D-Day from Great Grandma’s perspective

“Churchill?” “Nothing but an old war monger!” Thus spake Lil my great-grandma. Lil was the sort of woman who doesn’t get into history books but the words “doughty” and “feisty” were fashioned just for her.

Even as a six-year old I remember her tutting through all the sentimentality of her 90th birthday and making it perfectly clear that she wasn’t going to bother getting to 91 (she didn’t). When her day came the grim reaper must have been vastly more daunted to meet her than she was to meet him.

Amid all the militarism of the D-Day commemorations it would also be good to remember the wartime mums. Because some of Lil’s bluster and displays of character were surely a result of the awful blow she endured in 1943 when her adored elder son was killed in the war. He was 33.

There were so many like Lil. Jessie Bowles for instance. I live in what was once Jessie’s house. Her son Bert was in the RAF during the war and was killed over Berlin in January 1944. He was 21.

And Mrs Mackenzie, Barbara Mackenzie was my Dad’s landlady when he was stationed in the Highlands during the war. She treated him like a son. Her own son Archie was killed in the aftermath of the Normandy landings. It will be 75 years on June 28th. Archie was just 20.

The late great historian David Cesarani in his book Final Solution reminds us that inevitably our commemorations are distorted because they involve the very youngest survivors, people now in their nineties who were vital and in extreme youth during the war.

What can it have been like to be a wartime Mum, no longer young, living with the reality that someone you had poured so much care into and was going to care for you in old age was never coming back?

All those young lives lost and so many gaps left too.


* Ruth Bright has been a councillor in Southwark and Parliamentary Candidate for Hampshire East

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  • Well said, Ruth, and yes my parents shared your Gt Grannie’s view of WSC. They wanted a better post war world with a welfare state, an NHS and a kinder world.

    I was one of the lucky ones, Dad did come back (somewhat shaken up – but he did come home) and TV this morning triggered lots of emotions.

    Yes, the women (in the services, at work and at home) were fantastic and somehow kept strong. I am still in awe of how dear Mum managed to keep going and shelter me from her emotions and fears for Dad. I suppose she had to be tough as a Durham miner’s daughter but I remember the tears of joy when Dad eventually came home – and the tears of grief and sadness when we learned that her close friend Mary (with a baby son) had lost her husband Ronnie on Gold Beach.

    They were the ones who won the war…. not a politician.

    God Bless them all. RIP Mum, Dad, Mary & Ronnie. So proud – and wish I had a quarter of your courage.

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