THE sombre tone of today’s commemorative events to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, one of the last occasions when the world will be able to pay homage to the remaining survivors of the Normandy landings, puts today’s obsession with celebrity gratification into proper perspective.
For the personification of heroism is, in fact, those veterans who are featured in The Yorkshire Post today – brave men like the Leeds signaller Peter Paylor, who did not know whether he would see Britain again as the white cliffs of Dover disappeared on the horizon at dawn on June 6, 1944.
Or William Ness, who made such an emotional return yesterday to Pegasus Bridge, a pivotal site that was secured by parachutists in a daring operation at the outset of a momentous day which ultimately changed the course of history.
Despite the passage of seven decades, they remain reluctant heroes. Their first thoughts are still with their comrades who were shot, or drowned, as an armada reached northern France where their crews had to navigate around thousands of lifeless bodies floating in the water as they came under fire from German troops.
As one veteran observed with such eloquence: “Oh yes, we were scared to death. But I’ll tell you what, as coxswain, I could never show my fear to those 36 troops because they were as frightened as I was.”
Such modesty should not detract from the poignancy of the memorial events being held across Yorkshire, and in Normandy, where the Queen will lead world leaders in acknowledging the debt of gratitude that is still owed to the 156,000 soldiers who stormed the Normandy beaches in the world’s largest-ever seaborne operation.
Her Majesty’s insistence on heading the British delegation – this will be one of the last overseas visits of her reign – with the Duke of Edinburgh is indicative of the Royal Family’s enduring respect for the Armed Forces, and why commemoration, rather than celebration, should be the order of the day.
Unlike those Hollywood blockbusters which characterise war as a battle between “winners” and “losers”, such a simplistic view is not shared by those D-Day veterans whose eyewitness accounts are testimony to the human sacrifices that were made in the name of freedom.
However, it is only by listening to these still raw recollections that the country can recognise the sheer audacity of the D-Day landings, the courageous collaboration of the French Resistance and how Britain’s security services deceived Adolf Hitler thanks, in no small part, to the genius of individuals like the wartime codebreakers at Bletchley Park who intercepted German intelligence, or meteorologist Group Captain James Stagg, who advised General Eisenhower to delay the launch of Operation Overlord for a day to allow for better weather which would reduce the risks – albeit marginally. History in fact shows that June 6 was the only day in the entire month when the seas were sufficiently calm.
Without this unheralded work, the Allies would not have been in a position to free Europe from Nazism and, in the timeless words of Sir Winston Churchill, to “once more prove ourselves able to defend our island home, to ride out the storm of war and to outlive the menace of tyranny”. That is why today’s events are so important – and why everyone should reflect on the sacrifices made by their forebears who put their lives on the line or the veterans represented by individuals like Peter Paylor and William Ness. Now in or approaching their 90s, they remain – to this day – heroes in the very truest sense of the word.
Sir Ken’s defiance Morrisons boss in the firing line
JUDGING by the forthright tone of Sir Ken Morrison’s tour de force at the AGM of the Bradford-based food giant that carries his name, it may take more than company chairman Sir Ian Gibson’s resignation to silence those shareholders – and customers – who have become highly critical of the supermarket’s strategy.
For, on this evidence, it is difficult to see how the under-fire chief executive Dalton Philips can restore the firm’s financial fortunes after Sir Ken used profanities to highlight the scale of the Morrisons decline in recent times – and made unfavourable comparisons to the cattle reared on his North Yorkshire farm.
His bluntness, unprecedented by the sedate standard of AGMs, is understandable. Morrisons, the FTSE 100 company that he built up from scratch, is clearly struggling to come to terms with the threat posed by discount retailers. For a variety of reasons, it also appears to have alienated many of its core customers.
Yet, while Sir Ken’s clarion call for a greater focus on the main supermarkets will chime with many, he needs to ask whether Morrisons can prosper if the chain did not embrace convenience stores and online shopping. That is still the proverbial million dollar question.