Monday, 7 November 2011

PEGASUS BRIDGE Stephen E Ambrose, 1988

I have just been to Pegasus Bridge.  I re-read this book on the way there to remind myself of the facts. But facts are nothing compared with experiencing the real thing.
My Grandad was a sapper in one of the gliders which landed there. I have his medals and the photographs of him revisiting the area with the Normandy Veterans. It meant a lot to him; and he meant so much to me.  He was proud of what he had done and, in his later years, relived the ‘glory’ of the War but he never talked about the specifics other than to show us the pocket book which saved his life by coming between him and flak from the German guns.  When he made his return trips to France I was just a teenage girl with an all-consuming interest in Duran Duran. He was such an important figure in my life and I can’t believe now that, back then, I knew as little about Operation Overlord as he knew about Simon le Bon. I do regret that I didn’t ask him but I don’t upset myself that I didn’t. I loved him dearly and I still do and I know that he didn’t love me any the less because I never questioned him about what it was like to be in that glider or how he felt under enemy fire. But I can’t help thinking that if only the Teenage Me had known how much the Adult Me would wish that I had. Researching his movements now, I would have found it so much easier if I had his personal testimony. But I have documents, some written by him, some official, and I am slowly piecing together the part he played. Yes, it is the part of just one individual, just one of many. His name appears in no official Roll of Glory I have found. Had he been in one of the first six gliders he would have had his name recorded at Pegasus Bridge itself. Meeting minimum resistance, the men of this advance party took control of the bridge, ascertained that there were no explosives and waited for reinforcements. Arriving about two hours later, under the same atrocious flying conditions and thrown immediately into the thick of fighting during the German counter-attack, the men of the second wave of 6th Airborne are not recorded. The acts of heroism by the first group are justly lauded and they deserve their fame but history shows, as always, that there are no prizes for coming second. Or maybe that is just my way of looking at things.  Arthur Brock (Sapper, 249 Field Company Royal Engineers, attached to Ox and Bucks, 6th Airborne Division) never seemed to feel put out. He was glad to march on Remembrance Day and was, quirkily enough, quite happy to remonstrate with the Royal Marine who lived opposite him for only being involved in a ‘skirmish.’ (This ‘skirmish’ was The Falklands War!)
This book provides a sensible account of the D-Day mission which captured the bridges over the River Orne and the Caen Canal.  It shows the extent of the training which made these men capable of undertaking the task and it gives a balanced cross-Atlantic version of events. Without wishing to demote the role of the Americans, it does seem that many of the books in WH Smiths pay greater attention to the US sacrifice on D-Day than to that of any of the other Allied Forces.  Omaha Beach was a bloodbath and should justifiably be given the utmost importance in any history of the Second World War (I have visited the cemetery above it and been overwhelmed by its quiet fortitude) but Juno, Sword and Gold sectors also received their share of German firepower and the individuals who even made it ashore, let alone those who continued to fight their way off the beach, move inland and eventually, liberate  village after village, town after town and then Paris itself, should not be denied the recognition which they are due. The US beach landings at Utah were supported by the American Airborne (I have also just been to St. Mère Eglise; another sobering visit – don’t watch The Longest Day if you want an accurate version of these events.) It was, however, the overwhelming bravery and vivacity of the British Airborne forces which enabled the troops from all the Landing Beaches to move forward and ultimately rendered the 6th of June the beginning of the end.
This book details just one part of the story, but it is a very important part and is very well told.

1 comment:

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