Friday, June 6, 2014

Effects of War: First-Hand Accounts

Today is D-Day, a day that never really meant anything to me.  Just some distant event in a long bygone war that I had no part in. I'd read about it in high school, briefly studied it in college and seen and heard reference to it on the news over the years, but I never felt connected to it.  That was, until I met my husband.

A few days after we met, I drove from Idaho to Utah with Geoff (a four hour drive each way, a nine-hour round trip).  We talked of many things on that drive, but what I remember the most is how Geoffrey spoke of his granddad, John Henry Davies.  He was a large, Welsh man, a boxer in the Royal Navy.  He had died just over a year before I met my husband and Geoff had gone to see him before his death, had been there when he died.  There was so much loved wrapped around the words Geoff used to describe his granddad.  He told me of the last conversation they had; it was mostly one way as his grandfather could no longer speak and could barely open his eyes, but he could squeeze your hand, once for yes, twice for no.  They spoke of many things, life, death, love and loss.  I fell in love with Geoff as we drove over the mountains, the sunset highlighting his face all pink and orange and purple, and his eyes filling with tears as he told me of those tender moments.

I learned then that his granddad had, as I said previous, been in the Royal Navy and had landed the transport boats in Normandy on D-Day.  It was the first time that I felt a personal sting and sadness for all that had happened that day.

It would be many years, thirteen and half to be more precise, before I learned from John Henry Davies exactly what that day meant to him.  We were at Geoff's parent's house this past November for his youngest brother's wedding and I began talking to my mother-in-law about family history and asking about letters, journals and photos of the family.  She pulled out these gems and I was able to transcribe these letters from his grandparents.  They were written in response questions from a school assignment that Geoff's older sister was given in 1988.  I felt that today, in honor of all those that fought in WWII and especially for those that fought on those blood-stained beaches on D-Day, I'd share them.  Personal accounts, I find, allow for such a greater understanding than mere textbook accounts.

I hope you enjoy these as much as I do.



Annadee, 

Thanks for the letter it was really lovely to hear from you, and the photos are smashing. I
don’t know whether I can help you with your report but I will do my best to answer them
as you put them down.

First, I was in the Royal Navy before the war started so I experienced a little of what it
would be like with running Spanish refugees from different parts of Spain to France
during the Spanish Civil War in 1937 and seeing the misery, death and destruction it
caused but for all that I don’t think I was any different from most young men, especially
those in the forces in looking on war as something of an exciting challenge and sad to say
even looking forward to it. (*as far as I can remember from conversations with my m-i-l, Geoff's granddad was one of the youngest to ever run these types of transports for the Royal Navy.)

*I wish I had photos from their life and experience: these are stock photos I found online.
However, they do depict the task John Henry Davies was given, to transport and drop off troops on the beaches of Normandy.

During the war I was part of the 8th Army, three years on tank landing craft running
supplies up the North African Coast to Mersa Matree, Derma, Bordia, Tobruck and then
on to Italy. I was drafted home just in time for D Day landings and took your (American)
lads in from South Hampton to Omaha and Utah beach heads, and that was really rough,
anyway, we finished up getting our bows blown off and came back stern first to Poole in
Dorset to get new bow doors put on which gave us a break from it all for a few weeks,
after that we carried on running troops and supplies on to France then Holland.


The consequences of the war, well, what can I say, the death of hundreds of thousands of
Army, Navy and Air Force personnel, the death of hundreds of thousands of men,
women, and children and the near total destruction of most of our major cities, which all
had to be rebuilt…it was a terrible price to pay which comes to your fourth question.
When it was all over and you look later on and wonder if it was all worth while and the
answer is yes. There is no way you can knuckle under and turn the other cheek to
regimes like the German and Japanese. They were evil and like all evil people and things
they have to be fought no matter what the consequences.

Nothing outstanding in the way of medals, Annadee, my love. Only campaign medals for
serving in different theaters of war. Well, Annadee, I’m afraid I’ll have to close now to
get it in the post and give it any chance of getting to you in time, so give my fondest love
to all at home.

Your Ever Loving, Grandad
xxxxx






1 Raglan St
Barrow-in-Furness
Cumbria
England

Dear Annadee,
Such a lovely surprise to receive your letter, we are so happy to hear you are doing so
well and are so happy.

We are just reaching the end of a long winter be glad to feel some warm sunshine. We’ll
try our best to answer your very pertinent questions hoping they will be of some value to
you.

We are all well at the moment, apart for niggly things that seem to affect you as you get
older. It would be lovely if we could see you all; but we think of you all every day so you
are always in our thoughts with love. So you want another sister do you? Grandad and I
were a little apprehensive when we heard the news about the new baby. As long as your
Mam is well we will be looking forward to the new arrival. Hope you are happy and
make the new baby welcome and loved as you all are.

Question 1
Prior to the war starting we, the working class, were beginning to recuperate from the
depression which hit the whole of the world. Things were just turning over and we could
see a light at the end of the tunnel for our standards of living to improve. The declaration
of war came to us with horror as we were well aware of the terrible carnage of World War
I. We were unarmed and unprepared and the terrible things that happened in that war
were unthinkable. The glory of war was knocked out of our people in 1914-1918. Still
we had to fight for what we believed in: human rights and quality of life. There was no
alternative. God help us.



2
At the beginning of the war, I was 15 years old with three brothers and sisters younger
than me and three sisters older. Dad, your Great-Grandad, suffered all his life after the
first war with his health caused in the trenches. My sisters went to work in the shipyards,
replacing all the young men who had to go to war, making ammunition and ships to carry
on fighting for the war effort. I worked in a paper mill replacing the men. It was hard
work, but it had to be done.

When I was 17 1/2 years old, I enlisted in the WAF’s (Women’s Air Force). I trained to be
a Balloon Operator and spent 21/2 years on active service in London where we worked in
coordination with the fighter command and the Army Artillery. It wasn’t a pleasant time.
We went through the horrible bombings of London watching it slowly being demolished.
The loss of life and injury was something you can’t describe and I hope you will never have to know. People were marvelous and the comraderyship is something which goes on after wars are over. Food was rationed and we lived on a very meager diet. Clothes were on coupons. Children were evacuated. Poor little mites.

(*Again these are stock photos. Barrage Balloons were used as a defense and protection against dive bombings, sometimes they were fitted with explosives in hopes of taking planes out of the sky. The cables were metal and very heavy, the women that 'manned' these balloons had to be strong and have the stamina to do this hard physical labor all day every day.)

3
The consequences of the war was shock and horror, the devastation left all over Europe were unbelievable and all that could be done was to start to rebuild. The war, the hate for each other, was still there which took a long time to heal.

4
Feelings after the war was the stupidity of it all, the sadness of the great loss of the
people, men, women, children. Hopeless ruin of peoples. Homelessness. And the
terrible horror that human beings and nations could do such terrible things in the name of
power and domination. All so sad.

5
What do we think of the war? Like any Christian person I hoped it would never again
happen to the world, but we never learn. Violence doesn’t solve anything and yet again,
you have to fight for freedom, it’s not given, it has to be earned and protected. No one
should be dominated or demeaned by anyone else. Learning to live together and talk
together is all we can do.

It’s up to the coming new generations.
Hope this helps you dear.

All our love,
Nana

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