Today is the anniversary of D-Day. Seventy-six years ago, thousands of young men poured onto the beaches of Normandy, to liberate a continent. Most of them would not have known each other before the war. By 1944, they were closer than brothers. Shakespeare had it right, when he wrote of St Crispin’s Day, hundreds of years before:
‘But we in it shall be rememberèd—
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now abed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here.’
Most of them were not professional soldiers. They came to fight from all classes and creeds and conditions. They left the hill farms of Cumbria and the thronged streets of Manhattan; the wild spaces of Alberta and the elegant avenues of Edinburgh. Their shared experience turned strangers into comrades and friends, their differences in upbringing and cultures forgotten as they faced a common foe. They left the generations who came after them a legacy that will never be forgotten. We, at HorseBack, never forget.
It’s incredible, if you look through the lists, the sheer extent and variety of the troops. The Dragoon Guards were there, and the 24th Lancers, and the Staffordshire Yeomanry, and Queen Mary’s Own Royal Hussars. (Quite a thing, to have your own Hussars.) All the Paras were there, of course, and the Devonshire Regiment, and the Royal Ulster Rifles. The Americans were there. They did not give their cohorts the local names that the British forces held. They went by numbers – the 1st Infantry Division, the 82nd Airborne, the 6th Ranger Battalion. From Canada came the Calgary Highlanders and the Royal Winnipeg Rifles and Le Régiment de la Chaudière.
It’s humbling to think of what those young men faced. They would have been so various, in age and background and lives, yet they were the same, in courage and fear and hope. They were truly Roosevelt’s men in the arena. As he so famously and stirringly said, ‘It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.’
Those men on the beaches dared greatly. We remember them. We thank them. We salute them, every one.