When you see that much death you just want to live
Next week we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings on the Beaches of Normandy, France.
I sometimes wonder how long these remembrance services will go on for. I am no cynic over these events, but as we know, in the next 10 years, and by the 100th anniversary, all of those who took part will be gone.
To my grandchildren and their children there will be little difference between remembering D-Day and the Battle of Trafalgar. It is all history so let it remain there.
People like myself, whose parents and their siblings were part of the war if they fought or not, were brought up with stirring tales which remain with us.
I can remember my late mother Mary, nee Sutton, telling me she was near South Parade Pier in June 1944 and could have walked to the Isle of Wight without getting her feet wet by stepping from vessel to vessel – there were so many in the Solent waiting to depart for the invasion.
In later years she may have been talking to her mother about someone and saying that their brother went down on some ship or other.
Her voice always went into a low, hushed tone: ‘You remember Jean Smith? Her brother went down with the Hood.’ It was always with the greatest respect and this was some 15 years after the event. I was brought up to have the same respect.
This seems to have disappeared with the third and fourth generations on from the Second World War.
Next week, please do try to find the time to remember what that generation of men, most no longer with us and many younger than 20 years of age, did to save Europe, and possibly the world, from Nazi domination.
In my time I have known several men who landed on D-Day and D+1.
They were infantrymen and Royal Marines but one man whom I knew more than the others was my father’s brother, the late Norman Hind. He was always known as Toby, though I never did find out why.
Brought up in Crofton Road, Milton, he joined the Royal Marines and at the age of 19 he was a helmsman of a landing craft in the very early hours of D-Day.
His landing craft was filled with American GIs and he pointed the ramp of the craft toward one of the most deadly of the Normandy beaches, Omaha.
I asked him about his exploits and he was quite open about what he did.
‘The Americans were just about the bravest men, or should I say boys, I have ever had the privilege of being with.
‘We arrived off the beachhead and rammed up on the sand in shallow water and the ramp was lowered.
‘Machine gun fire was extremely heavy and as they ran forward down the ramp many fell dead before reaching dry land.’
On asking what he was doing all this time, he went on: ‘Keeping my bloody head down as much as I could, not that there was anything to hide behind.
‘If you watch any documentary of the day, you can see hundreds of ships on the horizon. Let me tell you, at the time of day I landed the boys there were very few.
‘In fact, I can only remember the ship we offloaded the marines from and a couple of others.
‘Nowhere near as many as can be seen in D-Day films.’
I asked him how he coped with life after seeing so much death and destruction at close hand.
‘There is the answer in the question’ he replied. ‘When you have seen that much death you just want to live, believe me.’
That is why I will be remembering my Uncle Toby on June 6.
The photograph I published on May 15 of a mystery ship alongside HMS Vernon was seen by Derek Swetnam.
He tells me: ‘The mystery ship photograph had me stumped for a while.
‘However, although I cannot positively say which ship it was, judging from the flush decked hull, an upright funnel dead amidships (as far as I can tell) and its position relative to the bridge and the bridge itself, I am almost certain that it is an ex-24 class sloop.
‘There were 22 ships in the class built as convoy escorts 1918-19.
‘They were all named after racehorses. Four were retained as survey ships and the rest were sold off in the early 1920s.
‘The biggest single buyer was an M Mazza who purchased at least six of them and renamed them with girls names ending Mazza.
‘Looking at the area of lighter paintwork it looks as if it was either a long name or two short names. Possibly it was about to undergo a change of name.’
As I always say, there is always someone who has the knowledge.
Thank you, Derek.