They called it The Longest Day. For the 4,414 allied who never survived the day, it was a day like no other. Nothing like D-Day has ever been attempted again and we must hope and pray it never will. It was the beginning of the end of Nazi occupation of Western Europe. And it was 75 years ago to the day.
I have had the honour of working at the Imperial War Museum in the UK, where I was surrounded and steeped in the collections and culture of those who served. I wish to honour them for excellently ensuring that “We will remember them”. I recommend visiting their museums around the UK if you can. It would be an excellent introduction into a world which has passed away to begin to understand what it meant, and what was endured. They have an excellent precis of the importance of the landings.
D-Day was a day of phenomenal self-sacrifice, with the entire economy of the US, UK and the Commonwealth largely devoted to one goal alone: the ending of the ‘Odious Apparatus of the Nazi Regime’ and its occupation of Europe. The men at the front, who waded onto those mined, wired and machine-gun ridden beaches were backed by the amassed civilians of the allied nations, who endured great hardship in the pursuit of victory. Truly they were, as HM the Queen said, ‘The Resilient Generation’.
It is hard to imagine such a scene today, but We Will Remember Them. All those who fought, not only on D-Day but throughout the long war, to end Nazi tyranny. And it is an apt time to consider all who have “Fallen in the cause of the Free”, no matter how long ago it may have been: the Nine Years War, the War of Spanish Secession, the War of Austrian Secession, The Napoleonic Wars, and the First World War. We can – and should – honour the memory of those who went and died before us – “fallen in the cause of the free” to ensure that their sacrifice is not lost. We can have pride in the fact that – although we have done wrong also – the Commonwealth has stood up and been counted in defence of freedom, democracy, tolerance, and individual rights across the European Continent for nearly 300 years.
It is often unfortunate that politics is brought into these events. We may not like a number of the Heads of State & Government who are meeting together to commemorate the event. During the war we were allied with Soviet Russia, under no less a dictator than Stalin, and the resilience of the Russians (once they were forced to come to the right side of the war) contributed greatly to the Allied victory.
But today – like all other days – we must also look to ensure that the fruits of their sacrifice is maintained. Recently we have seen disgraceful anti-Donald Trump political violence in London akin to the Nazi Sturm Abteilung 30s, European leaders espousing anti-democratic policies, and a shocking resurgence of anti-Semitism all over the continent. The collapse of democracy in Germany in the 20s and 30s is not limited to Germany at that time. It can happen anywhere and anytime, and while it has been the honour of the Commonwealth and USA to step in and stop European tyranny, we are not immune. We are not immune from the political hatred & polarisation that leads to assaulting (or “milkshaking”) others on the street with whom we disagree politically. We are not unsusceptible to the ideological warfare that leads to elderly gentlemen being thrown to the ground in Parliament Square. We are not exempt to mercenary opportunities to sell morality and our country for a paltry 30 shillings of economic growth. We are not protected against an ideology which requires nations and democracy to bow before ‘A Single European Goal’ directed in secret by unaccountable leaders forced upon the people. And we are not unaffected by politicians who blame negative press on the Jews and proclaim that the world would be much better off if the evil oppressive Jews and their state went away.
Stopping that rot took six years, 80 million lives and untold economic cost. We should take time to ensure that – in memory of those who gave their all – the circumstances which required it are never allowed to repeat themselves.
And for my friends who use this to declare that our leaving the EU was a step back into fascism and the warfare which plagued Europe until 1945: It remains the fact that our first responsibility is to the health of our own democracy. We cannot reform that which resists democratic reform by being elitist, ignoring a democratic mandate and demonising those of the other side. Dunkirk was necessary to save ourselves when Europe was lost – not for the sake of becoming ‘Little England’, but to recover and lead – side by side with the Commonwealth and the USA – the way to a new Europe of equality, freedom, democracy, law, and transparent government, outside of any hegemony.
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.