Troops of the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division arrive on Gold Beach
65 years ago as I type this my Grandfather was pushing inland towards Bayeux from Gold Beach with his artillery unit, attached to 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division of Lieutenant-General Miles Dempsey’s 2nd Army. Grandad’s unit went ashore very early – he was among the first troops ashore on D-Day. Later he would fight through Europe, participating in Operation Market Garden, before ending his war on the Baltic (and narrowly avoiding being sent to Palestine after the war). In my experience veterans of the Second World War have dealt with their experiences by either burying them and not talking about what they saw, heard or did, or by being very open about their experiences. My Grandfather is among the latter, and so we know quite a lot about his wartime adventures.
The badge of the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division
My Grandfather was a successful businessman, and I don’t think he would mind me saying he was not a natural soldier. He doesn’t glory in his exploits, and as the years have gone by it seems to me that the weight of the past, and in particular the memory of his friends and colleagues who didn’t survive to live into their late 80s as he has, has weighed more heavily on him. It is because of citizen soldiers like him, and others from the US, Canada and a multitude of other countries, that people in Europe enjoy the freedoms they do. HIs generation are passing from the stage now. Journalist Tom Brokaw described the soldiers of the US military in the Second World War as The Greatest Generation. I think his description applies equally well to the British of that era. Decent, honourable, slightly austere people for whom the term stiff upper lip meant something. Would today’s generation be capable of doing what they did should the call come? Perhaps. But no more than perhaps.
Update – For those that are interested in such things, I have recalled that my Grandad’s unit was the 102nd Anti Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery (The Northumberland Hussars) Grandad moved with them to 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division, and went the Baltic with them where his war ended.