Yesterday was the 72nd anniversary of D-Day. My grandfathers, Fred Griffin and Egon Korn, fought on opposing sides. Egon, a young German of sixteen, was captured shortly after D-Day at the Battle of Caen. He was aiming a bazooka at a tank when the tank commander saw him and fired his machine gun at him. My grandfather’s stick grenade was hit and it exploded, injuring him terribly and killing his friend. He was saved by the Red Cross, sent to Canada, then Scotland, and finally to Eastbourne where, working as a POW, he met my grandmother.
My grandmother died two years ago and I did her eulogy. She left me a note asking me to draw attention to the fact she had met mothers on both sides of the conflict struggling to come to terms with the loss of their children. That’s what made her a campaigner for peace. And, whilst many things might get lost in the detail, it’s worth remembering why Winston Churchill and the other Founding Fathers set up the EU in the first place.
This poem, about a group of veterans revisiting the Normandy beaches, was first published in Poetry Ireland, issue 56.
he was here things were a lot more hairy –
invisible fingers were plucking cones of water from the sea
and everywhere the sand was bursting
like puffballs, struck by a flurry of sticks.
Machine guns smacked endlessly at the air
as if its sins were irredeemable,
and the air expressed its pain
with the cries of men, like children.
Lashed by hot grit he’d run like a boy
down the green suede of the Sussex downs, leaping
bodies like the cracked boles of hawthorns,
still fresh with a whorl of flowers
Now, here again after fifty years,
he can hardly believe this was the place –
the wind’s so soft and warm,
the sand and sea don’t glisten –
everything seems as banal as home.
He turns to remark to an old friend
but finds that he’s fallen several yards back
only to be swiftly enclosed
by a circle of kneeling veterans.