D-Day: Here’s what it was like for a child in England

On the 75th Anniversary of D-Day recently, I began to remember a few things about D-Day that not many people still living would be able to recollect. And I thought readers might find them interesting. 

I was a young child during World War II, living on the south coast of England in a seaside resort town called Bournemouth, a little west of Southampton. We had a very noisy war there, close to the beaches, with attack planes fighting the Battle of Britain right above our heads in 1940, and then, for years, huge squadrons of German bombers moving north to bomb the factories of the Midlands, then jettisoning their leftover bombs on the coast before going back to France in the moonlight. 

But — once the Americans came, in 1943, it was a different scene altogether. Roosevelt and Churchill and Eisenhower were planning an Allied invasion on the beaches of France, right opposite our own on the other side of the Channel, so all the American troops were brought to the hotels and boarding houses of the south coast towns, to be near the take-off point when it came. We children loved that; officers would take us for rides in their jeeps; GIs would take us into the kitchens of their boarding houses and give us bacon! and eggs! and stuff called maple syrup!  and things called pancakes!

But the day came when all this fun came to an end. We kids were sent away from the coast to boarding schools in the countryside, and my mother and her parents and sisters were left to guess what was about to happen next to all those soldiers. My mother went to Poole, our next-door town, to see what was going on in the harbour — the biggest harbour in the world next to Sydney Harbour, but so shallow that no big ships could use it. She told us later that Poole Harbour was so full of landing craft that day that she felt she could have walked a mile across the harbour from boat to boat without getting her feet wet. 

Then the fateful day came, at dawn on June 6, when the decision was made, and all those GIs had to put their huge packs on their backs, shoulder their guns, and pack in to those landing craft, probably only able to stand, on a shivery cold damp morning of English springtime, and start putt-putt-putting across the heaving English Channel to France. 

You can imagine what must have happened to their stomachs. Seasickness, combined with natural fear, must have played the devil with all those beloved pancakes with maple syrup, before they had to jump out of their boats and splash through the shallow waves and run across the beaches under fire, seeing their buddies collapsing onto the sand beside them if they were lucky enough not to fall themselves. 

When I saw those rows and rows of white crosses on the green grass pictured behind President Trump on the news programs several weeks ago, I couldn’t help wondering how many of them had the names of my wartime friends, the boys who had fed us the treats of our lives, and taught us to say “Got any gum, chum?” to make them put their hands in their pockets with a big grin. How many of those crosses had the names of those brave young Americans etched in the wood on their crossbars? 

Did President Trump care about those crosses behind him as he was interviewed in Normandy that day? No, evidently not — he was just saying spiteful things about Nancy Pelosi. But I did. I was thanking the American boys — for boys they really were — with all my heart for what they did for me and my brothers and family and country that day — what they did for all of us, for the rest of our lives.


Gaile Binzen has been a resident of Salisbury since 1970.