Paul Cartwright travelled to France with the West Yorkshire Police Band for the 70th Anniversary of D-Day
‘When you go home you MUST tell everyone, especially the young ones, about what happened here all those years ago, because they must make sure the same never happens again!’ Seventy years is a long time to be able to process and understand your thoughts and feelings when you consider the atrocities of war which the soldiers and sailors on every side had to witness during the Normandy D-Day landings, and subsequent fighting during the Second World War.
This June has seen the eyes of the world’s media focus upon a small section of coastline, which was to be the entry point of the liberation of France and mainland Europe; a liberation which was bloody, a liberation which really had no winners, a liberation which was brutal, and yet a liberation which has been celebrated and remembered by so many.
Once again, I had the great honour of travelling to France with the West Yorkshire Police Band and being part of the remembrances and celebrations which took place to mark the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day landings. Yet again I was called upon as one of the West Yorkshire Police Chaplains to take part in and lead worship whilst on foreign soil, and on this occasion I was fortunate to be able to dedicate a memorial to the Royal Marines and the 23rd destroyer flotilla at Luc-sur-Mer on the evening before I was to return back to England to celebrate Pentecost.
Our time in France was action-packed; it saw us playing and marching at the famous Pegasus Bridge, leading Acts of Remembrance both alongside the Parachute Regiment Band and alone, at war memorials along the sea front and in war cemeteries. It saw us having high speed police escorts along closed motorways (did I mention I used to be in the Police!), standing Prince Charles up at an engagement due to a small village remembrance running over on time and also playing for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge when they visited Arromanches-les-Bains to speak with a number of Normandy Veterans.
Each day saw the band playing at around five public engagements, but more importantly, it saw the band supporting those who had travelled great distances to remember their friends, both living and dead.
The memory lives on
As the years have gone by, the number of soldiers making the June pilgrimage to France has decreased, and yet still their families go and remember what was achieved by their loved ones. The decline in the number of Veterans that are still alive led to the announcement whilst we were in Arromanches that
the Normandy Veterans Association was to be disbanded, and yet their memory will still live on as their family cherish memories in their hearts. These same veterans, on hearing the band start to play a march, suddenly get a boost of energy and begin to march upright in step with the music, the medals shining in the bright sunlight as they swung in rhythm with each step.
I began this article by quoting some words which formed part of a moving speech made by an old soldier who had returned once again to the Normandy battlefields to remember his fallen friends and to take part in the dedication and unveiling of a memorial to the 23rd destroyer flotilla and Royal Marines in Luc-sur-Mer. Like so many who spoke in Normandy he spoke with no bitterness, and did not see himself as a hero. He was a great example to all those present of the need to embrace peace, and to embrace forgiveness.
During my trip to France I was fortunate to speak to soldiers both old and new, those who took part in the D-Day landings and those who have been more recently deployed around the world. It was an honour to hear how they respected and looked towards their Padres, and how they appreciated the work that their Chaplains did and continue to do. During one of our quieter moments whilst we were being transported to our next engagement I was able to think about some words that one of the Army Chaplains said when he addressed one of the parades during the week, and quite simply he said, `War is evil, but here when we went to war, it was the lesser of two evils’. Personally I found this helpful to contemplate and to be reminded of, and I offer these words to you to also consider. Often we sanitize war, wherever it occurs, and we remove the evil from it when we speak about it, and yet evil still exists, as does war throughout the world.
The soldiers of yesterday live and fight on even though the original group decreases, and people are called afresh to witness to all that happened those 70 years ago in Northern France.
It is also possible to consider the Church in a similar way, where people are called afresh to witness to Christ and to proclaim his truth, in a way which was received from the Apostles. A day may come when the original group within the Veterans and the Church die out, but we can rest assure that all that which has gone before will continue to be remembered, supported and upheld. The brave sacrifices which have been made by so many throughout the ages both allow and encourage this to happen. There are no winners in war, only casualties, but it is the way in which we carry on that allows us to continue to hold our heads high.