11th of November is our Rememberance Day. The day when we remember all those servicemen and women who have died in the line of duty. It's marked by two minutes silence at 'the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month' to mark the end of hostilities in the First War. In the preceding weeks we wear our red poppies. Rememberance Sunday is held on the second Sunday of November
On Rememberance Sunday a parade is held and wreaths are laid at our cenotaph. Every town, village and hamlet in England has their own cenotaph to remember those from that area. Due to my recent poor health this will be the second ceremony I have missed since my teenage years.
May 1940 and the nazi machine had rolled across most of Europe. The french had opened the sluices and flooded their canals. Then they retreated behind the 'Water Line' to defend Paris leaving one british battalion to cover the retreat of the BEF to Dunkirk and the evacuation by sea. All of the british artillery, armour and much of the light weapons had to be abandoned. 338,226 men were evacuated.
The Battle of Britain.
With the loss of so much equipment and men our army was hard pressed. Many of them were rearmed with weapons left over after the First War. Underground bases were dug and concealed in Wales, central England and the home counties to carry on the fight if we should be invaded. We laid mines and wire on the beaches most likely to be used by the nazis in case of an attack.
The Royal Navy defended our coastlines. The First Sea Lord had over forty destroyers, some capital ships, frigates and close shore ships. The other Sea Lords had their own duties and could spare no help at that time. It was unlikely that the navy alone could hold back a concerted invasion.
Air superiority was crucial for both sides.
In July 1940 the Royal Air Force (Fighter Command) could field 1,259 pilots. The Luftwaffe something in excess of 5,500 aircraft. Volunteers arrived from all over the Empire. Canada, Australia, New Zealand among many. Two squadrons were formed of Polish pilots. During the battle (which lasted some months) RAF Fighter Command lost 1087 aircraft. Anybody who could bail out was saved though and was often back in the fight by the next day. Aircraft production was stepped up and we could keep up with the losses. September showed the heaviest fighting with vapour trails curling and swooping over much of southern England. By November though the invading season was over (poor weather).
Hitler dithered for a year and then, in 1942, attacked Russia. By the end of 1943 Russia was pushing back into Europe. Our 8th Army, having defeated Rommel in North Africa and other forces having success in the Middle East invaded Sicily and from there southern Italy (my uncle Bob was outside Monte Cassino and took part in the Anzio landings).
By 1944 we had sufficient troops from Britain and the Empire (including americans who had joined the war in 1942) to open a third front in western Europe. Operation Overlord was set for June 6th 1944.
At the beginning of this I'd mentioned that I'd only missed two Rememberance Sundays. That isn't strictly true. Two of them I'd attended in Bavaria. It's called Volkstrauertag (Peoples' Mourning Day) and is held two Sundays before the first day of Advent which places it around the 13th to 19th of November. In Germany it also commemorates those who suffered under an oppressive government.
The first time I attended in Regensburg I wore my poppy which got me a few odd looks. At the conclusion of the ceremony I, along with other ex-servicemen, saluted. In the english manner for me, palm forward, long way up, short way down.
As we were leaving my ladyfriend of the time and I were stopped by about half a dozen men of about my age along with one bloke older than Gods' dog. They wanted to know if I was english and I told them that I was. "Then you must come and have a drink with us." they exhorted. Then we spent a very fun afternoon exchanging tales of our parents exploits during the war and other tales. The older bloke had his first hand stories to tell also. They wouldn't let me buy one drink and I was quite merry when we left.
I don't hold grudges and neither did they. It's my opinion that nobody should.