The Happy Hibiscus this morning.
Today is the 70th anniversary of D-Day, as I’m sure you are all aware. My Dad wasn’t part of the invasion, as he was with his tank regiment on the way from Italy through France, heading toward the liberation of Holland. Still, every year this day reminds me of him and of all he and his brother (as well as one of my Mum’s brothers, and others in the family) sacrificed for me and for this country.
A Canadian veteran returns to Juno Beach, 70 years after D-Day.
This morning my Aunty and I watched the CBC special on D-Day, which was both inspiring and moving. When I was in Ottawa, the year after the Canadian War Museum opened, the lady I was staying with took me to see it. We were so lucky, as we only had a couple of hours and there was more to see than would fit. An older man heard us talking about how to find the exhibits that meant the most to me and offered his services as a guide. He’d been a docent for some years and was full of information. I got to see a real Sherman tank, just like the one my Dad drove. He was a Trooper (same rank as private in the army) in the Governor-General’s Horse Guards, or the Gee-Gees, as they are commonly known. I also saw a mannequin wearing the same uniform and carrying the rifle and equipment that Dad would have had. I stood in the middle of a landing craft that had been used at Juno Beach on D-Day; as I stepped in, a film began to show in front of me. It was hard to watch. It seemed that young men were rushing past me, with rifles and gear, jumping into the water and trying to make it to the beach. So many were shot down as I watched. This is the only known footage taken from inside one of the LSTs, we were told. I was only glad it was in black and white; the bloody water would have been even more horrific in colour.
Peter Mansbridge, CBC’s premier broadcaster and journalist, shared his experience flying in one of the last two flight-worthy Lancaster bombers; his father flew in one during the war and to honour his Dad (who died a few years ago), Peter took one of his Dad’s medals with him on the flight).
Over the last week, I’ve been listening to this song by Runrig: The Old Boys
Tonight, the Happy Hibiscus is nearly finished with this bloom; to me, it’s a fitting reminder of all those beautiful young, brief lives (over 350 died on Juno Beach alone)
It makes me cry every time. So many young lives sacrificed; so many wounded; so little recognition once they arrived home again.
Dad turned 21 on the day he arrived back in Canada. This July 16th, it will be 70 years since that day. He had spent three years or more overseas, and now was finally legal to drink and vote. We forget that in those days, the ‘men’ we sent to fight were legally only ‘boys’. Like so many, he didn’t talk about his experiences, feeling, no doubt, that if you hadn’t been there, you wouldn’t understand.
I know that he was wounded by an accident; one of his regiment had been out on guard duty and returned to the tent where Dad was sitting at a table, reading. The soldier emptied his knee pockets of the grenades he’d been carrying. They weren’t supposed to carry them there, but many did anyway. As he pulled them out, the safety on one of the firing pins pulled out. Dad caught sight of it from the corner of his eye; he was sitting sideways to the tent entrance. A three-second delay, there wasn’t time for the young man to do anything; the grenade went off, killing him instantly. A piece of shrapnel passed through my Dad’s torso, missing all the vital organs. He had scars on both sides from then on, though.
The Chilliwack Progress had a mention of the wounding in its January 3, 1945 issue. If you scroll most of the way down the page, you will see it:
|Yarrow News From The Chilliwack Progress For 1945|
|The Chilliwack Progress January 3, 1945|
There are four photos of H.G. Sukkau’s plumbing and electrical store. Below that is the mention of John Letkemann. Some time later, the final ‘n’ of the surname was dropped by the family.
When the war in Europe ended, the soldiers were told they could only go home soon if they re-enlisted to be sent to the theatre in the East, to help in the fight against Japan. Dad and my Uncle both agreed, but they had no plan to follow through. After years of war, they were ready to forget about it and begin living a normal life. Luckily the war in Asia was over before it became an issue.
I didn’t post anything on Anzac Day, but I spent a lot of time thinking about those young men, too. This song, sung here by The Pogues, says it all: “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda”
And when I think of the Second War, I also think of the First, one of the worst and most meaningless wars ever. This song, about that war and sung by the Corries, also makes me cry: The Green Fields of France. My brother in law who worked in radio and had his own show, played this every November 11th, but if you called any radio station and requested it, your request was refused.
I’d like to leave you on a happier note, so here is Day Three, in Aqua:
Sorry I’m behind with comments again. I’ll catch up with you all soon.
Two last images from today’s ceremony: