This week was D-DAY. Although you may not have noticed. On ‘actual’ D-Day, my Grandad, Sid Wright, landed a tank on actual Sword Beach and lost an actual finger in the process. It never grew back. My Grans brothers (the Cardiss Brothers, hitherto a less than popular Leeds based vaudeville act, who had also , as twins, fought each other in the finals of the pre-war Yorkshire area Fish-Supper-Weight boxing championships) signed up together for World War 2 to fight fascism and had died together at Tobruk in the African deserts. And my dad (no relation) had been on the aircraft carriers on the arctic convoys keeping the Red Army supplied with tanks, guns and mittens, in order to maintain the heroic Eastern Front that had been pushing back Hitler in grimmer than grim fighting for the previous 3 years while Britain stood alone. With only Russia, America, China and the Commonwealth for allies. So when it came to my turn to drive a tank into battle and face down our countries enemies I woke up and thankfully remembered I wasn’t even in the army.
I wasn’t in the army because I didn’t have to be. After D-Day, that generation of all our families had fought and defeated Fascism and united a continent that had been at war with itself for 2000 years, give or take a millennium. We now have a small professional army of people who actually want to be in it and are trained to be good at it. Yes for nearly 50 years they stood nose to nose in the centre of Europe facing down the Warsaw Pact countries, but never a shot was fired. And after 1989 they all gave up that cold war and joined us in our united and peaceful Europe that everyone’s fathers and grandfathers, mothers and aunties, had all fought for. So that their children and their children’s children didn’t have to go through the same thing ever again.
What were they fighting for?
So, for me the most poignant moment of D-Day was when the 94 year old veteran, Eric Chardin, standing on the beach at Arromanches, responded to the question ‘what he thought about the process towards peace since world war 2′ replied “Well, I hope it continues. Brexit worries me in that respect. I can’t stop feeling it would be an awful shame if what we’ve gone to so much trouble to do, to collect the European big nations together… To break it all up now would be a crying shame I feel.’
It’s hard to know what all of those 150,000 people who landed on the beaches of France that day felt. We can’t be certain that they all shared the same aims and goals for the future. But….in fact we can make a pretty good guess – because in the summer of 1945 when the war was over there was a General Election and the result was overwhelming. A socialist Labour Party was swept to power, with overwhelming support from the soldiers stationed overseas. In fact the election took longer than usual as sack loads of votes had to be transported back from troops stationed all across the world. The soldiers and the people of Britain had voted by massive majority for a national health service, for a social security system, for the public ownership of the production and distribution of the nations wealth, against the high unemployment of the 30s and with a confident belief that socialist planning would be more efficient in operating the economy. They fought for and then they voted for a new world for their children so that we wouldn’t have to go through what they had.
That’s why I have no hesitation on Remembrance Day to remember that simple fact. Or on D-Day.
75 Years Later
On Thursday 6th June 2019 -75 years after the actual D-Day, I joined Mayor of Bridgwater, Cllr Tony Heywood, at the cenotaph in Bridgwater’s Kings Square. The British Legion had been there at 06.30-the time of the first landings on the actual D Day beaches, and returned at 11.00-the commonly accepted hour of remembrance. The Mayor led the speeches by mentioning that his father had been a gunner on the Royal Navy destroyer escorts that had supported the landings that day. Before that he had seen action on the Arctic convoys fending off Luftwaffe air attacks in the icy wastes off the north coast of Norway and even before that the horrors of 1930’s Bolton.
But who needs another war now when we can fight each other for the next fifty years in a never ending war of attrition over Brexit. Ever since PM Cameron decided it might be a good idea to have a referendum on the future of the European project that our forebears had fought for, the country remains divided.
I voted to remain. I voted to stick with the project. I voted to continue with the Europe that the 40’s generation had fought for. I voted for peace, co-operation and unity. I voted to persevere with that despite there being problems with the EU because it was better to stick with something and change it from within than throwing your toys and yourself out of the pram then realising you’d made a dreadful mistake. And had a sore head to boot. I voted remain because, when I thought about it, the ‘Leavers’ arguments were wrong – ‘take back control’ -we had control. We had one of the largest numbers of MEPs in the EU Parliament controlling things. Even the Brexiteers trying to ‘take back control’ now find that through the democracy of the EU they have the largest single party in the EU parliament which could play a role for good by working with other parties across the board. But no, it’s looking like they’ll join up to the parties of the far right that are putting up walls, closing down hard fought for socialist achievements and waving the flags of ignorant nationalism. Rather than having any actual policies. Unless you count Anne Widdecombe’s desire to find a cure for gayness. Or Farage’s possible selling off the NHS to Donald Trump.
Time for Brexit to make an Exit
But the people who landed on the Normandy beaches also fought for democracy. So we have to fight to uphold that democracy. A general election in 1945 told the world what the people of Britain wanted. It was peace, hope and socialism. Today Britain is divided and that’s reflected in Parliament. There’s as many different views on Brexit in parliament as there are around the country so rather than blame our politicians, in fact they’re just reflecting the nation, like a good democracy should do. We’ve had 25 general elections since the war , we don’t just stick with the results of the 1945 one. We should have another one now to find out what the people want. At the Peterborough election this week, Labour defeated the appallingly policy-less ‘Brexit Party’ . Such an important victory. I firmly believe the people would welcome a General election to nail the ghost of Brexit and get on with policies that deal with the real issues that face Britain today- health, wealth and shelter for the many not the few. And we’re a democracy so we have to admit the Brexiteers were right about one thing – they won the vote to leave. By a very small margin. And that means that if we don’t leave it can only be by another vote. Not by stealth. Knowing what the people know now. Do we still want Brexit? We better be asked.