Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Friday, June 7, 2013

D-Day +1

One of the things I always remember on D-Day concerns no one who was there.

When I was studying at university I had a friend who was what in those days was called a mature student.  What that meant was that he was a guy who, having spent twenty-five or thirty years slaving his guts out in a job he disliked, had decided to quit the job, enroll at university, and study the things he'd never had the chance to study as a young bloke.

We were regular mates for a few years, and around the time that the movie Saving Private Ryan came out, he and I met one Friday afternoon at the bar, as we usually did, and amidst the talk of rugby and books the subject of the movie came up.  I remember saying that one of the interesting things about it for me was the mix of cliche and anti-cliche, and that I wasn't sure if I'd liked it.  He then sat back for a moment, took a swig of his beer, and told me that he had never known his father.  I nodded and said that I could perhaps understand what that might be like.  He then said that his mother had married a fellow after the war, and that he'd always considered this man to have been a father to him, and that no one could have asked for a better father than this man.  Again, I nodded.  He then told me that his dad had been killed in the landings at Dieppe, and that this was the reason why his biological father and mother had never married.  I felt pretty bad for him at this point and didn't know what to say except to say how sorry I was to hear that.

He sat back for a moment more and then said that after having watched the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, he now had an idea of what his father's last moments in life must have been like.

So when I think of D-Day I always think of Andrew, the father he never knew, and the man who took on that father role in Andrew's life.

Some years later, in Japan, I told Andrew's story to a student of mine.  The student was a-typical: he was an 80 year old doctor who had fought in the Pacific war, had kept himself sane at the time by playing Go - and at the time I knew him by denying that Japanese had committed atrocities - and had been periodically bombed by Australians.  He always used to joke with new teachers or new students that he and my grandfather had fought each other in the war.

During one particular lesson I was asking him about his favourite movies, and as he listed them it turned out that almost all of them were war movies.  I wondered if he'd seen Saving Private Ryan, and as he said he had, I told him Andrew's story.  Well, during my telling of it the doctor's usual cheerful demeanour changed, and by the time I'd finished he'd sort of hunched over and leaned on the table.  I thought he might have taken ill suddenly, but then realised that he was shaking and opening and closing his mouth in an effort not to sob aloud. I wasn't sure how to handle the situation, so I patted him on the back and apologised for upsetting him, but he shrugged off my hand. Soon he looked up, and without wiping the tears that were still coursing down his face started describing to me the plot of an Italian movie that he had once seen, and he continued on in this way until the end of the lesson.

He never mentioned that movie (or lesson) to me again - though he would still make jokes about our grandfathers' having fought each other.

So now when I think of D-Day I think of Andrew and his situation but also of the Japanese doctor, and how that day and the stories we have of that day have affected all of us, often in surprising ways, and sometimes at not such great remove.


  1. Very powerful stories, thanks for sharing them.
    ~ Jonathan

  2. The thing about war is that once you survive it, you get on with your life; or not. Those who do though, it never really leaves you. You are never the same person you were before. You live your life day to day, building something that looks like what everyone else has. Every once in awhile, though, your war comes back. It creeps out of unexpected places. Sometimes out of nowhere. When people who haven't been there see that, it's rather unexpected. You can't ever understand if you haven't been there, but everyone who has, no matter what war or country, can. it's a strange contunburnium, an not one that anyone should want to join.

    1. Thank you very much for this. I hope that the things you are building now go up strong and true, that they can offer you shelter when you need it, and that they are able to bring you some peace.

      Best wishes, and thank you for your service,

  3. This is a great piece of writing. Nice work.


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