Tag Archives: WW2

D-Day 70

Last night I returned home from a  few days in Normandy to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Operation Overlord, or in other words, D-Day. I just want to write about it here so that I can get it all down, to remember it later.

I had wanted to go for years to see all of the places that I’ve read about for so long, and to pay tribute to the people who performed such extraordinary actions. It took quite a bit of planning (organising what started as 12 and ended in 9 people) and there were so many issues right up until the last moment that at one point it seemed as though I wouldn’t be able to join my friends there, after all that planning, but in the end everything came together.

I have serious withdrawal symptoms now. Everything seems….smaller. In comparison to the things we heard about or saw or felt over there. It felt like an incredibly privilege to be there, seventy years on. Somehow, I managed to pick us an absolute corker of a campsite,  beautiful, friendly and full of lovely chatty people who were all there for the same reason.

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I can’t put into words how I felt to walk the peaceful, windy Utah beach as the sun came up on the 6th of June, or stand the night before in a field above our beautiful campsite with 30 strangers suddenly become friends, and watch fireworks illuminate the 80 km stretch of landing beaches on the coast laid out before us. 70 years ago to the minute, the paratroopers and gliders were landing, scattered in that dark stretch of countryside, attempting to take key causeways, bridges and roads that were vital to opening up the Normandy countryside and get the troops off the beaches as soon as possible after the landings began that next morning.

Utah beach was a beautiful, peaceful place on the morning of the D-Day anniversary, and it felt surreal to walk there and think about the chaos of the landings (even though Utah beach would have already have been taken by the time we arrived, about 8.30am). There were still quite a few bunkers and fortifications that we got to look at, with out resident military history student Nick to give us a guided tour.

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Walking further up the beach we came across a number of re-enactors (all French), and headed towards the museum at Utah where a ceremony was just finishing. As the few veterans came out and were applauded by the crowd I was very glad that I was wearing sunglasses because I was suddenly overwhelmed with the need to cry.

After Utah we headed to Sainte Mère Église, which was the key objective for the US Airborne in the early morning of D-Day. It’s also famous for the paratrooper John Steele who became caught on the church spire – a dummy paratrooper still hangs there to this day (don’t worry, he survived).

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This was a big deal for me, being a bit of an Airborne fangirl. The paratroopers were the elite and the job they did was a heroic one (imagine parachuting into battle, which incidentally, had never been done before, carrying everything you need with you, often landing right on top of the enemy). There was a great US Airborne reenactment camp at Sainte Mère Église which was brilliant to walk around.

1959313_547598648614_3441081316262783053_nHere is the frenchman dressed as a US 101st Airborne trooper who saw my Camp Toccoa  paratroop training camp t-shirt and said it “fit very well”.


10447076_547583179614_597051926459968413_nHere’s my reaction:

10403421_547583249474_6902248154812243127_nThe Airborne Museum was a busy but brilliant place (containing lots of artefacts and displays, including an original horsa glider) and I’m so glad I got a chance to visit it.

10402855_547598938034_5886257508318494606_nEverywhere you went there were people dressed in period clothing, 1940s music floating out across the countryside, the low throttle of distant engines that rumbled into C-47s and C-130s roaring low over your heads, jeeps and trucks and motorbikes everywhere.

10411775_547608129614_8608924875523143795_nAfter this we stopped off at Grandcamp Maisy, a German trench and bunker system that is still being uncovered and cleared. It was great to talk to the “owner” (if that’s the correct term), a passionate amateur who has dedicated his life to uncovering this little-known (and from what he explained to us, quite a contentious amongst military historians) position.

Also, here I bumped into an actual American dressed as a 101st Airborne paratrooper. He and his buddies saw my t-shirt and clicked their toy cricket (a little metal clicker that was given to the Airborne to identify each other in the dark) and I clicked back, which opened up the conversation. And I didn’t mind at all when he asked to have his picture taken with me…

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After this we returned home hot, exhausted and sunburnt for a great group meal in the barn with the rest of the campers and the owners of the site. There were a couple of birthdays so cake was passed around, and my lovely friend Marie started up a little whip-round for the kids that had been serving us food and wine all night.

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That night there was an awesome lightning storm at about 3am which was, frankly, terrifying. The ground literally shook and it felt like being in the midst of an artillery bombardment, the rumble of thunder and the flash of light was continuous for about an hour. Terrifying, but oddly fitting.

The second day we headed to Pointe du Hoc and Omaha beach, which was another vast sandy beach, though this time with rocky bluffs rather than the dunes of Utah (one of the reasons why it was such a bloody and long battle)

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From there we walked miles down the sand towards the path up to the American Cemetery. Though packed with visitors it was still an incredible place, moving despite the people and the noise and the hot, sunny day. We found the graves of the unknown soldiers particularly moving, and I got especially choked up when I stumbled upon a grave marked with the name of my little brother. It struck me suddenly that he, being twenty years old, would have undoubtedly have been called up to fight somewhere. It was staggering to see the white crosses and stars stretching on into the distance, and despite seeing it in photos and on tv and film nothing could accurately depict the place itself.

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There was so much I would have loved to have seen and didn’t get a chance to, but even this little taster was an incredible experience. Despite being fascinated with all the places that we saw, and the odd experience of being surrounded by re-enactors, it was still a very moving and emotional few days. The hot, sunny days on peaceful beaches and crowded villages both seemed to walk the line between commemoration of the lives lost and the unimaginable heroism of the men and women who took part, and the celebration of a country and people liberated. There were a few things that I felt could have been done better, despite how friendly and helpful the locals and the gendarmerie were – for instance there was so much that we would have loved to have seen but had no idea was taking place as there seemed to be no official website listing all the ceremonies, reenactments and events. But I can’t really complain. I’m in seriously withdrawal now. As my friend Tom mentioned earlier this morning, the things we saw and learned in Normandy for the 70th anniversary puts the details and drama of everyday life into startling perspective.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Normandy sing-song

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This image began as a quick doodle of a GI with an accordion based on the photograph below, and quickly escalated into a full-blown musical interlude. I particularly like the guy drumming on his buddy’s helmeted-head, he looks like such a yokel, with his bullet-hole-pinked helmet.

I love the idea that this soldiers in the photo below found an accordion in the rubble in some bombed-out Normandy town, and hey, don’t LeBeau play accordion, he’s from down Louisiana way ain’t he?

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I don’t know that he’s from Louisiana and I don’t know that his name is LeBeau, that’s just my guess at a Cajun name (that’s what Gambit from X-Men is called, right?). But I DO know that’s a diatonic button accordion (or melodeon) because I have one quite similar that I can barely play. Still, I have a huge affection for accordions of all kinds – I’ve actually collected quite a collection of WW2 Soldiers Playing Accordions images, which I might post someday.

Sew for victory!

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A little while ago I finished making this dress, and thought I’d post a little something about it in case anyone else out there would like to make it (it’s taken me literally years to find a modern pattern for a 1940s dress. Years.) It’s a pattern by Butterick (B5846). Ignore the crappy ’80s style artwork on front of the pattern, here’s the example on the Butterick site:

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Which is actually pretty similar to the kind of 1940s style dress that I’d been looking for for years…dubarry40s

I’m by no means an expert sewer: I enjoy sewing but I find the details difficult, and patterns fairly incomprehensible when it comes to the directions. I’ve never been good at thinking in reverse, and often find that after “finishing” a piece of sewing I’ve somehow manage to sew the wrong sides together, or on the wrong way around. Or my hand. This time, I wanted to take it slowly and try and get it right.

It came out fitting perfectly, although it takes a while to get used to the very ’40s fit (fitted waist, roomy up top: it has 6 pleats at the front and 6 at the back, so it really tapers up in the boobage-area)

There was a lot of unpicking that went on here, but it worked in the end (even if it did turn out a bit more like an old lady’s housecoat than I’d intended). And I managed a ton of complicated stuff I’ve never tried before: sleeves! A collar! Piping!

And best thing ever: IT’S GOT POCKETS.

Dear John…

Dear John Bloedom. Or Blaedon. Or Bladon,

I can’t make out your surname, sorry. Is that an ‘m’ at the end, or a flourish on an ‘n’? I wish I knew. You could have been a bit more careful when you signed and dated the first page of the book I just bought. But I’ll forgive you. I do quite like your writing – my name starts with a ‘j’ too. It’s a horrible letter, I can never get it to look nice, like you did.

I know you were in the army, or the navy, or the airforce because the book (As You Were) was an anthology or American verse and prose for servicemen in WW2. But were you the John Bloedom from Colorado? Or maybe the Blaedon from Ohio? I used this thing called the internet to try to look you up, it’s amazing, you’d love it. You can find out almost anything on it – any information you could possibly want – but we mostly use it for looking at cat videos and being mean to each other.

I wish I knew how old you were, what you looked like. I wish I knew why you went to war. Were you conscripted? Did you choose where you wanted to go, sign-up, brave and bold and bulletproof? Did you fight because you thought there were some things worth fighting for? Or because you could? Did you feel you ought to? Did your mother cry when you shipped out?

Did you lie about your age when you enlisted? Were you barely more than a boy?

Were you scared? God, I would be.

You were probably younger than I am right now. That makes me feel sad.

I used to get quite homesick, when I was your age. Don’t tell anyone, but I still do sometimes, a bit. I wonder if you ever did, too.

Did you carry this book with you through the war? It looks in very good condition. Maybe you took it with you to places you’d only read about before, specks on the map with names like Youks-les-Bains and Messina, Gavutu, Saipan.  Did it shiver in your pocket in a  foxhole? Come ashore with you on some distant beach?

Or did you have my Grandad’s war: years away from home but never on the front-line. A chance to see the world and meet new people, to swim and dance and drink and one day, come home, as someone new.

Did you keep the book pristine and careful, a reminder of home and a life without khaki and musette bags and artillery? Did it comfort you, when it got hard?

Or perhaps you didn’t read it because it was too difficult. Imagining a world carrying on out there without you -the thought of cars running and people buying and selling and mowing their lawns and waving hello – made you feel like you’d just swallowed a grenade that was going to explode outwards one day.

Did you have a wife? A girlfriend? Children?

I’m sorry you had to do what you had to do.

Do we have anything much in common? Would we have been friends, if you’d been here and now, or I’d been there and then? I’ll never know who you are. You could have been anyone. Perhaps you were no-one in particular.

I’m no-one in particular. But I have your book. I’ll try to take care of it, like you did.

Yours,

Jemima

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NUTS!

Click for full size image.

Click for full size image.

Another WW2 scene, this time from the Siege of Bastogne. Short history lesson: Bastogne is a Belgian town that was completely encircled by the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge of 1944. The US 101st Airborne paratroopers (who were used to being surrounded) along with elements of the 9th and 10th Armoured division held the town until help could reach them. I may be slightly biased because I’m a huge 101st groupie, but all the people involved in this battle were incredibly tough: despite cold weather, little proper winter clothing, food, medical supplies and ammunition, they held fast. These guys were sleeping out in foxholes in the ice and snow, for weeks at a time. The civilian population were also extraordinarily brave – particularly the nurses Renee Lemaire and Augusta Chiwy.

I’m enjoying stretching my drawing muscles by tackling something a little different – I don’t normally draw vehicles or scenes like this. In fact, this and the Spitfire from the other day are probably the first real vehicles that I’ve ever attempted.

I tried really hard to make this ambulance accurate, but typically, I bet I’ve got something wrong (eg. that type of field ambulance was never used in the ETO you fucking idiot!). Please accept preemptive apologies if so.

(Note: The title of this post will make more sense if you read this.)

Spitfire ground crew

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Okay, so we all know the flyboys are pretty cool, but what about all the others that get the planes up and at ’em? I have a lot of love for the ground-crew and the mechanics. So much that there may well be a follow up to to this image with some bomber ground-crew. Also I like drawing planes.

I’ve tried to get this as accurate as possible but please don’t throw things at me if you’re a Spitfire fantatic (who isn’t?) and something isn’t quite right (ie. a propellor with four blades wasn’t built until after 1940 you fucking idiot!)

EDIT: Since first posting this yesterday I’ve gone back and updated the image too many times to mention, since a few people pointed out inaccuracies and it bothered me so much  – I’m sorry. BACK TO SCHOOLING, JEMIMA.

But that’s it. I can’t do it anymore. It’s locked, finished, it is what it is. I promise to do better next time, honest guv’!

The violins of autumn…

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In case you didn’t know, this was the poem broadcast on Radio Londres as a code to French Resistance that D-Day was happening.

One of my favourite pastimes is making up phrases that might have been used as codes on the radio:

Jacques’ cow will NOT GIVE MILK.

Marcel has a VERY FINE MOUSTACHE.

The baker has BURNT THE BAGUETTES.

It works for almost anything as long as you shout out the last three words slowly. See? A fun game for long car journeys, or perhaps when speaking to someone really boring.