Here in the UK, it is easy to let commemorations of both world wars wash over you a little - there are so many things going on throughout the year to remember the events of this key part of British (and indeed, world) history. Poppies in November, various key events which are remembered, and there will be more to come due to other conflicts. I feel incredible guilty typing that, but I think it's true in a way. However, today, 6th June 2014, is special. Today is the final official marking by veterans of the landings. As you can imagine, most of the veterans are in their 90's now and their numbers are declining. The veterans association is dis-banding.
In the next few years, the memories of D-Day will become history as the last of the survivors pass away.
It is important, in my opinion, that the ones left behind who were too young or not yet born to remember it to sustain an inherited memory of events like these. My grandparents were not involved in D-Day, but they were a soldier, a Wren and an evacuee in World War Two, and I have been lucky enough to hear stories from all three of them. Two of my grandparents have passed away. I miss them every day, even after a few years have passed by. I believe, in a similar vein to remembering D-Day veterans and events, remembering my dear grandparents every day is a way to retain the memories of their persons and a way to honour them and what they brought to our family, their communities, and indeed their country. The memories of my grandparents who've died are gone. The stories they told me have become memories for me; memories I cannot pass on to my future children, but I can certainly pass on what I have learned about my beloved grandparents to help them create their own family history.
History is being made every day, most hours. We cannot commemorate EVERYTHING, but we can record it and we should remember important memories like these. We can, of course, mark past events to remember those who gave their lives. However, we also need to remember to feel proud for the bravery, skill, and dedication those involved - and isn't just respect for the soldiers we should show. What about the planners, the people in logistics, the people who dealt with the ones who came home injured/dead, the women behind the scenes?
Memories are both easy and difficult to hang on to, but they should be a lesson for the future. What use is history if it doesn't teach us something? Any military personnel reading this will probably think of the lessons learned from the conflict and be able to reflect on so much that has changed, but the rest of us can join this reflection too.
Why were we at war? What were we fighting for? Why was it so important? What humanity was shown in these dark days? How would the UK, Europe, the world be different had World War Two had a different ending?
Watching the coverage on the BBC today, there seems to be a sense of humility among the veterans, not seeing themselves as heroes. Indeed, it's turned into a family event, where stories are shared and new memories are made.
We need to ensure the lessons learned and the reason the UK declared war on the Nazis is not forgotten as those who were involved are buried. World War Two should not leave our school text books for a long time yet. However, I have a strong opinion that more history than just World War Two should be taught in secondary schools. Years 9-11 in my school (1990s) was solid war learning, and it could have been much better structured... but that's a whole other rant/blog.
On this emotional and sombre day, I have a message for the veterans still with us, and a thought for the ones who've died since and on the day. Simply, thank you for our freedom.