- be it that of a defender on the beaches facing the incoming invasion fleet,
- a pilot dogfighting overhead,
- a sailor feeding the embarking troops,
- a seasick soldier trying to get ashore to safety under withering machine gun fire,
- a paratrooper, who jumped with his Army dog, only for them both to be killed by friendly fire,
- a General just 100 yards from the front line,
- sailors prepositioned offshore several days earlier to assist the landings,
- or dockyard workers angry at building concrete caissons when they could have been helping the war effort.
As diverse as these stories are, they however coalesce on the landing sites and in the units in which they served. The landings themselves spanned over 50 miles along 5 beaches (there was a 6th but it was never used), but this was extended by the parachute troops dropped at either end in a blocking role. Coup-de-main attacks were launched at key locations, heroism abounded and yet all was choreographed and rehearsed extensively in the months leading up to this day. British, Canadian and American troops were used for the most part at the outset by the Allies but the Axis troops were drawn from all over mainland Europe and even Mongolia.
France was, naturally, in the thick of this battle. The local population was torn with the age old dilemma of co-operate or collaborate. After a German occupation of nearly 4 years, a lot of the locals began to think liberation would never arrive and so started to collaborate. Others fought and died for one of the Resistance groups. Yet others tried to avoid the war entirely.
Once started, the Battle of Normandy lasted for 100 days, until Paris was liberated. A rapid collapse of the German forces in France led the Allies to believe the Caudron of the Falaise Gap (Chambois Pocket) had smashed two German Armies and defeated them. This was not to be, but Normandy hastened the end of the war.
These events changed the course of history, with lessons still being taught in military academies and schools. The stories also formed the basis for block buster films such as "The Longest Day", "Saving Private Ryan", "The Dirty Dozen" and the "Band of Brothers". They have, however, yet to depict one story, where a soldier asked "Daddy what did you do on D-Day?" would have replied "I spent the day cycling from one side of the battlefield to the other!".
Looking at history can be a fascinating occupation. Putting the start of The First World War into a modern analogy leads one to this tragic joke.....
Germany, Austria and Italy are standing together in the middle of a pub when Serbia bumps into Austria and spills Austria's pint. Austria demands Serbia buy it a complete new suit because there are splashes on its trouser leg. Germany expresses its support for Austria's point of view. Britain recommends that everyone calm down a bit.
Serbia points out that it can't afford a whole suit, but offers to pay for the cleaning of Austria's trousers. Russia and Serbia look at Austria. Austria asks Serbia who it's looking at. Russia suggests that Austria should leave its little brother alone. Austria inquires as to whose army will assist Russia in compelling it to do so. Germany appeals to Britain that France has been looking at it, and that this is sufficiently out of order that Britain should not intervene. Britain replies that France can look at who it wants to, that Britain is looking at Germany too, and what is Germany going to do about it?
Germany tells Russia to stop looking at Austria, or Germany will render Russia incapable of such action. Britain and France ask Germany whether it's looking at Belgium. Turkey and Germany go off into a corner and whisper.
When they come back, Turkey makes a show of not looking at anyone. Germany rolls up its sleeves, looks at France, and punches Belgium. France and Britain punch Germany. Austria punches Russia. Germany punches Britain and France with one hand and Russia with the other. Russia throws a punch at Germany, but misses and nearly falls over. Japan calls over from the other side of the room that it's on Britain's side, but stays there. Italy surprises everyone by punching Austria.
Austria Australia punches Turkey, and gets punched back. There are no hard feelings because Britain made Austria Australia do it. France gets thrown through a plate glass window, but gets back up and carries on fighting. Russia gets thrown through another one, gets knocked out, suffers brain damage, and wakes up with a complete personality change. Italy throws a punch at Austria and misses, but Austria falls over anyway.
Italy raises both fists in the air and runs round the room chanting. America waits till Germany is about to fall over from sustained punching from Britain and France, then walks over and smashes it with a barstool, then pretends it won the fight all by itself. By now all the chairs are broken and the big mirror over the bar is shattered. Britain, France and America agree that Germany threw the first punch, so the whole thing is Germany's fault. While Germany is still unconscious, they go through its pockets, steal its wallet, and buy drinks for all their friends.