As I get older I find that I am moved to tears more often than I used to be. I have no idea why that should be: do we become more sensitive with age, or are our tear ducts more active? Whatever the reason, I found it happening to me on Friday morning as I watched the BBC’s Breakfast programme. In the run up to Remembrance Sunday they ran a piece about a gentleman called Harry Billinge: Harry is 93 and is a veteran of the Normandy landings – i.e. D-Day – and is collecting money for a memorial to those who gave their lives there. They also featured Harry as part of their programme earlier this year, marking the 75th anniversary of D-Day. On both occasions he was interviewed at some length, and both times this wonderful man has moved me to tears. Within an hour or so of today’s broadcast someone had uploaded the full interview to YouTube, and I share it now for you, in case you haven’t seen it before. It is eleven minutes long, but is well worth your time to watch it:
Harry doesn’t like to be called a hero – he says he was one of the lucky ones, those who returned from the beaches. But his story is compelling. Just an ordinary man, he was, as he says, ‘taught by this lovely country to kill people,’ and describes it all as ‘what a waste of life.’ In those brief phrases he encapsulates the horror and futility of war. I was born in Dover in 1953, just eight years after the end of WW2. Due to its proximity to the French mainland, and being on the flight path to London, Dover suffered horribly: 2,226 shells and 464 bombs landed in or around the town, 216 civilians were killed, and I grew up with everyday reminders of the destruction that war brings. 10,056 premises were damaged, many of them so badly that they had to be demolished. This little clip gives you a brief idea of what the town went through: Pathe News jingoism at its finest! There were many bomb sites where there had been buildings, and regeneration was progressing rapidly. But we had, on our doorstep, a living history lesson, and I have always carried that with me through my lifetime. This photo was taken in 1940 just down the road from where I lived for the first 20 months of my life, not that I knew it like this, of course:
Even 20 years after that photo there were still sites boarded up. The rubble had been cleared, and a major rebuilding programme was in progress. This was happening across the UK and throughout Europe, and I hope we never see anything like it again. Such a waste of resources, but even that becomes insignificant when compared with the huge number of lives that were lost.
I mentioned that Harry had also been a part of Breakfast’s D-Day 75th anniversary programme. Again, in case you missed it, here it is:
If you can watch that without a tear or two in your eye, I can only say that your heart is harder than mine!
A year or two back I came across a little poem which addresses the point that, so many years on, there are far fewer who lived through those times and, therefore, there is a risk that we will begin to forget the sacrifices made by so many so that we can live a free life today. I hope this will never be the case, and that what the poet describes won’t happen:
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
(Taken from ‘For The Fallen’ by Laurence Binyon, September 1914)
We should never forget.