Into the Jaws of Death

into the jaws of deathI tried to write about the 70th anniversary of D-Day before the actual anniversary itself a week past Friday. Well I managed it but frankly dear reader I did not foist it upon you. It was muddled, incoherent, meandering.

More than usual.

So I am having another go. And if you are reading this then I must think it’s OK to publish. You may still think it muddled, incoherent and meandering but I can assure you it is better than it was.

6th June, 1944, half past six in the morning…

One hundred and fifty thousand men hit the beach. I say men. What I mean is boys. Just a few short years older than my elder son who still sucks his thumb when he thinks no one is looking as he decompresses after school.

So they were boys. But not just boys. Most had no combat experience.

I say, you there! Yes, you. Jenkins is it? Now look Jenkins, you’ve finished your basic training so now it’s time to take on Jerry and show him what’s what, what?

Got a little job for you. You’re going to invade France from the sea and wipe Jerry off the map. Now hurry along there’s a war on…

And they did it. Five beachheads established. It was the beginning of the end for Jerry.

Four and a half thousand dead.

A remarkably small percentage but a horrific loss. German fatalities were similar in number.

And once Jerry was vanquished, the boys came home. To drive buses. Build roads. Farm the land.

I cannot thank them enough. That’s a clichéd phrase but true – I actually cannot thank them enough.

I sit here in a peaceful, wealthy democracy on a sunny day and I am free to do what I want. And it’s an incredible privilege that even today most people on earth don’t have (and a lot of those who do have it are too fearful to use it).

Our fears definitely expand in both severity and size to fill the headspace we give them but they are not real. Look at that picture at the top of the page. It’s called Into the Jaws of Death. Now that’s worthy of fear. In comparison, I cannot say I have any fears. Not really. Seems self-indulgent.

So the next time I feel like shrinking from what I don’t want to do I will use the example of those 150,000 boys for inspiration and (critically) perspective and I will pull my bloody socks up and get on with it.

Into the Jaws of Death, was taken by Robert F Sargent on the morning of 6th June 1944 as the US Army 1st Infantry Division landed on Omaha Beach.

One Response to Into the Jaws of Death

  1. Lily Newman June 17, 2014 at 9:44 pm #

    Hi Mark

    Definitely a blog and a photo to make you reflect on what we do have rather than what we don’t. With wars across the world, the story is still the same for our young men and women today.

    I’ve been privileged to work during the past 2 years with wounded armed forces personnel who went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan as fit and virile young people, only to have their lives immeasurably changed by an IED, a petrol bomb or a snipers bullet. They similarly (having signed up at 16, 17, or 18) did not consider the consequences of their actions. One of my lads went to see the careers adviser (having faired, like most of his friends, very poorly in his GCSEs). The adviser asked what he was good at. “COD (Call of Duty) – I’m brilliant at it!” he replied. “Isn’t that battles and bullets lad? Well, it’s the army for you then!” came the reply.

    Six months later he found himself on the battlefield in Iraq with no reset button. A second tour of duty saw him hit by an RPG in a fire fight. He was evac-ed to England minus his eyes and part of his face. And yet I have learned so much about the resilience and stoic resolve of these incredible boys (as you rightly call them). Craig has played blind football for England in the European and World Cups since being medically discharged from a job he loved. He’s learnt to ski and climbed Kilimanjaro (not being able to see one foot in front of the other) and cycled 350 miles across France to raise money for the charity Battle Back. My boys and girls have returned to the UK in wheelchairs, minus limbs, with horrific burns and life changing injuries. The most incredible (and often heard statement) that I hear them say is, “I was so lucky – their injuries are so much worse” – this particularly from one of my lads who had to bail out of a plane whilst flying it because his cockpit was on fire….oh, and without a parachute. He considers himself ‘lucky’ to have received 70% burns and undergone over 100 operations to repair his internal injuries because, “at least I’ve still got four limbs.”

    As a result of their resolve and resilience, I have vowed never to moan about the aches and pains that we all experience as part of the aging process. You are so right – we can never repay them the debt that we owe our D Day Heroes and their modern equivalent. And we must never take for granted the freedom that we have as a result of their actions and we must use it to make a positive difference to those we live and work with.

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