I was in France this week, Darling hubby and I took the motorhome abroad for the first time. We took our youngest son, who for part of his dissertation for Uni wanted to visit the beaches of Normandy, and several museums.
I like museums, I enjoy visiting them. I take a long time going round museums. Ask my eldest son, ask my hubby. I thought I took a long time. This was outdone many times over by my youngest son. I was out- museumed!!
I lost my camera – not literally. He borrowed it, to take photos of memorials, of museums, of information which was displayed and would take too long to write down. Three camera batteries in a week!! I didn’t think to take the charger – whoops big mistake!! Hubby lost patience and sat in carparks mostly. A huge advantage to the motorhome – he could make himself a cuppa if he wanted. He got used to stopping when we spotted memorials at the side of the road.
I learned that I did not know enough about the World Wars, I didn’t really ‘do’ history at school, though I do enjoy some parts of it. I think I may read round the subject a little more for my own learning. I watched the war films when I was younger (remember Sunday afternoon before the Eastenders omnibus edition??) , and I talked to my Dad about his National Service – he had been evacuated during the war and didn’t like to talk about it.
We visited several museums, one I would heartily recommend is the Memorial and Museum of Pegasus Bridge. The skill and courage of the airmen and the paratroupers should never be forgotten.
We went to St Mere Eglise, a favourite of ours, with the paratrooper still attached to the church. In the Airborn Museum I learned about his name and his story. John Steele. I salute you.
We also visited several cemetaries of the war dead from different countries. I was surprised that they all had a different feel to them and I was surprised by the impact it made on me personally.
The Polish memorial seemed very forgotten – not by the people who care for it, it was immaculate, but it seemed to me not many people visit, it was very quiet and peaceful. Birds swooping around – lots of Swifts and Swallows, House Martins too. A Canadian cemetery was also peaceful and while listening to the birds sing, I wondered if they held the spirits of the dead in their hearts, if they sang to them every day, while watching over them lying peacefully, at rest after a difficult and dangerous period which resulted in their deaths. The German cemetery was a bit of an eye opener. No individual crosses, or markers, the simple square placque showing two or three names. Lines of five individual crosses dotted about the grounds, this cemetery is run by a charitable group, rather than a National Organisation. Again, it was peaceful, but the birds here didn’t seem to sing. As I sat in the motorhome waiting for our youngest son, I noticed some birds on the ground. Black crows. It somehow seemed symbolic. The American cemetery at Omaha Beach, I last visited this cemetery was some 10 years or so ago. Then we walked into the Cemetery and my breath was taken away by the sheer scale of the white crosses. This time, a visitor centre has been added within the past six years, we went there first and for me, although the information and films were relevant and the voice reading out all the names was haunting, the visual impact of my first sight was lost. If you go here, please do the visitor centre after the graves. I found this particular American Cemetery very busy (it would be, it’s the main one), I found it noisy with people. Tours taking place, while people were trying to locate loved ones, or family members. I was disappointed. Having been to an American Cemetary at St James earlier this year, which was smaller, quieter and much more peaceful I think I preferred that one. The host was friendly, knowledgable, and while I have no doubt that the guides at Omaha were the same, I was saddened at the need to progress through airport style security checks. A sad sign of the times in which we live
At the German Cemetery there was a staggering piece of information which made me think and think hard. Since the end of World War II, there have been 40 MILLION victims of war with no end in sight. I tried to figure this number out. I thought about what conflicts and wars I knew about, and the soldiers and civilians involved. Vietnam, Burma, Suez, Falklands, Gulf War I, Gulf War II, the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, our Invasion of Afghanistan, the Indian / Pakistan, Iran/Iraq, Israel, Syria, Yugoslavia, Russia, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Ruanda, Sudan and so on and so on. Why is our planet so keen on war? As we went round the museums and the pretty Normandy villages I found myself wondering about the civilians, the everyday people, the ones who didn’t sign up to be involved in war, the ones who were drafted against their will, as labourers or soldiers, some in less than enviable circumstances, I wondered if I could have done the same as them. Survived, while being shelled, shot at, have my country occupied, then go through the same again when some-one else came to liberate me and my country. Would I have been as happy as them when liberation finally came? Would I have been as brave as them? Would I have tried to resist as many did? Or would I have taken the easy route and either submitted or collaborated?
I wonder at the resilience of the civilians, I wonder at the strength and courage of the soldiers of all nations. I read one piece from a German soldier who said “the battle had begun, offering us no way out. It may have been the very absence of hope that drove the fierce fight to defend our positions”
As I pondered on the losses of the past, I began to ponder on the losses of the present. Once again our soldiers are engaged in battles. Not of my making, not of your making, our Government has sent our troops to war despite huge poplar protest. Behind every war grave there is a human being. A person. Who had a family. Parents certainly, siblings possibly, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, wife and children maybe. All these people are affected by the futility of war and the loss of a loved one. It doesn’t matter which ‘side’ they were on. The wrong side, the right side. Which is which?
Surely it is time we learned the lessons of the past. Talk and compromise must be better than arguing. A lesson which not only applies to nations, it applies to people, individuals, in their own individual lives. If we can all make an effort to get along with each other, to recognise that others have a view point, that they may look at things in a different way to us, that they could well have a better way than ours, that with talking come fresh ideas.
I have decided to try to be more understanding, less judgemental, less argumentative, more open minded to other peoples’ ideas, will you join me?
At the going down of the sun and in the morning I will remember them all, past, present, and future.