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Little Water, Less Love – Natalie Wood
“So, you want to know why I didn’t want to visit France for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day Normandy landings?”
“Yes. That’s why I’m here”, said Kevin Martin, a trainee reporter with the New Hampshire and Dorset Review, who was struggling to interview 90-year-old British veteran, Arthur Horton at Westview Sheltered Housing in Portsmouth.
“Well, I’ll tell you something I’ve never mentioned to a soul”, said Arthur, clearing his throat.
“I wouldn’t be doing it now if our warden here at Westview hadn’t gone squealing to your newspaper. But I suppose I’d better explain myself to set the record straight”.
“Thanks, Arthur”, said Kevin. “I appreciate your time”.
“Hmm! We’ll see about that! Anyway, what I’d told Mr Blabbermouth was that after we’d won the Battle of Caen and erected ‘Port Churchill’ at Arromanches, the bastard French refused to give us any drinking water”.
“Yes! That’s right. When the 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment had embarked here at Portsmouth I was even younger than you – barely more than 20; a scared, scrawny kid who had become an instant chain-smoker, trying to look bigger, braver – and much older – than my years.
“But I didn’t have to pretend for long. Twenty-four hours later I already felt old! Every time I think about it I’m lost in a fog of cordite and ripped, burning flesh. I can even hear the moans of other lads my age, weeping for their mothers.
“As we landed and saw them tossed about in bloodied sea water near the shore, we couldn’t stop to help. So we just pushed the corpses and the injured men out of our way. We had no choice. We had a job to do”.
“But I don’t understand”, said Kevin. “At college, our tutors say journalists write the first draft of history. Now you’re rewriting what the books say. Thousands of men like you helped to liberate Caen and Arromanches. This is what other D-Day veterans and world leaders have celebrated. But you’re saying that your intervention became self-preservation and that you weren’t welcome, anyway”.
“Oh, the locals wanted our help, make no mistake. They just didn’t want us hanging around begging for basics. Don’t forget, there were thousands of soldiers and the war had been going on for almost five years. So when they saw us walking towards their homes they hid in the back or slammed their front doors in our faces. They just wanted us to disappear once we’d done our job!
“But we – I – got over it. I’m a great British patriot. If I was still young and healthy, despite everything, I’m sure I’d do it all again. But those at the top supposed to be running the show for the Allies made some shocking mistakes. So the rest of us became like the lads who landed before me on Gold Beach – just swept up by the tide of events – tiny bits of wreckage bobbing on the sea.
“What happened to you after D-Day?”
“Things have gone a bit hazy in my memory, but all of us in our unit fought across Europe for what seemed ever-and-a-day until we reached Germany”.
“Did you help to liberate any concentration camps”?
“That’s one question I’m glad you’ve asked. No, I didn’t see any of that. But before I was demobbed, I helped to form the guard for that bloody murdering sadist cow, Irma Grese when she was hanged by Albert Pierrepoint for her crimes at Belsen. That was a good day!”
“Arthur, you seem much more bitter about these events than a lot of other people your age. Is there a reason?”
“It’s not that I’m ‘bitter’. I don’t really understand why myself. I’ve led a quiet life since the war. I’ve not done much. I stayed single and kept myself busy as a cabinet maker. I’ve always been good with my hands and I’ve made a lot furniture for myself but never got far at work although I made sure I did what I was told. At one time I went up north to make coffins for the Co-operative Society but I came back here as it’s where I belong. Now”, added Arthur, wiping his eyes, “it won’t be long before someone makes a box for me”.