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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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I was born in 1960 some fifteen years after the end of the second world war. Neverthless, I grew up with the stories of relatives who belonged to the wartime generation. I remember my mother, Joan telling me how she came home to find her house bombed, with a row of machine gun bullet holes stitched across the wall behind her bed, she also told me how she saw the dead after the bombing of Coventry laid out in orange crates.

My Uncle Den Winnett won the MM rescuing an officer from a burning tank. He told me about his time as a sergeant commanding a Crusader tank in North Africa. On one occasion an anti tank round came in through one side of the turret, blew away the top half of his gunner and exited on the far side of the turret, leaving the rest of the crew with the horror of sharing the confined space with his remains.

My Great Uncle Len volunteered in 1939. He took his brothers first world war revolver to Dunkirk, he was still carrying it when he saw the war end in Germany in 1945. Their medals tell the story of a fantastic generation. Youngsters taken from their offices, factories and farms to fly aircraft and crew ships. These were the people who fought from El Alamein to Sword beach, and from the tragic defence of Malya to the hard won battle of Kohima.

As the D-day veterans marched for the last time in June 2004, I felt sure we were seeing the passing of our last great generation. Ordinary people who did extraordinary things.

I always feel that when we see a TV picture of commonwealth war graves we should remember that it isn't a field full of old men who saw their lives through, it's full of 19 and 20 year olds who died defeating the greatest evil the world has ever seen.

Finally I would like to mention the bravest person I have ever known. Arlette Prevost was a French woman. She wasn't in the resistance, but she kept a Jewish boy hidden in her home for four long years until Liberation came, never knowing whether a banging on the door in the night would bring torture, rape or violent death at the hands of the Gestapo.

There but for the grace of God and the wartime generation go all of us...

Paul Fagan

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