20 years ago I was in Normandy. Cherbourg to be precise. I had worked at the local radio station the previous year, and they had invited me back to help with the preparations for the 50th anniversary of D-day. This was the first time it was really taken seriously by anyone other than those who were there, and it created the idea of an internationally-recognised event, with royals and presidents attending, and the whole shebang. Since then, we have become accustomed to seeing our venerable old men saluting their fallen comrades, but prior to then, it wasn’t really considered newsworthy.
So, the 50th anniversary was a big deal. The 70th is also a big deal, because this year, the Survivors’ Association will disband afterwards. There are so few left now, and fewer still who can make the trip, that it isn’t worthwhile continuing to run it. But we must not forget.
My own experience of the actual day is limited. I stayed at the radio station, assisting with broadcasts, whilst others went out to the sites themselves. But I do recall something that happened a day or so before.
I was tasked with listening to some old radio transmissions in English and translating them into French. I was sat in a little booth with an old reel to reel tape player and a notepad and was left completely undisturbed to allow me to concentrate.
At first, I had no problems. No matter how bad the quality of the recording, the well-spoken vowels of 1940s English were easy to capture.
After a while, the tape went silent, and a new voice cut in. This voice was male and he was shouting and I wasn’t listening to clipped Queen’s English, I was listening to German. The voice of an actual Nazi broadcast from 1944.
I was so shaken, I had to stop. I was physically shaking and I had to get out of that booth as fast as possible. I never went back in.
It was a year before I could face even putting on headphones again, and I have never forgotten how chilling it was to have that voice in my ears and in my head.
D-Day changed the world, and we must all play our part in making sure that, as the number of actual witnesses dwindles with time, we do not forget what was done then.