Reflections on D-Day Plus 50 Ceremonies in France

By Lieutenant Colonel The Honourable Barnett J. Danson, P.C.

It is now a week since we commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of D-Day and the subsequent events which marked the liber­ation of Normandy. The French were warm, grateful and sometimes as emotional as we were. They welcomed us as liberators, and occasionally, as heroes. They waved flags, applauded and cheered as we marched into the area of a special ceremony. But we know that we were fighting for ourselves every bit as much, as it turned out, we were fighting for them. We know that our freedom could not be secure if they, and other occupied nations, were not made free.

The very special moments for most of us were when we walked the rows of head­ stones and spotted those of friends. Com­rades in the fullest sense. Tears were shed, perhaps embarrassingly if someone was  watching, but never ashamedly. Although this is always an emotional experience, there was something particularly poignant about this time. We are getting old and the graves of those young friends reminded us of happy young faces and our own youth during a most, if not the most, important experience in our lives. And we know too that this might be the last time many of us will be able to say our quiet prayers for them and with them. To actually feel we are
communicating directly with them, whispering words of friendship, even love assuring them that we will never forget them, and believing that they could hear us and smiled in understanding.

And then we wondered what will happen when we  have gone and there is no one left to remember.
Remembering not only them and us, but at least our children and grand­ children and their children will remember us for a generation or two or three. Few of them know parenthood and when their brothers and sisters die they will be like the lonely souls lying in the battlefields of World War I and those of ancient wars. Hopefully, future generations will remember or be told just why we fought that war and the consequences bad we lost it, as we came perilously close to doing. This commemoration went some way to passing this message on. The French school children, unlike their young parents, were curious and involved. They touched us deeply.

Somehow we must perpetuate the message that we do not live in isolation and being our brother’s keeper is ultimately the most self-serving act that we can perform. That those who died may have died needlessly because of the utter chaos of war, but after fifty years of relative peace and freedom, we know that they did not die in vain.

For those of us who were and always will be “Queen’s Own” it was a special occasion not only because of the very proud role we played but because we were there in great numbers. And people noticed, as they always seem to notice the Queen’s Own. Our superb Band was there impressing everyone who heard them. Our fifty-man guard was as good as we were (well almost) and certainly as good as any we saw over there.

The one inexcusable note was the ceremony at Bernieres-sur-Mer, the beach where the Queen’s Own
landed, where our contingent of veterans (the guys who actually landed there) were left at the back of the crowd to stand virtually unnoticed and unable to see or bear what was going on.

The best Queen’s Own event was at Anisy, the D-Day objective. It was the only one reached and held of all allied D-Day objectives. It was truly a family affair. The veterans, supported by the Band and the guard, were warmly received by the Mayor and the people of Anisy and surrounding communities. It was a moving scene as the Band and the guard marched into this small

Norman town which hosted and billeted the Queen’s Own contingent and cheered the bemedalled  veterans. Not many dry eyes as the quite beautiful memorial was unveiled as a permanent reminder of one of the out­ standing D-Day accomplishments and its cost in riflemen we shall never forget.

The Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Steve Brand, kept everyone at top levels of performance partly by example, partly by good planning and to a very large extent by his imagination and enthusiasm which he transmitted to his officers and men. He even participated in the mass parachute jump with five of his soldiers, including the Guard Commander, Captain John Fotheringham. They were really great as they carried on the very special traditions of the Regiment. We old sweats were proud indeed and know that our precious Regiment is in good bands. And it will continue to be as long as the Regimental family in its many manifestations continues to function and pull  together as they did in the past when they were needed. The result in Normandy proves how valuable this family can be.

"In Pace Paratus – In Peace Prepared"

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