It was a warm St George’s Day evening in London and the threat of rain seemed unrealistic as I zigzagged out of Bond Street tube into Oxford Street. The place was as hectic as ever with all the vibrance that makes the West End so popular. I lost count of the accents I heard and did well to dodge the rickshaws as I made my way to the Oriental Club. If the street outside represents the modern Britain, then this old institution harks back to another age.
Despite a rainbow of regimental ties all around me, I was immediately drawn to the presence of a few elderly men wearing maroon or green berets who were getting a lot of respectful attention. They are D-Day veterans. Their memories were sharp and they exhibited a laid back dignity. Airborne and Commando soldiers, you could sense their toughness and innate confidence and bearing even after all these years.
We were there for the launch of D-Day – The Last of the Liberators, a photographic essay depicting some of these amazing men in locations they had known seventy years ago. The photographer, Robin Savage gave a passionate and convincing speech before handing over to two of the veterans who told us their D-Day stories. They held the audience enthralled with vivid descriptions of the day of days. There was good natured banter between them, Airborne and Commando rivalries are keenly fought; and we all had a good laugh at the simple honesty of what they had to say. One of them recounted being treated for wounds he got on D+1 in an American hospital. An American general came round distributing Purple Hearts. Instead of a medal our man made do with a theatrical salute. The 101AB man in the next bed asked “What do they give you when you get wounded?’ Our hero smiled, he’d told his story many times. “A bollocking” he said and the audience cheered him.
The dry weather had gone, after all. Out in the unlikely but nonetheless real rain I couldn’t help but agree with Robin Savage’s point of how much we owe these men. Walking through a buzzing cosmopolitan city you can see a tangible reminder of the power of their legacy. It’s seventy years ago but the echo of the Allied victory lives on all around us, it’s just that not everyone appreciates it as such. But if it matters to you then all power to you.
Look out for the chance to win a copy of D-Day – The Last of the Liberators signed by Robin Savage and some of the men who were there on 6th of June, 1944.
Full details coming soon. As essential books go, if you are interested in the Normandy Campaign, it is a bit of a no-brainer.
We’ll be bringing you more about the book, in addition to a review, in the very near
With thanks to Duncan Rogers of Hellion and Robin Savage for a most memorable evening.
~Mark Barnes for War History Online
More info on the book here: http://www.helion.co.uk/