D-Day and Coronavirus: The 2020 Homefront | Ewan Gillings
Anniversaries of wartime events are seldom joyous affairs. With the exception of VE Day, they serve as a sobering reminder of what our grandparents and great-grandparents sacrificed in years gone by. There is a continuity in the way we reflect on these events; the two-minute silence on Remembrance Day, for example.
But what about those other events, events that we do not mark with tradition or continuity? Today, as I am sure you know, is the 76th anniversary of the D-Day landings. Last year on the 75th anniversary, there was an enormous array of events and tributes to those men who landed on the French beaches in the early hours of the morning. It was fitting – the (proper) diamond anniversary, and likely the last significant commemoration that many of those soldiers will see.
I can’t help, however, to feel that we often see D-Day in the same light year-on-year. We either ignore it (see the lack of stories on websites such as the BBC and Sky News, for example), or we re-tell the same stories over and over again.
This is not to say, of course, that the history of the event is not important – like all of our nation’s past, it is an essential piece of the puzzle, and helped to shape where we are today. But that should not mean that we content ourselves simply to talk of beach landings and Saving Private Ryan.
D-Day was a success purely as a result of a myriad of differing factors. Those men would not have succeeded in taking the beaches, much less landed there, had it not been for the work of thousands of men and women. The work of Photographic Investigators at RAF Medmenham, for example, is something that very few will know of. Their tireless work, pouring over thousands and thousands of photographs in order to find a suitable landing area, was vital to the success of the operation; and yet they are rarely, if ever, commended.
And what of the American effort? One many who springs to mind is Andrew Higgins, inventor of the LCVP, or ‘Higgins’ boat – the vessel used for the amphibious landings in Normandy. This man single-handedly invented – and initially funded – the production of these vehicles; and yet he is often overlooked completely. For a man who, in the words of later president Dwight D. Eisenhower, ‘won the war for us’, Higgins receives incredibly little coverage in the recounts of D-Day. Given the ongoing racial tensions around the world, one would have hoped that Higgins – a man who was noted for paying all employees the same wage, regardless of race or gender – would be venerated. The fact that he is not is a depressing sign of how events such as D-Day are often truncated and simplified.
This is not even to mention, of course, those many hundreds of thousands who worked in factories to build the weapons and machinery used to facilitate the D-Day landings. Nor those who worked in the supply lines to sustain the Allied force once they had landed. The list of those responsible for the success of D-Day is long, and we should be extremely careful not to forget those who were crucial in organising the success of the mission from home.
In today’s coronavirus climate, I think we can sympathise with those who remained in Britain, locked away in their homes. The virus has isolated us, yes; but it also gives fantastic reason and opportunity to talk to those in our family and friendship groups that we normally take for granted. I think the media has missed a trick with the 76th D-Day anniversary; what could be more in keeping with the strange times we find ourselves in than a look at the work and stories of those who made D-Day a success; not from the beaches, but from home.