Max Hastings: Terrifying, chaotic and bloody... but D-Day was one of the greatest chapters in our history (UK)





[Max Hastings is a former editor of the Daily Telegraph and the London Evening Standard.]

Anniversaries are mingled festivals and wakes. In family life, we enjoy celebrating children's birthdays, and learn progressively to dislike our own.

As for national history, nowadays we make little of events that once echoed proudly through every schoolroom and church in the land.

There was October 21, Trafalgar Day in 1805, and June 18, the day of Waterloo in 1815. Today, such dates command blank looks from almost every teenager.

Shakespeare was quite wrong when he made Henry V tell his army on the morning of Agincourt: 'Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by/ From this day to the ending of the world/ But we in it shall be remembered.'

How many people today know October 25 is St Crispin's Day?

But there is another St Crispin's Day - or rather, another victory in which British arms played a great and noble part, much closer to hand.

It involved men who, though now very old, still live among us. D-Day, the June 6, 1944, invasion of Normandy, was the greatest event of the Second World War in the West.

Many other memories of the conflict and, indeed, many other battles, were darkened by defeat or at least shrouded in controversy - Dunkirk, Tobruk, Crete, Singapore, Arnhem.

But D-Day, the greatest amphibious operation the world will ever know, shines through as a triumph of imagination, planning and, above all, human endeavour.

Here was something which the British, Americans and Canadians did wonderfully well, in one of the greatest causes the world has ever known, 'the good war' against the supreme evil of Nazism.

This June, the 65th anniversary of D-Day, the French, led by President Sarkozy, will mark the occasion with their usual fanfare on the Normandy beaches.

However little the French sometimes like us, they recognise D-Day as the dawn of their liberation.

The British government, by contrast, has pleaded a previous engagement. There is to be no glittering array of royals, service brass, soldiers, sailors or airmen at the June 6 ceremonies...

comments powered by Disqus
History News Network