I am definitely the kind of gal who is mindful that much of what we enjoy today, particularly in the developed world , is down to those who came before us. And I am not talking about my own forebears, but the men and women of previous eras who made great strides in their fields, and in many cases great sacrifices, for the generations following them. I am also certain that, in a lot of instances, sacrifice was the furthest from their minds as they battled with the challenges facing them.
Topically, I have just read a quote in a press piece about the forthcoming D-Day 70th Anniversary commemorations; a humble soldier expressing his feelings back then that all he wanted to do was make 20, as it was going to be his birthday the next day. That level of unselfish sacrifice typified a generation; as they threw themselves headlong into another yet world conflict that came after the 'war to end all wars'. But it seems we still haven't learned - 70 years on; as crazy, meaningless conflicts persist across the globe.
I am so pleased that we are taking the time to pay these selfless individuals, both the fallen and the survivors, the respect that is due as we enjoy the freedoms afforded to us in our modern society. I probably sound like an old fuddy-duddy but it feels to me that young people today are not reminded often enough about the debt we owe to the past. Some folks think that it is time to move on, but when there are individuals around who think that it is acceptable to daub war memorials with vile graffiti and destroy graves, what does that say about our ability to learn from our mistakes?
I remember vividly the first time I visited the Normandy beaches and Arromanches about 20 years ago. Of course I vaguely knew the sequence of events from history lessons at school, but I did not know a lot of the detail, for example the story of the Pointe du Hoc and the assault by 225 US Army Rangers. We found the place by accident driving along the coast when I spotted a look-out symbol on the map and we turned off the main road to follow a dirt track down to the headland. Back then it was still fairly undeveloped and it was extremely moving to see the dark brown stains on the walls of the ruined gun emplacements and read the minimal interpretation boards; learning that two thirds of that brave band lost their lives trying to disable the big guns ahead of the invasion fleet sailing into range and thus saving many thousands of their comrades from a watery grave.
Feeling very humbled, from there we travelled east towards Omaha Beach and visited the US Cemetery. Both my husband and I openly wept as we walked amongst the graves, remarking on the number of headstones with the motto - Known only to God. It was hard enough to imagine the grief of the families who knew that their loved ones were resting there, but doubly devastating for those who never got to know for sure what happened to their fathers, sons, husbands and brothers.
After a walk down to and along the beach for some quiet contemplation, we drove into Arromanches itself and found a little bar where we sat and looked out on a dull, grey sea. The remnants of the Mulberry Harbour were still clearly visible in the distance; a poignant reminder of the sheer scale and ambition of the invasion. I tried to imagine how terrifying it must have been for those brave young men stepping off the landing craft into the unknown and in many cases oblivion. Since then, I have watched The Longest Day several times, and Mr Spielberg brought it hauntingly to life in Saving Private Ryan. I was on the edge of my seat in the cinema, for those opening scenes, with my heart in my mouth the first time I watched it and there was noticeable sobbing in the auditorium. My husband and I have returned to Normandy several times since that day and marvelled at the developments to the visitor centre and the improvement in accessibility; it is a setting worthy of the sacrifices made by the thousands of individuals who lost their lives there. I sincerely hope that the events to mark the anniversary are watched by millions; the occasion deserves that much.
I hope that we will never forget what we owe to those that went before us. I certainly will not.