Social Support – Wars apart, generations apart, soldiers will always be soldiers…
What do you say to a D-Day veteran, who landed during the first wave on ‘Sword’ beach, when he asks you, somewhat shyly, for help?
‘Course Bert – what’s up mate?’
‘Well, I don’t like admitting it, but I’m starting to struggle a little…’
The man before me is slight, 94 years old, and one would assume given his heroic reputation, and his ‘Légion d’honneur’, that he would still remain fearsome despite his years.
In actual fact, Bert is an unassuming and humble man who, despite the awe and respect he commands, remains largely untouched by the events of that day and the subsequent weeks during the push on Paris.
To his mates at the Mansfield & Ashfield Veterans Breakfast Club, Bert is a cherished individual – and to Bert, his mates at the club are his weekly pleasure.
Sat amongst his own, he looks comfortable and at peace as the banter rages on around him. Occasionally he’ll dive in himself with razor wit, but for the most he is content to listen and smile with the others.
It’s almost 73 years since Bert fell out of his landing craft into the fury of The German defences. At a time like that, mates are everything.
Here we sit in a tranquil pub in 2017, and still, his mates are everything.
He shares stories of the day with us, and he is just as eager to have us share our stories with him, because however many years apart two wars may be, the British Tommy that comes out the other side is largely the same.
Bert mentioned something once that has stuck with me – he described the noise on D-Day as ‘an endless cacophony’. Not the crack-pop bang crunch you hear on war films. Just pure, loud, noise.
I ventured to him that the sound I mainly remember is that of metal-on-metal. The moving parts of rifles and machine guns and of brass cartridges bouncing.
He nodded, and was distracted, but he nodded – he could remember that amongst the cacophony.
This meeting of minds, despite the difference in years, and severity of situations, was a wonderful thing for me.
I felt like Bert had shared something special.
And so, the man who survived D-Day asked for help, from someone who knew and understood just a tiny
fraction of his own experience.
The bond between soldiers.
Luckily I was in a position to render Bert the assistance he needed, which wasn’t much at all in the great scheme of things.
The media would have us believe that the events of D-Day would have been traumatic for Bert, and define the rest of his life.
As it turned out, 73 years later, his chief complaint was that he ended up greasing and sea-proofing 30 odd land rovers on June the 5th, only to see ‘Jerry’ sink the ship they were in on June the 6th.
If that’s not posttraumatic growth I don’t know what is…