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On Tuesday, June 14, 2022, Nigel Farage interviewed a 102-year-old D-Day American veteran in London.

This must-watch exchange took place on Farage’s Talking Pints segment of his GB News show:

Steve Melnikoff took a Cunard cruise to the UK, accompanied by a younger man who helps him out on a daily basis.

Melnikoff said that, on the cruise ship, he spent his evenings ballroom dancing and had the photos to prove it.

It was amazing to see how young this man looks at 102. He’s just days away from his 103rd birthday. He has no age spots and his skin is remarkably smooth.

Despite all the major things going wrong in the Western world today, older people look decades younger than they used to.

When I was growing up, people aged 50 and over definitely looked over the hill, no matter what their social class. We can no doubt ascribe better health care as a contributing factor to prolonged youth.

Another example of prolonged youth are the three Carry On female stars who reunited at a London restaurant on Sunday, June 12. The Daily Mail has a photo of them and reports:

The films were known for their saucy innuendos and drew millions of fans to cinemas in their heyday.

But former Carry On stars Jacki Piper, Valerie Leon and Anita Harris played it straight as they got together for a night out. The trio shared memories as they were pictured in a restaurant by their friend Barry Langford.

Miss Piper, 75, held onto 78-year-old Miss Leon’s arm as they posed alongside Miss Harris, 80. Miss Leon and Miss Piper starred in 1970’s Carry On Up The Jungle while Miss Harris played a nurse in 1967’s Carry On Doctor.

They look fabulous, not a day over 55.

But I digress.

Returning to Steve Melnikoff, he said that the first thing he noticed in landing on Omaha Beach was the cold weather. Farage pressed him on what he really thought. Melnikoff replied that he might have been afraid, but he couldn’t remember exactly.

Melnikoff said that he never talked about the war until decades later. It was the same with the soldiers with whom he served. He explained that, after the war, Americans were too busy working in factories in post-war rebuilding efforts.

Melnikoff was shot in the throat by Germans. Luckily, the shot missed his larynx. His comrade was fatally wounded and he managed to dress his friend’s wound as best he could while waiting for help. Melnikoff was flown to England to recuperate in hospital. He has a big love for Britain as a result.

Farage asked Melnikoff what his greatest achievement was. Interestingly, he said that taking advantage of the GI Bill, through which he earned a bachelor’s degree, improved the next three generations of his direct descendants, all of whom have university degrees. Well done!

He began returning to Omaha Beach around the Millennium and has made a few trips since. As for war memories, in the 1980s, he reunited with the man who was his sergeant. They met once a week for lunch and remembering their service together. The lunches stopped only when the sergeant died.

Melnikoff said that his secret to ageing was to always have a purpose in life and something to do. He said that he has a good genetic makeup and a positive outlook. His favourite pastime is golf. During his working life, he owned his own business.

Listening to him, one realises that he is sharp as a tack, unlike Joe Biden, whom he did not discuss.

Unlike Biden, one thing Melnikoff cannot be accused of is showing signs of dementia:

One thing that does concern Melnikoff is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which he says reminds him of events in 1939 that led to the Second World War. This shorter clip is especially worth watching:

I wish Steve Melnikoff a happy 103rd birthday — and many happy returns!

Wedding bands ehowcomNorman and Joyce Johnson celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary a few days ago in July 2015.

The two grew up in the same area of Sheffield, South Yorkshire, and met early in adolescence.

Joyce was quite taken by Norman. When she found out he was attending night school, she, too, enrolled, although they took different courses.

They were married during the Second World War. Norman requested weekend leave. The ceremony took place on Saturday, and Norman returned on Sunday night.

He was among those safely evacuated from Dunkirk. In his pocket was a photo of Joyce which he’d wrapped in a 100,000 Deutsche Mark banknote to protect it.

Amazingly, although he had to swim to the rescue boat, the banknote and photo survive to this day.

After the war, Norman worked for the English Steel Corporation. Joyce took in laundry.

They have two daughters, Carol and Sue, seven grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren.

Although they went through the same life experiences as any other couple of their time, Joyce said:

we lived happily ever after.

Norman explained:

the secret to a long and happy marriage was ‘being easy-going with each other’.

He said: “I can honestly say we’ve never fallen out. We’ve been very happy indeed.

“We’ve done very well really.”

Congratulations to the happy couple!

Let’s take a few pages out of their marital notebook!

The weekend of 8 – 10, May 2015, saw several celebrations and ceremonies recalling the 70th anniversary of VE Day.

The BBC televised the main events. The media have also interviewed many veterans and others who were but children at the time.

Their recollections follow, emphases mine.

The Queen and the new film

A new film now showing in cinemas, A Royal Night Out, purports to tell the story of Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret out on the town on VE Day.

Unfortunately, much has been fabricated. Many will see the film and think these things actually took place when they did not.

The Queen’s first cousin and best friend, the Hon. Margaret Rhodes, 89 — then Margaret Elphinstone — set the record straight for the Daily Mail. She was working as a secretary for MI6. Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret were both active in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). The future Queen served as a lorry driver and mechanic.

Mrs Rhodes reveals what really happened on May 8, 1945, when she

was lodging at Buckingham Palace while working as a secretary for the military intelligence service MI6. She recalls how a small gang including 19-year-old Princess Elizabeth, Princess Margaret, 15, and Mrs Rhodes’s brothers, left the Palace by the Privy Gate.

Princess Elizabeth was wearing her Auxiliary Territorial Service uniform

As was Princess Margaret.

The princesses were protected on their VE Day jaunt by Captain Harold Campbell RN, equerry to Princess Elizabeth’s father, King George VI. ‘He was deeply disapproving of the whole manoeuvre,’ says Mrs Rhodes.

The Express‘s account of the evening adds:

Mindful of her war service and the need for his daughters to let their hair down the King and his wife gave their blessing, despite mutters of disapproval from advisers.

The royal adventure into the thronging streets of London was to be unofficial and a group of 16 chaperones was hastily convened to ensure the Princesses came to no harm ...

Among those accompanying the Princesses was Lord Porchester, a Royal Horseguards officer, who recalled: “We were mixed up in the crowd.

No one recognised Princess Elizabeth or Princess Margaret and we went round up Whitehall, up Piccadilly, into the Ritz Hotel and back through Hyde Park Corner, down the Mall.

“Everyone was very jolly, linking arms in the streets and singing Run Rabbit Run, Hang Out The Washing On The Siegfried Line, Roll Out The Barrel, Under The Spreading Chestnut Tree – all those sorts of things.”

It might seem remarkable now that the Princesses were not recognised but Elizabeth wore her uniform with the cap pulled down over her eyes.

Mrs Rhodes said that one of the officers said that he would not continue to accompany them unless the Princess wore her cap properly. She quickly adjusted it correctly and the group pressed on into the streets of London.

Mrs Rhodes said that, contrary to what the new film portrays, there was no evening romance with a young man named Jack. There was also no gambling and no visit to a brothel in Soho. Furthermore, Princess Margaret never escaped on a bus. In reality, the group stayed together.

Mrs Rhodes also disputed another episode in the film in her interview with the Mail:

Princess Margaret is also shown quite drunk. ‘No! There was no possibility. We never encountered anyone offering one a drink,’ insists Mrs Rhodes, the daughter of the 16th Lord Elphinstone.

Mrs Rhodes described people kissing each other, although the Royal party did not engage in such activity.

I hope this film tanks at the box office. Why make such a disrespectful movie about the world’s longest serving monarch, a lady who has served her country and the Commonwealth faithfully every day for 63 years?

Film aside, it was a rare outing on an historic and happy day:

The party returned to the Palace after midnight. ‘It was emancipation,’ says Mrs Rhodes. ‘I don’t think anybody realises what she has had to give up. You give up your independence. Poor Princess Margaret is dead, but that night is something I know the Queen will never forget.’

She explained:

It was like we had all been living under a huge, heavy, dark cloud. And suddenly, it had gone.

In a recent interview with the Radio Times, Mrs Rhodes said that the future Queen was excited about the prospect of her handsome beau, Prince Philip of Greece, returning from war. King George VI and the Queen Mother were planning on extending an invitation to him to spend several days with the Royal Family.

More memories of VE Day

A veteran quoted by the BBC said on Sunday, May 10, said that no brawls broke out that day because

everyone was sick of fighting.

The Radio Times (2-8 May 2015, p. 176) interviewed 88-year old Joan Alexander who spent the war at the Air Ministry, working long shifts. She was part of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF). She remembers Winston Churchill’s courtesy:

He used to come in at night, doff his hat and say ‘Good evening ladies!’ Very courteous.

Of VE Day, she said:

You nearly got squashed. Everyone went mad!

She was with her friends, fellow WAAF comrades, that day, adding:

And then the crowd surged up to Buckingham Palace to see the King and Queen on the balcony. There were all these Americans and Canadians. Some of us girls walked back to Chelsea to see my mum and dad, and everybody was celebrating because the war had gone on so long.

But VE Day wasn’t a party for everyone. One veteran whom the BBC interviewed on Sunday, May 10, recalled that he was still stationed in Italy. Despite war being declared over, fighting continued in parts of Europe for the next few weeks. This man remembered his commanding officer telling the troops that it was business as usual. Indeed, they were fired upon that day before the enemy eventually surrendered.

This Army veteran also said that his parents were preparing for his brother’s funeral on VE Day. The young soldier had been gunned down in another European country only a few days before peace was declared. The veteran was unable to attend his brother’s funeral or share in his parents’ grief because he had to concentrate on war.

For some, peacetime was boring

The BBC interviewed a woman who worked in the Timber Corps. She explained that she chose that route rather than enlisting in one of the women’s military corps because she never liked taking orders.

She remembered the Timber Corps as being very hard, yet gratifying, work. Despite the heavy lifting and felling of huge trees — as well as the constant blistered hands and feet — she missed the experience when the war ended:

Peace was here and we had to put up with it.

However, she was able to reminisce with her husband in the decades that followed. He also served in the Timber Corps. They married soon after the war.

Women’s conscription

It is worth mentioning that women were conscripted during the Second World War.

Although many volunteered to join the military and the Land Army whilst others worked in munitions factories, in December 1941, the British government passed a second National Service Act:

It widened the scope of conscription still further by making all unmarried women and all childless widows between the ages of 20 and 30 liable to call-up.  

Women served as pilots, lorry drivers and did what had been considered men’s work. The National Archives site has an excellent page describing the women’s effort:

Times had moved on and along with, still vital, clerical and domestic duties, women were driving and maintaining vehicles, manning anti-aircraft guns and RADAR stations, ferrying aircraft from factories to airfields, deciphering coded German messages in secret naval communications units and working as spies in the Special Operations Executive (SOE).

As part of the conscription requirement women had to chose whether to enter the armed forces or work in farming or industry. By December 1943 one in three factory workers was female and they were building planes, tanks, guns and making bullets needed for the war.

One civilian choice open to women was to join The Women’s Land Army, set up in June 1939. At its peak in 1943, there were over 80,000 ‘Land Girls’. The women undertook hard farm work including ploughing, turning hay, lifting potatoes, threshing, lambing and poultry management. Six thousand women worked in the Timber Corps, felling trees and running sawmills.

Women’s contributions were huge. It is no wonder that so many marvellously feisty females emerged from that generation!

Not such a happy time for all

Although the war was officially over in Europe, fighting was still going on in Asia. That did not end until August 1945.

Actress June Brown, 88, told the Radio Times (2-8 May 2015, p. 34) that she was in Scotland serving with the Wrens on VE Day:

… I was with a young naval chap at the time and he was being sent to the Far East. Things like that held it back from being a full celebration.

What children then remembered

The BBC commentators told us that, for security purposes, there were no weather forecasts during the war. Imagine six years of not knowing whether to carry a brolly or prepare for snow!

The Radio Times interviewed several actors and other media stars who were children when the war ended. Nearly all recalled the return of light, which after nightly blackouts, was as welcome as it was startling.

Joan Bakewell, now 82, remembered (p. 33):

I can remember the war ending, when I was 12, and this tram coming down the tracks from Stockport that night, illuminated so brightly, covered in light bulbs. We’d lived under a blackout for so long that we’d not seen any electric lights during the night. All of us children, we just ran out and started dancing around the tram, amazed to see so much electric light.

Raconteur and comedy writer Barry Cryer, 80, said that the smells from wartime England stuck in his mind, particularly wet earth and the rubber of his gas mask.

VE Day street parties were aplenty. Many octogenarians recall attending them or family-style parties in the pub. Euphoric dancing, singing, kissing and hugging marked VE Day.

Any readers who remember VE Day are most welcome to comment below!

In closing, I hope that, in future, these memories are passed down to younger generations. May we always remember our ancestors’ sacrifices for our freedom.

After Election 2015, London quickly made the segue into a weekend-long remembrance and celebration of victory in Europe in 1945 on May 8.

Ceremonies and celebrations

That Friday afternoon a ceremony took place at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, at which all the party leaders — including those who had resigned just hours earlier — were present.

The Daily Mail‘s Robert Hardman reported:

If Mr Cameron exuded the authority of a man freshly delivered of a clear mandate from the British people, it should also be said that the outgoing leaders of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties showed great dignity, too. There was no yawning, no fidgeting or the faintest hint of a scowl from two men who had just gone 36 hours without sleep, lost the fight of their lives and, subsequently, their jobs.

Both Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg could have deputed this ceremony to someone else and gone to bed. Instead, both had dressed immaculately – as had Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Both joined in all the hymns and prayers (not bad for two professed atheists). Both sang the National Anthem with gusto (unlike Miss Sturgeon, who appeared to chew it instead).

As for the ceremony:

All stood solemnly to attention as Randolph Churchill, 50, a former Royal Navy officer, recited his great-grandfather’s immortal VE Day broadcast: ‘After gallant France had been struck down we, from this island and from our united Empire, maintained the struggle single-handed for a whole year,’ said Mr Churchill.

‘We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead.’

The first VE Day was hardly the end of the war for a number of those in active service:

After the party leaders had laid their wreaths, Mr Churchill stepped forward to lay one with former Able Seaman Robert Gale DSM, 92, from Headley, Hampshire. Mr Gale and his landing craft flotilla had been through all the big Allied amphibious landings before VE Day, by which time he found himself in India preparing for the final push against Japan. ‘I was bloody annoyed because they were celebrating the end of their war and we were still fighting out in the Far East,’ he said.

Various events took place in London for the veterans and their families at the weekend. Some were open to the public, who seized the opportunity to wear 1940s attire.

The BBC televised the main events.

Westminster Abbey Service of Thanksgiving

On Sunday, May 10, a special service took place at Westminster Abbey. The Royal Family, religious leaders, military officers, dignitaries and representatives of the political parties (Harriet Harman for Labour, Tom Brake for the Liberal Democrats and Nigel Farage for UKIP) joined 1,000 Second World War veterans and their families.

Canon Dr John Hall led the service.

The Abbey choir sang the processional hymn Praise to the Lord so exquisitely, it was as if we heard the voices of angels.

(I am using the ESV for the Scripture readings below. The Psalm, set to music, no doubt has lyrical variations.)

The first reading was Isaiah 58:6-9a, 11-12:

“Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of wickedness,
    to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed[b] go free,
    and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
    and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
    the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
    you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’

11 And the Lord will guide you continually
    and satisfy your desire in scorched places
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters do not fail.
12 And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
    the restorer of streets to dwell in.

The choir sang Psalm 107:1-16:

1 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever!
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
    whom he has redeemed from trouble[a]
and gathered in from the lands,
    from the east and from the west,
    from the north and from the south.

Some wandered in desert wastes,
    finding no way to a city to dwell in;
hungry and thirsty,
    their soul fainted within them.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
    till they reached a city to dwell in.
8 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wondrous works to the children of man!
For he satisfies the longing soul,
    and the hungry soul he fills with good things.

10 Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    prisoners in affliction and in irons,
11 for they had rebelled against the words of God,
    and spurned the counsel of the Most High.
12 So he bowed their hearts down with hard labor;
    they fell down, with none to help.
13 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
14 He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death,
    and burst their bonds apart.
15 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wondrous works to the children of man!
16 For he shatters the doors of bronze
    and cuts in two the bars of iron.

Prime Minister David Cameron read Romans 8:31-39:

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, gave a brief sermon. He emphasised not only peace but also the reconciliation of peoples that took place after the Second World War.

Military cadets and veterans read out the prayer petitions which followed. Winston Churchill’s great-granddaughter and a veteran shared another reading.

Excerpts from King George VI’s unforgettable VE Day speech were also read:

Armed or unarmed, men and women, you have fought and striven and endured to your utmost. No-one knows that better than I do, and as your King, I thank with a full heart those who bore arms so valiantly on land and sea, or in the air, and all civilians who, shouldering their many burdens, have carried them unflinchingly without complaint.

With those memories in our minds, let us think what it was that has upheld us through nearly six years of suffering and peril. The knowledge that everything was at stake: our freedom, our independence, our very existence as a people; but the knowledge also that in defending ourselves we were defending the liberties of the whole world; that our cause was the cause not of this nation only, not of this Empire and Commonwealth only, but of every land where freedom is cherished and law and liberty go hand in hand.

In the darkest hours we knew that the enslaved and isolated peoples of Europe looked to us, their hopes were our hopes, their confidence confirmed our faith. We knew that, if we failed, the last remaining barrier against a worldwide tyranny would have fallen in ruins.

But we did not fail. We kept faith with ourselves and with one another, we kept faith and unity with our great allies. That faith, that unity have carried us to victory through dangers which at times seemed overwhelming …

There is great comfort in the thought that the years of darkness and danger in which the children of our country have grown up are over and, please God, forever. We shall have failed and the blood of our dearest will have flowed in vain if the victory which they died to win does not lead to a lasting peace, founded on justice and good will.

To that, then, let us turn our thoughts to this day of just triumph and proud sorrow, and then take up our work again, resolved as a people to do nothing unworthy of those who died for us, and to make the world such a world as they would have desired for their children and for ours.

This is the task to which now honour binds us. In the hour of danger we humbly committed our cause into the hand of God and he has been our strength and shield. Let us thank him for his mercies and in this hour of victory commit ourselves and our new task to the guidance that same strong hand.

As his speech shows us, George VI was a devout Anglican, unafraid to speak of the Almighty.

The last hymn was Christ is the World’s True Light, sung to Martin Luther’s Now Thank We All Our God.

Veteran’s walk and lunch

Most of the veterans participating in this year’s VE Day commemorations will not be returning if there is a 75th or 80th anniversary.

They are at least 90 years old now.

After the service at Westminster Abbey, the veterans and their families walked up Whitehall, past the Cenotaph to Horse Guards Parade and, finally, to St James Park for a delightful picnic lunch.

When passing the Cenotaph, they saluted it, remembering their fallen friends and family members. One veteran also blew a kiss.

As I watched these men and women walk, I was struck by their relatively robust health. Although, not surprisingly, a good number of them were in wheelchairs or required walking sticks, there were many who walked unaided — and briskly. This is a testament to the NHS and postwar medical care.

The Prince of Wales — Prince Charles — and his wife the Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla, greeted the veterans when they arrived at Horse Guards Parade to listen to the massed bands before lunch.

One veteran was so thrilled to see them that he leapt out of his wheelchair and rushed to shake their hands. They all talked for a few minutes. The elderly man had difficulty returning to his wheelchair; the two women accompanying him helped him, but it took a few minutes.

The gathering ended with a flypast with the Red Arrows as well as Spitfires and Hurricanes. The Lancaster scheduled to fly was out of service, unfortunately.

The Daily Mail has magnificent photos of Friday’s events and Sunday’s. Looking at them will make you feel as if you were there.

Youngest looking 93-year-old

The BBC interviewed several men and women who saw active service or participated in the war effort.

I shall look at their memories tomorrow.

For now, SpouseMouse and I were amazed to find out that one of the interviewees, Frank Tolley, is 93 years young. He served in Bomber Command and is very physically active. He has very few wrinkles and looks as if he were in his late 60s. More power to Mr Tolley. Whatever he’s doing is working a treat.

The obituaries in The Telegraph are often very well written, especially when they cover Britons who served in the Second World War.

In the United States, this age cohort is referred to as the Greatest Generation, coined by television journalist and author Tom Brokaw. His book of 15 years ago of the same name details lives of heroes from that era.

It is not uncommon for Telegraph readers commenting on British obituaries to say these people are ‘a vanishing breed’. Someone wrote the same of Major Denis Arnold, who died on January 14, 2015 at the age of 96.

Arnold was born and raised in west London. At that time, this area was semi-rural. It later became informally known as Metroland — freshly linked by the Tube and promoted as a newly desirable suburban community in the 1920s and 1930s. Today, it is fully built up and rather congested. Heathrow is the hub of employment for many residents.

Young Denis grew up in a wooden house in Hounslow. His parents had chickens and a goat. They also grew fruit and vegetables, allowing them to be self-sustaining where food was concerned. The family had no electricity. Nor did they have running water. They collected rainwater in old tubs and other receptacles.

Arnold left school at the age of 14 to work in the research laboratories of the renowned Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers, which, today, is part of the Blue Circle Group of companies. An adolescent who left school at that age back then was significantly better educated than 14-year olds today.

In 1939, he joined the RA Militia Regiment. At the time, war was imminent and the British government had reason to believe that Germany might invade the United Kingdom via Ireland. (There is much there which no longer makes the history books or school lessons. The evidence that some Irish were conspiring against Britain is now considered either politically incorrect or false.) Arnold was stationed in Northern Ireland to help fight off a German attack.

In 1942, Arnold was commissioned into the 13th Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers and volunteered to serve in Nigeria’s Royal West Africa Frontier Force. He was later transferred to India and then Burma to be trained in long-range penetration operations.

On June 1, 1944, he made a courageous — and what could have been a disciplinary — decision. However, he had to act quickly and without permission:

He was leading a reconnaissance patrol along a narrow ridge path just north of the Kyusanlai Pass, overlooking Nammun, north Burma, and following the line of a Japanese telephone cable, when he saw the tops of the enemy bivouacs ahead on a steep knoll on the ridge.

He walked quietly up the path until he was within a few paces of a slit trench. Inside, there were four Japanese with a light machine gun who were not keeping a good lookout. Having decided to change his mission into a fighting patrol, Arnold retraced his steps. Dividing his platoon into two parties, he ordered them to stalk the enemy position and attack from the right and left flanks.

Arnold himself went back up the track and disposed of the gun crew with a grenade and his semi-automatic American carbine. His two sections closed with the enemy using small arms and grenades. The Japanese took heavy losses, but the attack could not be pressed home because of the steep slope and thick undergrowth.

Arnold and his men then made a fighting withdrawal. Grenades and automatic fire from four machine guns followed them down the hill, and they beat off an attack by a Japanese section which was pursuing them. Enemy casualties were estimated at 14 killed and as many wounded. Arnold’s force suffered one killed and one wounded.

Journalism such as that makes The Telegraph‘s obituaries worth reading.

The end result was that the enemy retreated. Arnold was given an Immediate MC (Military Cross).

Meanwhile, back in England, Arnold’s mother wrote him a letter and enclosed a temperance pledge card which she asked him to sign. Oh, my! A drink would have been most welcome under the circumstances, but there was none to be had.

Arnold was demobbed in 1946 and returned to work with the Blue Circle Group. His wanderlust did not leave him, and he became their overseas operations director.

Even after retirement in Kent, he continued to travel around the world.

In his leisure time he played golf until the age of 90. His wife predeceased him. Three of his four children survive him.

Reading about lives such as Major Arnold’s is most inspiring. He probably grew up reading Boys’ Own adventures and was taught to live for God, King and Country.

I cannot imagine that happening now, can you?

Americans interested in similar Second World War stories and profiles of brave servicemen would do well to check out Pacific Paratrooper, written by one of my readers. I have learned much about the war by reading it and highly recommend the site.

2014 marks the 75th anniversary of Operation Pied Piper — children’s evacuation in England — which began in 1939, shortly before war was declared, and ended in 1944.

Members of the Evacuees Reunion Association have been giving interviews about their own experiences to educate a new generation who might not know much about this aspect of the Second World War in England.

My first post looked at the Association’s president’s experience, that of James Roffey. Yesterday’s was about Jack Hilton‘s.

Today’s discusses the war years of television presenter Michael Aspel, patron of the Association.

At the age of seven, he was sent with his sister Pat, nine, and little brother Alan, four, from Battersea in London to Chard, Somerset. They spent four-and-a-half years there.

It’s hard to believe that something like this could happen today, and let’s hope it never does in future. However, Great Britain was a different place then, with statesmen instead of career politicians. As one man who commented on Aspel’s story says (emphases mine):

I to[o] was an evacuee aged eight and even at that age we realised that a lot of people were dying to keep this country free[;] today our politicans are dying to give the country away.

Aspel recalls a happy time. His foster parents left him a lot of leeway, so he was able to wander around exploring Chard and surrounds. He made friends with the GIs who were billeted nearby; they left him a box of medals and buttons before they left for the Normandy landings.

He also enjoyed school, particularly his teacher, Miss Audrey Guppy. They reunited in the 1960s once he began appearing on national television. She wrote him a letter saying that she’d seen one of his shows. Some years later, they discovered that they lived five minutes apart. From then on, Aspel paid his former teacher weekly visits until her death at age 99.

In December 2008, Aspel and other evacuees were part of the documentary Evacuees Reunited (ITV1). Having read their stories this week, I’m sorry I never watched the programme. Perhaps it is online.

Just before the programme aired, Aspel gave an interview to the Daily Mail in which he described his war years away from home in more detail.

He says that, prior to evacuation — a concept the children didn’t understand — he and his fellow pupils practised walking down the street wearing gas masks. He said the drills were ‘fun, exciting’.

Then, one day, he and his siblings were each buttoned up in their coats and given suitcases.

My mother didn’t come. There was no big goodbye, just a lot of children being led to the station, Pied Piper style, and put onto a train. It was stuffy. Mostly I just remember taking Alan to the loo because he had messed his trousers.

At Chard, the children were herded into a community centre. Aspel has memories similar to that of James Roffey in West Sussex:

People came along and just picked what children they wanted. Most wanted boys, to work in the fields. No one actually came for me. I don’t know why.

He says that nearly every evacuee remembers being the last child chosen by a foster family — a natural misconception probably because it was such a fraught time that every boy and girl felt apprehensive and alone. It wasn’t unusual for siblings to be split up.

His brother and sister went to one family’s home and young Michael to another. Rose and Cyril Grabham agreed to take him in, although they were not at home when he arrived. Aspel recalls sitting in their front room for what seemed a very long time. It was not until later that he realised Mrs Grabham — whom he calls Auntie Rose — was out in the back garden.

The Grabhams’ 19-year old son was fighting in the war. Aspel remembers feeling unsettled the first night he stayed with them. Auntie Rose gave him her son’s toy gun, which helped, and kissed him once — on the forehead the next morning. After the war, he visited them several times and had happy reunions.

Auntie Rose was a good cook. She could skin her own rabbits and make delicious stews.

As for relationships with other children, Aspel recalls that the ‘vaccies’ — as they were called by their peers — often had problems. Some were bullied. Aspel, on the other hand, was one to fight back and had his fair share of scrapes.

He summed up the evacuation experience this way:

‘The thing is, it underlined how much I had been one of the lucky ones,’ he says. ‘Some evacuees had the most dreadful experiences – abused, uncared for, treated in ways that seem horrific today.

‘… much of it was quite wonderful – but it was still a huge deal. Any child going through that today would be offered counselling, at the very least

‘Today, of course, it would be considered barbaric; but we just accepted it, as did our parents in sending us away. They thought they were doing the right thing.’

Back at home in Battersea, he and his father had a highly uneasy relationship for many years. Aspel says that they occasionally threw punches at each other. However, Aspel senior was a good grandfather, at which point father and son made a truce.

Aspel believes that his father was traumatised from his service during the Second World War. Nothing was quite the same afterward and his mother also found the ensuing years highly stressful.

Aspel’s career has been a great one, his name a household word. Today, he is best known for having hosted This Is Your Life and Antiques Roadshow. However, his track record in marriage has been less successful, although he told the Mail that he hesitates to blame that on his post-war home life.

Whatever the case, I am glad that I read his and the other stories from members of the Evacuees Reunion Association. May we never forget what children in wartime went through 70 – 75 years ago.

Yesterday’s post introduced Operation Pied Piper — children’s evacuation — part of the history of the Second World War with which many people outside of Britain and the Commonwealth nations are unfamiliar.

A few members of the Evacuees Reunion Association have recently given interviews in which they describe their experiences. Yesterday’s post related that of James Roffey, founder of the Association.

It is difficult to know what to think of children’s evacuation. I have my own opinion, however, I wasn’t alive at the time so have no idea what it was really like living in England during the war.

However, I did know one Londoner, a widow, whose son was evacuated to a farm in the Home Counties. She went to collect him after several weeks as she couldn’t bear to be parted from him. As far as dying in a bombing raid, one supposes she thought they would take their chances. At night, in the air raid shelter of their nearest Tube station, at least they were together.

Today’s entry is about another Evacuees Reunion Association member Jack Hilton, aged 84, who still lives in his parents’ house in Penge East, South London. Mr Hilton lost his mother during the war, whilst he was miles away in South Yorkshire:

“She said ‘Your dad’s in France with the invasion and he could get killed’,” the 84-year-old told BT.com.

“’Mike [Jack’s younger brother] and I are here with the doodlebugs and we could get killed.’

“’I want one member of the family to survive.’ That is the last thing she ever said to me. I never saw her again.”

Hilton was part of the last tranche of evacuees, leaving in 1944 at the age of 13. He recalls missing his younger brother, who was three years old at the time. Neither knew at the time that their mother was slowly dying.

Young Jack ended up in Barnsley with Mr and Mrs Wines and their four-year old daughter Olwen. He lived with them for three months.

Fortunately, they accepted Jack as a member of the family. He kept in touch with them for many years and went to visit them in 1974.

In the video, he describes the first dinner Mrs Wines prepared for him: pickles, potatoes and corned beef. He says it’s still one of his favourite meals.

He also tells how happy he was at being able to sleep in a bed at the Wines’s house. Back in Penge East, he slept during the war curled up in a sheltered part of the house where the coal was stored.

Hilton went on to pick up his life after the war and today has seven grandchildren.

 

One aspect of the Second World War which wasn’t covered in history class in the United States many years ago was the evacuation of English children to safer areas — and Commonwealth countries.

If I’d realised that at the time, I would have better understood the background to Lord of the Flies. I don’t recall understanding the context and doubt the teacher explained it to us in class. However, that was many years ago, and perhaps I didn’t read the first few pages that well.

It was only when I moved here that I learned about this mass evacuation, officially called Operation Pied Piper. I cannot imagine how terrifying that must have been for the hundreds of thousands of children who were sent to foster families around the country and overseas. Germany and Japan, incidentally, had similar programmes for their children during the war.

The Evacuees Reunion Association brings together those who underwent this experience and furthers education for today’s generation on this period in history. The Association has upwards of 1,500 members around the world.

As with everything else in life, some children were better treated than others. It is instructive to read the memories that these people had in their time away from home.

The founder of the Evacuees Reunion Association, James Roffey, recently described his evacuation with his brother and sister from Camberwell, in South London. The Roffey children left via sister Jean’s (Joan’s?) school, ending up in Pulborough, West Sussex. (The article really could have been better edited, especially considering its content. We don’t know how old Mr Roffey was at the time nor the name of his sister.)

They were among the first tranche to leave London. It was during school holidays in 1939, just before war was declared:

I remember my mother saying “If you are evacuated you will go with Joan and she will look after you”. I didn’t have any say in the matter.

We all had little suitcases and the basic necessities – clean shirt, pyjamas, toothbrush and toothpaste – the poorer children had their belongings in a pillow case. For several days we went to school ready to be evacuated but it didn’t happen until one Friday we went to school and everything was different.

For security reasons, children and parents did not know the final destination. Parents were not allowed to walk with their children in some cases, but on the other side of the road:

The mothers were at the iron school gate but the police made sure they didn’t get anywhere near us.

We were marched down to Queens Road railway station and the parents had to walk along the other side of the road. There was absolute chaos because some of the mothers just couldn’t go through with it.

Although young James Roffey — under eight years of age — found the trip rather ‘exciting’, not all the children shared his enthusiasm (emphases mine):

The journey lasted about four hours so some children were travel sick, some wet themselves. It was that more than anything that lead to rumours that all evacuees were dirty, weren’t housetrained and came from the slums.

When we arrived there was just one toilet at the station for about 300 children so they rigged up makeshift toilets with tarpaulin and buckets.

There was a long wait for busses, some older boys ran away so they put us in the pens of the cattle market.

A district nurse deloused the children. Although her manner was harsh, he later got to know her and said she was ‘actually a lovely person’.

Before boarding the busses to their final destinations, the children had an opportunity to avail themselves of cakes and sweets, however, Roffey remembers:

… none of it was touched because anxiety had set in. We were all thinking: “Where am I? What’s happening to me? I want my mum!”

Farmers chose older boys to work on farms. The billeting officers assigned the rest of the children homes. If they knocked on your door, you were obliged to take the children in:

They couldn’t find anyone to take two boys and a girl so the billeting officer came over and grabbed John and literally forced him away from Jean – she was distraught. I wasn’t, I was glad to see the back of him.

We were driven to a semi-derelict cottage where the woman didn’t want to take us but the billeting officer put his foot in the door, pushed J[ea]n and I in and drove off.

The government compensated the host families for taking in evacuees, similar to the present foster family system.

A fortnight later, Jean and James went to different homes. James ended up with a couple who owned a sweet shop. Lucky boy! He stayed with them and their 14-year old daughter for four years.

Roffey says that homesickness and sadness were strictly out of bounds:

All evacuees experienced homesickness but it wasn’t recognised in those days – you weren’t allowed to go around looking miserable. You were told: “Pull yourself together – don’t you know there’s a war going on?”

Letters home were censored by the foster parents or the teachers. If we wrote that we were unhappy they would tell us “You don’t want to upset your mother”, and if they didn’t like what we’d written they’d rip the letters up.

He said that whatever anxiety you felt at the time had to be internalised:

You had to hide it. We called it ‘it’ – it is still with us to this day, it is something you never really get over.

Roffey has written a book, ‘Send Them To Safety’, available through the Evacuees Reunion Association.

The comments beneath the article with Roffey’s story contain more insights regarding evacuation. Several describe a lifelong friendship with their wartime foster parents. Others say they stayed with relatives. Sadly, as one might expect, some children lost their parents during the war and had to be adopted.

Tomorrow’s post has another evacuee’s story.

Comments are welcome, particularly from readers who were children during the war.

File:Anvildragoon.pngSeventy years ago at this time an important battle took place in the south of France which enabled French Resistance and Allied forces to move inland up to the Vosges Mountains in the northeast and liberate a large swathe of the country.

This battle was initially called Operation Anvil — sometimes still referred to as such — and later Operation Dragoon. Operation Dragoon began on August 15, 1944 and ended one month later on September 14.

Forgotten, yet major, operation

Although monuments exist and commemorations are held in the liberated cities and towns,  military history has largely neglected this battle, overshadowed by Operation Overlord, the Normandy Landings. Those who took part in Dragoon call it ‘the forgotten D-Day’. American and Free French forces received military support from Canada and Great Britain. Whilst the Resistance officers were French, their troops mostly came from African colonies.

It is unlikely that we will ever see military maritime landings such as this ever again. Military historian Thomas Vaisset told Nice-Matin on August 11, 2014:

There are so many men and so much equipment involved. Today, if you add in the sailors, pilots and ground troops, together, they would have only been the size of Army B [the French force involved under General De Lattre’s command]. We’re talking about a scale that has no comparison with current internationational capabilities.

Vaisset added that military landings by sea have been fraught with risk throughout history:

Since the time of Caesar, landing by sea to penetrate further inland has always been complicated. Statistically, such an operation has a greater chance of ending in disaster than in a huge victory.

The paper cites two examples of failures: the Dardanelles in the Great War and Dieppe during the Second World War in 1942.

Although Western countries often joke about French weakness in battle, Vaisset had this to say about Operation Dragoon:

France paid the price in blood. She has her place at the victors’ table because she actively participated in the liberation.

Controversial

Operation Anvil — as it was called during the planning stages — was hotly contested and debated. Churchill favoured concentrating on Italy and securing oil in the Balkans, which would have deprived Germany of fuel. He also wanted to forestall the Red Army’s advance. A successful attack on the Balkans would result in a stronger position in negotiating post-war settlements. In addition, Anzio had gone badly, so the Provence landing was seen as being too risky and was temporarily shelved.

It is said that Churchill felt ‘dragooned’ into accepting Anvil. Other historians claim that the later name of Dragoon was taken from the city of Draguignan, one of the liberation targets. Whatever the truth might be, the landing went ahead after the success of the Normandy landings.

A booklet about Dragoon, Southern France — The US Army Campaigns of World War II, is a detailed and fascinating account of what happened during that month. It says:

the campaign might well not have taken place at all without the efforts of General Devers to continue preparations for ANVIL after its abrupt cancellation in April. 

Fortunately, as Dragoon unfolded:

de Lattre’s rapid conquest of Toulon and Marseille, which together would soon be providing for over one-third of the Allied supply needs in northern France, allowed the ports to become operational significantly before the stormy mistral season began. Indeed, by 14 September, D plus 30, the Seventh Army had achieved objectives that ANVIL planners had not expected it to attain until about D plus 120.

Also:

The Allied commanders were clearly assisted by the ULTRA intercept program, which revealed the details of the German withdrawal, a rare intelligence coup.

The major players in Operation Dragoon were Generals Jacob L Devers, Henry Kent Hewitt, Alexander Patch, Lucian Truscott and Jean de Lattre de Tassigny.

Considerations for success

File:Advance S France.jpgConsiderations for this sensitive operation were as follows:

Confuse the enemy: To confuse the Germans as to the primary liberation targets, the Allies attacked random areas along the coastline and inland ten days before Dragoon began. Fake attacks involving dummy paratrooper drops and small fleets of patrol craft also took place. Interesting fact: Actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr led one of the dummy attacks. (p. 11 of the brochure)

Choose the first landing carefully: French historian Thomas Vaisset says that the Allies needed a succession of beaches relatively close together, hence the multiple line of attack. They really needed a proper port, but the German defenses in Marseille and Toulon were too strong.

Manage fuel supplies: Fuel was an important consideration because it was in short supply from the start. Once the Allies liberated Provence, each advance inland put them further away from their fuel depots along the coast. Sometimes they had only one day’s fuel supply before the next could arrive. (pp. 28, 30)

Act quickly: Truscott was anxious not to repeat mistakes which had been made at Anzio by other officers. He knew of one commander who delayed moving inland, which proved to be disastrous. Truscott persuaded Patch that there were to be no delays with Dragoon. De Lattre was of the same opinion. This sense of immediacy brought immense success to the operation. (p. 14)

Using intercepts: The aforementioned ULTRA intercept programme worked brilliantly. At the start of Dragoon, the Americans were able to intercept a message intended for one of the German commanders, who, because of disrupted communication lines, didn’t receive it until two days later on August 17. By then, the Allies knew where the Germans would maintain strongholds and where they were ordered to withdraw. This enabled Dragoon to progress even quicker than anticipated. (pp. 15-16)

The booklet concludes:

All were willing to take risks to shorten the campaign, and each was confident that his troops and commanders could carry out even the most difficult maneuvers. It was in this respect that the campaign for southern France, one which resulted in the presence on Eisenhower’s southern flank of a strong Allied army group rather than a hostile German one, differed markedly from many other Allied efforts and deserves more study and attention than it has yet received.

The story of Operation Dragoon is a great one, the last of its kind in Europe. For this, we should be grateful but also mindful of the price paid for freedom. The French suffered 10,000 casualties; 2,050 Americans were killed, captured or missing and 7,750 more endured other casualties.

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