Well it's been 70 years since the D Day landings and as a tribute to the brave souls on that fateful day who sacrificed everything for us I would like to re-post Photographic Memories in their honour. It's a D Day story I wrote a few years back and been on here once or twice already but the occasion calls for it. Hope I have captured the reality of what happened and the thoughts of those soldiers.
The man staggered to the rock, swivelled and slumped, slowly sliding down it. He sat there dazed and disorientated not knowing where he was and he couldn’t hear anything except a constant loud ringing noise. He was scared and cold.
The young man patted his breast pocket and with shaking fingers pulled out a black and white photo. Examining it he stared lovingly at his family in the photo. His father was on the end standing tall and thin. Next to him was the mans 18 month son crawling, facing the camera looking as cute as can be in a baby romper suit with his long black hair over his face. He had a big radiant smile on his face.
Finally in the photo was the man’s young wife with her long black hair swept to the side exposing her dark eyes and full lips.
He missed his family dearly then realised his mother wasn’t there in the photo. She had died when he was a boy. This made him think back to his earliest memory of his mother. He was about 5 year’s old. He was sobbing holding up his knee as his mother washed a cut, smiling at him as she did so. He remembered her plump face with her rosy red cheeks and her curly black hair.
“You’ll be fine Henry”, she reassured him, “There all better.” She said in her soothing soft voice. She kissed his knee and he felt better immediately. They both gave a little chuckle to each other.
Returning to his present situation, Henry wished his mother was there with him right now reassuring him that everything would be alright in her soft soothing voice. Henry sighed as his thoughts went back in time again. This time to the last memory of his mother when he was 12. He was standing by her bed as her now pale thinner face looked up at him. The twinkle she once had in her eyes had gone and she coughed violently.
“Love you.” She called over to him as his father ushered him out of the room.
“Come on now Henry. Your mother needs her rest” advised Henry’s father. His father was tall and much broader back then and he seemed to fill most of the room. Henry reluctantly left his mother’s side and didn’t see her alive again. She had died of pneumonia.
Henry noticed tears splattering onto the photo he was holding. Still shaking and with his ears still ringing he stared at his father. Age had not been kind to him as he was still tall but now his stout broad figure was thin and weak. His hair had almost totally gone. He had never been the same since mother’s death and had taken to drinking heavily. Henry then realised he had never been close to his father. When he was younger his father was away in the army so would only visit when he could. He even missed a few of Henry’s birthdays and Christmases. His father only really lived with them once he left the war. This was due to bad shrapnel wound to the leg. When his father was there they hardly spoke and there were quite a lot of silences. Although Henry loved his father he never really knew him and the only memories of him he could muster were ones where he was shouting and ordering him and his mother around. It must have been the military upbringing he had had. Thinking about it more clearly Henry realised he had always been fearful of his father.
A sudden movement and shadow falling over Henry’s family photo awakened him to his present situation. Henry looked up at the source of the shadow and gasped. An English soldier from Henry’s regiment was stood in front of Henry. He was covered in blood, mud and sand and to Henry he looked to be shouting at him but Henry could hear no words only the constant ring in his ears. The man was as young as Henry and was pale and frightened. He had lost his helmet and his blond hair was matted to his head with sweat and mud. Henry noticed the soldier was holding something in his hand which was bloody and disfigured then realised it was the soldier’s foot which had been blown off by a mine. Henry looked at the man’s injured leg and saw blood gushing from a mangled stump which was just below the knee. The soldier limped closer to Henry with a mixture of shock and fear on his face. Suddenly a bullet hit the soldier in the forehead. There was just a tiny hole but the back of the soldiers head had been blown away. The soldier fell backwards and lifeless to the sand and mud.
Henry retreated back to his family photo now intently staring at his wife. She was beautiful and he wondered if he would see her again. His memory went back to the town dance where he had met her. He was stood near the exit of the dance hall ready to leave after losing his friends. Then out the corner of his eye he saw her on the opposite side of the hall watching him. Henry noticed her hair first. It shimmered in the light and was black as night and long with curls. She reminded him of the actress Veronica Lake which he had seen on bill boards in town. She wore a short black velvet dress and considering the rationing it was in good condition.
Henry wasn’t sure what he was wearing that night as he just remembered buying two ginger beers and walking across the floor to her. The trip he made as reached her made him embarrassed as he had nearly spilt the drinks over her, yet soon they were embraced and dancing to the music. They also talked about themselves long into the night. Her name was Elizabeth, she was 17 and her father had died in the war. Her mother was well off as she had inherited a small publishing business printing magazines and romance novels.
Henry explained about his mother’s death and that he too was 17 and worked in the local tobacco factory. He also mentioned his father’s injury in the same war which had claimed Elizabeth’s father’s life. They both shared a long kiss at the end of the night.
Three months later and Henry had married Elizabeth and they were living with Elizabeth’s mother. To them both it was a whirlwind fairy tale romance and they knew they loved each other dearly. A month after their marriage and Elizabeth fell pregnant.
Henry remembered vividly the birth of his son as though it happened only yesterday. It was one of the best days of his live.
“What shall we call him?” asked Elizabeth.
“How about we name him after your father,” replied Henry.
Elizabeth smiled up at him “That’s perfect. Welcome to the world Charlie. We love you.” She kissed the baby on the head.
Henry realised just how much Charlie looked like his mother with his long black hair, strong cheek bones and rosy cheeks. He was perfect and Henry loved looking after him and playing games.
Charlie was 11 months old when Henry was drafted into the army to join the war and was starting to walk. He pulled himself up and stumbled along the furniture to where his daddy was sitting. Henry had his head in his hands as he looked up at his son and smiled. He picked him up and sat him on his lap.
“I can’t believe I will have to leave and fight in the war. It’s not fair. Everything in life is perfect.” He exclaimed looking up at Elizabeth.
“We don’t want you to leave either. I’m scared for you but it’s the law. It’s compulsory.” Replied Elizabeth.
Again tears splashed onto his family photo as Henry remembered hugging and kissing his wife and son goodbye and boarding the bus to his barracks. He watched them and waved and blew kisses as the bus slowly pulled out and speeded up down the road. Would he ever see them again he thought.
There was suddenly a loud popping noise in Henry’s ears and they suddenly hurt. He felt himself coming round and shockingly was back in his present situation, sat behind a boulder on Sword beach on D Day. He kissed his photo and put it safely back into his top pocket.
Unfortunately he could now hear everything going on around him. Everything was so loud, and in amongst the explosions and artillery gun fire he could make out the screams of his comrades shouting out in pain and anguish. He looked to his left to see a tank going slowly past him and could hear the ricochet of machine gun fire bouncing off the side. Not so far away were the bodies of fallen comrades who had either been shot or blown up and the sand was covered in blood and guts.
The sight of what he saw was so powerful and disgusting it made Henry sick. He spat on the ground and glanced up to see the second wave of landing ships arrive. A couple of the landing ships hit mines and exploded sending bodies and metal flying out into the sea and at other soldiers. Some of the soldiers that came off the successful landing ships were gunned down as soon as they hit the sand. The sea had turned a dark crimson colour.
Some soldiers that made it came running up towards Henry. A few were shouting orders and a few were firing their weapons at the German machine gunners.
“Are you alright?” asked a tall lean soldier who had somehow managed to get to Henry within seconds.
“Yes, Yes. I should be ok.” Replied Henry using the boulder to push himself up.
The soldier picked up and passed Henry his rifle and Henry looked into his dark sparkly eyes. He looked like the sergeant who had given him his orders on the landing ship.
“To victory, for England” was his last words to him before a mine had gone off near him and sent him stumbling to the boulder. He was lucky he hadn’t got shot.
The soldier with Henry ran past him after he had seen that Henry was fine. Henry took in a few deep breathes as his heart pounded wildly in his chest. “This is it.” He thought. “I’ll go down fighting though”.
Henry gently patted at his family photo in his breast pocket then ran around the boulder to face his enemy head on. He saw many small gun turrets and some Germans behind machine guns. As Henry ran towards them over the sand and the dead he fired at the nearest machine gunner and somehow managed to hit him. The German soldier fell back from his position.
“That was lucky,” thought Henry as he carried on with gun fire whistling past him and explosions going off around him on the beach.
Suddenly he was hit on his left arm and cried out in pain but he realised it was just a flesh wound and carried on. The adrenaline of the moment made him fearless and the pain subsided. As he got closer to his target the only thing that was in his mind were the words of his sergeant and the faces of his family.
“To Victory, for England”