It’s all very well visiting the towns and beaches from the Normandy campaign, but I also felt that our visit wouldn’t have been complete if we hadn’t paid our respects to Britain’s war dead.
The cemeteries offer an opportunity to pause, reflect and remember.
The citation for his VC reads: “In North-West Europe on 6th August, 1944, the position held by a battalion of the Royal Norfolk Regiment near Sourdeval was heavily attacked. Corporal Bates was commanding a forward section of the left forward company which suffered some casualties, so he decided to move the remnants of his section to an alternative position from which he could better counter the enemy thrust. As the threat to this position became desperate, Corporal Bates seized a light machine-gun and charged, firing from the hip. He was almost immediately wounded and fell, but he got up and advanced again, though mortar bombs were falling all round him. He was hit a second time and more seriously wounded, but he went forward undaunted, firing constantly till the enemy started to fall back before him. Hit for the third time, he fell, but continued firing until his strength failed him. By then the enemy had withdrawn and Corporal Bates, by his supreme gallantry and self-sacrifice, had personally saved a critical situation. He died shortly afterwards of the wounds he had received.”
Adjacent to the churchyard is Ranville War Cemetery and it’s here that I honestly felt my heart break.
Private Robert Edward ‘Bobby’ Johns was just 16 years old when he was killed on 23 July 1944. He had run away from home in Portsmouth at 14 years old in order to enlist. He subsequently joined The Parachute Regiment. He passed his jump course in January 1944, with the comments ‘Youngest pupil on course, but best performer’and was posted to the 13th (2/4th South Lancashire) Battalion, where he served with A Company.
Major Jack Watson, A Company Commander, said of Johns: ‘He was quite a big lad when he did his training, and it was only when he died that we found out he had lied about his age“.
I have so many photos from the cemeteries that I’m thinking it might be time for a revised version of Life After Death.
Lest we forget.