This is the start of a poem by my grandson which he waved in the air outside Buckingham Palace when Trump arrived there last Monday. Ten next month, he has started his political as well as poetical journey early! I was three times his age when I marched along streets to support Britain entering the EU, and on the streets again last year to oppose us leaving it.
‘Memories last for 40 years,’ a friend who is studying political history told me, ‘for a generation.
They are what parents tell their children about lived experiences. Their children then pass them on to a third generation and there the lived experience is lost, and interpretation begins.’ These living experiences are now being shared for the last time. This is what is so hauntingly memorable about the D-Day experiences recalled in events this week. Now in their nineties, these survivors can speak to us, and they will be the last to share their living memories.
Uncle David is a part of my family legend. His last visit was with his fiancée. She brought a bowl of red cherries, and her lips were the same colour, red and shiny. Angus, my uncle’s spaniel, came with them. It was a warm day. The trees were waving in the breeze making dappled patterns on the lawn. All seemed so calm, so peaceful. That same day my formidable grandparents visited us. There was a lot of whispered adult talk. Someone had donated a week’s ration of butter and a sponge cake had been baked for this occasion, though I couldn’t understand why it was special. A treat doesn’t have to be ‘special’. At school, we offered bits of broken-up Gibbs dentifrice as sweets because the weekly ration was so meagre. Our sweet ration was stored in a glass jam jars on the top shelf of the wall far above our reach. They glittered in sunlight, sparks of seductive colour. I bent down to stroke Angus’s head. His large brown eyes seemed so sad… he jumped up and bit my cheek!
Radio, but no television. Sounds of voices haunted me. Churchill’s growl. Unintelligible barks from Hitler – fascinatingly frightening. When, years later, I listened to Germans speaking among themselves, I was surprised to hear so many soft, even shushing sounds.
Those who attend the events taking place in Normandy this week will take with them many uniquely personal memories. My predominant one is of humble thanks to all who prevented the invasion of Britain, and that includes all those, of any nationality, who resisted the forces of conquest and helped the Allies. Humpty Trumpty, who has no military experience, seems out of place.
Two generations later, this is the last commemoration with living witnesses of a war that changed the history of our continent where, for the first time in history, there has been peace for eighty years. History is eloquent. Trade rivalries lead to wars. President Trump, think and take advice before you tweet. Children like the ‘Humpty, Trumpty’ ten-year-old, are watching you. Their future is more precious than yours.