The 70th Anniversary of D-Day

Today, 6th June 2014, marks the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings known as D-Day a historic occasion and the largest seaborne invasion in history. The mark of the beginning of the end of World War II.

This might seem like an odd tangent to go off on but I'm a huge fan of the show Great British Menu on BBC 2 where for 9 weeks, 5 days a week some of the greatest chefs from all over the UK battle it out for a chance to get their dish on the Great British Menu banquet. This banquet has a theme each year and this year it will mark the D-Day anniversary with the final event held at St Paul's Cathedral and attended by many D-Day veterans.

Every year I say I won't watch it again, and every year it draws me in. Partly because I love food but mainly because I love to watch the chefs so determined to meet the brief and make it to the final event.

This year has been more emotional than most as they evoke old memories from 70 years ago and we are reminded of all that the brave men and women who were part of the war did and sacrificed for us.

'Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few' a Churchill quote we may well be familiar with but that remains as true today as it did back then. Listening to and watching all of this reflection over the past few weeks made me curious to know about my own family and their experience of that time, so I set out to find a little more.

My Grandfather (to the left) and his brother-in-law in their Home Guard uniforms getting up to some cheeky antics!

My Grandfather (to the left) and his brother-in-law in their Home Guard uniforms getting up to some cheeky antics!

Quite luckily my Aunt has recently undertaken to find out more about our family history and has spent the best part of 18 months so far putting together a book for us all to look back on in the future. So I tapped her for some information and was so lucky that she was able to provide me with some lovely details and wonderful pictures. Like the one above of my dear Grandad in his Home Guard uniform, which really just makes me smile, plus the wonderful shot below of my Great Uncle taken in Egypt where he served with the Essex Regiment, Witham Group.

Great Uncle William, taken in Alexandria in Egypt.

Great Uncle William, taken in Alexandria in Egypt.

Great Uncle Harry and Aunt Ivy on their Wedding day.

Great Uncle Harry and Aunt Ivy on their Wedding day.

Although none of my family were part of D-Day itself they still played their part during the War. I hope you don't mind me sharing their stories with you in the spirit of today's day of remembrance.

Great Uncle Harry (above) volunteered for the Royal Navy in 1936 signing on for twelve years as an Electrical Artificer (a qualified electrician, who maintains all shipboard electrical equipment and power supplies). 

Harry served on HMS Nelson in 1938, the flagship of the Mediterranean fleet and the first ship in the Second World War to be damaged by a mine. He married Great Aunt Ivy early in 1940 then shortly after went to serve on HMS Hereward, also part of the Mediterranean fleet.

In May 1941 HMS Hereward was bombed and sunk near Crete forcing Harry and his surviving colleagues to swim twelve miles to shore before being marched across the snow-covered mountains of the Apennines in Italy. Here they were taken as prisoners of war and Harry was held in Italy for three years. In 1943 he was repatriated and continued to serve in the Royal Navy until the end of 1948 when he was released from his twelve year service. He went on to work as an electrician in Portsmouth Dockyard until he passed away in 1975 aged 59.

I have often been told tales of Uncle Harry by my father who loved him very dearly and who is still in possession of his Red Cross parcels and books as well as his wristwatch bought for him by Ivy on his 50th birthday. 

My Grandmother in her Land Army uniform.

My Grandmother in her Land Army uniform.

Of course not all battles were fought overseas - there were many like my Grandfather (seen at the start in his Home Guard uniform) but also the many, many women of the Land Army who without second thought took up the jobs of those who were away fighting and kept everything running smoothly and ship shape back at home.

Above is my Grandmother who worked on numerous farms in the Essex area as a Land Girl where she undertook a number of jobs including driving the tractors. In 2008 the Land Girls were finally awarded medals for their great and unmitigated contribution to the war effort back on the home front.

So in the nature of today's post and it's subtitle 'The 5-Minute Thought' please spend a little time today to think of all those who fought for our freedom and share in the anniversary by asking those around you what their story may be so that we never forget what must never be forgotten.