“We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” These words from Winston Churchill will be forever engraved upon the headstone of a former Great Britain whose origins were born out of grit, determination and courage.
Occasionally these three characteristics combine and in an act of unity change the course of history forever. On June 6th 1944, at the height of the Second World War, the fate of the Allied forces took a huge step towards victory; the start of the D-Day landings shaped history as we know it. Operation Overlord – the allied invasion of Normandy – is the largest seaborne invasion in history and resulted in the suppression of German-occupied Western Europe and subsequently led to victory for the Allied forces.
June 6th 2014 marked the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings and with it brought the opportunity to thank, salute and honour all those who fell, and all those with whom the history lives on. The D-Day veterans symbolise everything we should aspire to be in life – courageous, determined, brave and proud. As the Queen paid homage to all those who fought in the invasion at the British military cemetery in Bayeux, and spoke of their “incredible sacrifice”, the waves that now so peacefully crash upon the beaches of Normandy helped wash away the tears of those who never fail to forget the fallen.
Before the service there were individual acts of remembrance of which the sole purpose was to commemorate the detriment and valour of those who never returned home; many of whom were as young as 16. Peter Smoothy, 89, said “coming here, to this place, it always affects me straight away. My mind is always on those who didn’t come home”. Like many of his fellow veterans and former comrades he need not have said a word; the burgeoning tears and red eyes amongst the crowd ran like a river of homage, meandering through the hearts of those who can only imagine the horror these men witnessed on a day heroism shone through.
This heroism means that now, where once 156000 men were delivered into chaos, destruction and a barrage of gunfire, family’s holiday and children play. In the words of Bill Clinton these are the “children of their sacrifice”. Hindsight is a wonderful consequence of every success and failure but it really isn’t worth contemplating the shape of Europe had the Allied forces’ fate been different. It is an event that will never be forgotten. French President Francois Hollande reminded us all that “the 6th of June is not a day like others, it is not just the longest day or a day to remember the dead but a day for the living to keep the promise written with the blood of the fighters”. He added “as the sun set on that longest day a light shone on enslaved Europe”; that light will remain bright for generations to come.
In 1940 Winston Churchill paraded the efforts of Britain’s Air Force during the Battle of Britain by declaring “never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”. Little did he know that 4 years later his words would run parallel with the efforts of all those involved in the Normandy invasion. On the final time these veterans will visit the site of arguably one of the greatest war achievements in history our generation should take pride in paying respect to those whose past shaped our futures. We owe our place in time to those who fell, those who lived and those who will never be forgotten. As the tranquil tides of Normandy now flow in memory, eternally etched in the beaches are the footprints of grit, determination and courage.