, he cried like a baby, which was quite shocking for me at the time, never having seen him cry, or a grown man cry before.
When I got married, we lived in Portsmouth for awhile and dad traced his old sergeant, who lived in Gosport. He went to see him with my mum.
I took him in the DDay museum there at Southsea, at his request, but 5 minutes inside and he was reduced to tears once again. The memories too painful.
So watching the ceremonies again today, is very moving for me. Matthew and I were planning a trip to the landing beaches for the October of 2006, but sadly we never made it. I will go to pay homage to all those who went and fought and died to stop our country from being invaded, and to help to liberate another, which I have visited many times and where I now have friends.
We should not forget them.
My dad is a veteran, but a silent one.
I finish with his words, written in the flyleaf of the history of his Assault Division
"War is obscene and brutalising, if sometimes unavoidable. The only post-war celebrations should be in the form of Rememberance Services to the many who never came back.
Smith of Rossendale May 1994. 50 years on."

Friday, 5 June 2009

More changes in our lives........

This is a picture of my dad, which I took recently, after his move to a residential home.

This inevitably is a great change in all our lives in the family, for my sister and family, my cousins, and dad's grandchildren.
At Christmas dad was quite ill and I looked after him for 4 weeks. two weeks at his home and two at ours.
He has always taken his bouts of illness in whatever form straight on the chin, no messing. He would go into hospital like it was a routine event, and then proceed to tell the doctors and nurses he was "fine"!!

I have inevitably, spent a lot of time away since Christmas, as I had to call out the ambulance in March when I was there after he had been ill again, at midnight. I did not like driving after it at 70 mph to the hospital.
I felt very alone.

And all those thoughts of emergency vehicles and ambulances which I push down in my mind when I drive on the M6 came flooding back............
Dad then had to go into repite care, and it is a lovely place, where the staff are very caring. He looks better now than he has for a long time.

Which brings me to the point of writing all this!!!
Having managed to find him this place, with the help of my cousins, and all the whirlwind of activity that went with it, I had been away from home again a total of 7 weeks since January.

I began to feel the weight of grief again...........

I felt a sense of loss as I knew that dad would not go back to the home where he had lived for over 40 years, and where my sister and I lived. I knew that all those memories would be locked away when the house, eventually, (not just yet) is sold. I will not know the familiar click of the garden gate as it shuts, the sound the front door makes as it closes, with the rattle of the brass door knocker.
The rhodhodendrons in full bloom, and dad sitting in his arm chair with the clock on the wall ticking loudly.
I will miss all those things......... well perhaps not the loud tick!

So, dad took the decision to stay at the residential home, and he is settling in and enjoying the care, but it came, to him, at an emotional cost. He has had to accept his circumstances.
I admire him for his courage.
We all do.

For me in the tiredness, my own grief, which is always there, surfaced big time. I have missed Matt so much lately, and Stephen too. When the weather is so good, and the days are long and sunny till late in the evening, I can see him in my mind's eye, walking up the garden path from the back his shorts.......enjoying the beautiful endless blue skies and warmth. One of my closest friends texts me on days like these and says "It's a Matt day today".

It reminds me of the hot summer days we had just before he died. So we go on, and it is an act of will to choose life, after such devastation. I understood, in small way this week, why the couple who jumped off Beachy Head, could not live without their son.

But I know that Matt is safe. And I know I will see him again. That is our sure and certain hope, even in the dark times which ebb and flow around us.
I finish with a picture of Matt and my dad, his grandad, at one of dad's favourite pubs. It was taken in 2002.