Sixth June 1944
I tell a child’s tale with the words
An adult uses, to describe
Impressions from the distant past,
Responding to recalled events
More recently experienced.
Four o’clock in the morning, wakened
By a strange sensation. The whole house
Trembling like a frightened child.
The air itself vibrating and a dull
Throbbing noise gnawing my eardrums.
The hordes of cockroaches that haunt
The cellars, (used for shelter when
The bombs are falling near), must feel
Afraid, I think, that any moment now
They might be crushed in their deep dens.
(I smile to think those noxious, silent
Scavengers might feel a sense
Of mortal fear as, in the gloom,
They scurry in the dusty rooms!).
I go to the window and draw
Aside the blackout screen. My eight-
Years young eyes widen with surprise.
The air is crowded with dark shapes
That overlap in layered heights;
So many that there is no space for sky.
Innumerable warplanes – bombers,
Fighters, troopers, freighters and tugs
Towing gross gliders in their wakes –
All heading roughly South and West.
The trees and hedges round the lawn
Shaking as if they are disturbed
By downdraughts generated from
Those countless airscrews overhead
Churning the humid atmosphere.
Awestruck, I watch the endless flow
Of raucous-engined juggernauts
Flooding overhead, my brain
Buzzing from disturbing din
And questionings. What did it mean?.
Where were they going?. Why so many,
Swarming like sharks towards some scented
Prey still unaware of their approach?.
At least two hours I stood and stared
At this spectacular parade
Of aerial formations, then
I went downstairs and turned
The wireless on, (pre-tuned to BBC),
To hear the sounds of martial music
Blaring above the noise outside,
But interrupted regularly by
A bodiless announcer’s voice
That solemnly declared – although
I cannot now recall the precise words
Deployed in formal, measured tones –
“Today, Tuesday the sixth of June,
Allied forces are landing on
Normandy beaches to expel
The Nazis occupying France.
God save Britain! God save the King!”.
So that was why the morning air
Was gorged with military planes!.
My young heart thrilled. At last,
After so many mayhem years,
The hated Nazis would be taught
A lesson they could not forget.
In the lightening skies of dawn
Above the rooftop and the trees,
Between thin shattered shards of blue,
The aerial fleets continued to fly;
But I was simply overjoyed
To think that, (before long), the war
Might end and peace return again
To wounded Britain and the world.
I sighed and hoped that could be true
Before another year would pass,
Then turned again to watch the sky
Until it was my breakfast time:
(Hot porridge, bread with dripping, tea).
Life must go on, no matter what
Momentous battles must be fought
In foreign lands, or over them,
(By countless heroes whom no-one yet knows),
To bring the conflict to a winning close.
- The 70th Anniversary of D-Day in 2014 stirred these eye-witness recollections of that day (6th June 1944). I lived, throughout World War II, near Newmarket (Suffolk), close to Mildenhall and several other major military airfields. The massive airlift to Normandy and France continued for several consecutive days, albeit with gradually diminishing intensity.
- I learned, not many days later, that Winston Churchill had insisted – despite strong American pressure for an alternative plan – that the Allied invasion (Operation Overlord) should take place in Normandy as a symbolic reverse counterpart to the Norman invasion of England in 1066.
- The War in Europe ended on VE-Day (8th May 1945), just 11 months after the events described in these verses. (Adolf Hitler, the German leader, had committed suicide on 30th April 1945).
- Three months after VE-Day, on 15th August 1945, the Japanese surrendered following the use of the first atomic bombs by the Americans on 6th August at Hiroshima and 9th August at Nagasaki.
- This date (15th August 1945) marked the official end of World War II.