Operation OVERLORD – D-Day
A service has just taken place to mark the 75th anniversary of D-day. Dakotas are preparing to drop parachutists into Northern France, some of the in the 90s. Ships are sailing once more to drop men on a short beach, some of whom were there 75 years ago. A few years ago, when he was still the president of the USA, Barak Obama said, “It was unknowable then, but so much of the progress that would define the 20th century, on both sides of the Atlantic, came down to the battle for a slice of beach only 6 miles long and 2 miles wide.” That progress that Obama speaks of came at a significant cost: 14,00o allied troops were injured or killed on that first day alone, some of them drowning in the sea before they ever reached the shore, others mown down in a hailstorm of gunfire. In the Battle of Normandy that followed there were in excess of 425,000 allied and German fatalities but that figure is much higher if you include the French civilian casualties. Some of those who today are retracing their steps of 75 years ago have only recently been able to begin to speak of the horrors that they endured. The few survivors today stand in stark contrast to the great cost. The American novelist, Barbara Kingsolver, writes, “There’s a graveyard in northern France where all the dead boys from D-Day are buried. The white crosses reach from one horizon to the other. I remember looking it over and thinking it was a forest of graves. But the rows were like this, dizzying, diagonal, perfectly straight, so after all it wasn’t a forest but an orchard of graves. Nothing to do with nature, unless you count human nature.”
We live in unsettling times – the world doesn’t feel as secure as it, perhaps, once did. The progress Obama spoke of may even seem a bit fragile. Long years of relative peace and security have perhaps bred a certain level of complacency. But that progress was one at a great cost of human life and that is the principle reason why we must remember. I suspect that this will be the last significant anniversary of the D-day landings when those who took part are still able to attend but we must remember. One of the dominant themes of the Old Testament is remembrance: when the people remembered their history and of all that God had done for them things went well, when they didn’t thing went awry. Each year they recited a great stamen of their collective identity: ‘a wandering Aramean was my father, he went down into Egypt…’ And so each generation is linked afresh back to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph…the story of the Exodus. And for us Christians, through the communion service and the last supper, we too are linked into this great story. Each communion service is an act of remembering who we are what God has done for us.
As time increases the distance between us and the Battle of Normandy we need to learn how to re-tell that story afresh so that the progress together with the cost will be remembered and learned from for generations to come.