My Dad was nine when the Second World War broke out. For him, the war defined his whole life. He was 15 when it ended. To the day he died, two years ago he devoured every programme he can watch about it. His TV was permanently tuned to the History Channel or the Discovery Channel.
Back in 1994 I took my father to visit the Normandy Beaches, a couple of weeks before the 50th anniversary of D Day. My friend Daniel Forrester from Washington joined us with his father Ed, together with my uncle, Steve Kiddy and a dear family friend, Dennis Nicholls. We stayed in Dennis’s son’s lovely little rustic cottage about twenty miles inland. It was one of the best holidays of my life – full of emotion, some great banter with the French who seemed to want to thank us personally for what our countrymen had done to liberate them in 1944 and it was great to spend 5 days with my Dad, a man who normally hates holidays and hasn’t got a lot of time for ‘abroad’.
Twenty-five years on, I watch the TV news pictures of the preparations for the D Day Commemorations and become rather wistful, remembering that wonderful week. My Dad died at Christmas 2016. Daniel’s Dad Ed is no longer with us, nor is Dennis Nicholls, who was such an important part of the events of those seven days. I can’t put into words what happened that week but all who were there know how special it was. It was part ‘Last of the Summer Wine’, part school trip, except the roles were reversed, with Daniel and I being the teachers and the old boys becoming the kids. I remember being in a restaurant one evening and my Dad was complaining about the ‘foreign muck’ on his plate. ’You’ll sit there until you eat it,’ I remember telling him rather sternly. And do you know what? He did, and he enjoyed it. He became a bit of a hit with French waitresses I seem to remember, and on a visit to a cafe at Juno Beach, I saw him dancing with one of them. There was certainly life in the old dog on that trip!
The week was full of emotion as we visited the five beaches where those brave soldiers and sailors landed. We visited the wonderfully well kept cemeteries and never failed to get a little emotional, as we paid our respects to those who had fallen. We even went to a German war cemetery. I had expected my father to refuse to set foot in the grounds, but strangely it affected him more than it did the rest of us. I have rarely seen my Dad cry, but he had tears running down his cheeks.
The one moment I remember more than any other was the moment I stood before a grave with the name Ian Dale on it. I remember that moment as if it were yesterday. Like virtually other family in the country, mine lost several members during both world wars. It’s in weeks like this that we remember their sacrifice so the rest of us could live in peace and freedom.
Dad, Ed, Dennis, wherever you are now, I bet you’re both chuckling as you remember that wonderful week in Normandy twenty-five years ago. And you’ll also be smiling as you see the tears running down my face as I type this and Daniel reads it.
Daniel and I don’t see each other very often. He’s a successful author and entrepreneur living in New Jersey with his wife and two children. We may not see each other very often. He may not be a relation, but to me he is like a brother and will always be a soulmate.
If you’d like to see all the photos from our 1994 trip, click HERE.