Walking The Beaches of Normandy
The tune is Highland Cathedral played by Calum Fraser in London, to show respect to the men and women who died in the cause of liberty on D-Day. The photograph at the top of the page is Shimi Fraser, Lord Lovat addressing the troops in camp before they set sail.
There’s no second farm walk blog this week. Rather, I wanted to let the scale of my debt to those who walked onto the beaches of Normandy, sink in.
I was in London on June 6th, so I made my 6am walk across the city, in the spirit of a tiny pilgrimage – ‘a journey or search that is of moral or spiritual significance.’
Then, I phoned my son Calum, and asked him to play at least one of the tunes which Lord Lovat’s piper played, as Lovat led his Commandos onto Sword Beach.
At 7.30am, on Tuesday, 6 June, 1944, the bows of their amphibious craft lowered. The soldiers slithered down a slipway they can’t even have seen as the sea sloshed up and covered it. Some were only 17, still boys.
Some had wrapped their guns in delicate looking, transparent, thin rubber sleeves; so they’d still work when the men made it onto the beaches. The soldiers waded, splashed, scrambled and fought their way into the hailstorm of the German defensive bombardment.
Among other tunes, the piper played Highland Laddie and The Road to the Isles, to raise their spirits.
The irony of it appals – that their only road back to the isles led straight through the belly of this hell.
On occasions, we need to ask each other for help. Before I ask someone for a favour, instinctively I do a quick mental sum – do I have the right to ask it? Do I know them well enough? How can I repay? How will I react when they ask me to return the favour? Will I do what I do too often – that is, allow myself a fleeting wince, because I am so busy – busy, busy, busy – before I agree to it?
How well do we know the men we asked to do us this favour? Not at all, mostly. They knew their own families, friends and communities. Their homes and streets. They had their understanding of the character of their country, and countrymen and women, and our shared values.
And then they did us, the unknown, time-poor unborn, a favour of arresting enormity.
(This last picture is a fresco Pietro Annigoni painted on the walls of a little Italian church in the late 1970s)
The little I can do to repay their gift to us is to walk; to remember; to feel humbled by their actions; and to get Calum to give you one of the tunes those men heard as they stumble-marched into the water and walked into the inferno. Played by a Fraser on Lovat Fraser pipes, it’s Highland Laddie.
To honour all Highland laddies, and the rest, who never found their road back home.