Five Years On–Auntie Pat on “Operation Overlord”

 

I published this post five years ago, on June 6, 2019—the seventy-fifth anniversary—when Auntie Pat was still alive (she was 95 at the time).

I really miss her:

June 5, 2019: I just got off the phone with her and–shameless self-promotion alert–she’ll be 96 next month, and is my Dad’s last surviving sibling. I phoned her because today is the 75th anniversary of the day Dad happened to the Pope (another one). I had in mind to ask her about something else, and as a result was taping the conversation (as she knows I sometimes do). And in the course of our chat, she mentioned that she’d been enjoying the D-Day commemorative exercises on the television, and that Donald Trump had been visiting the UK.

“Oh, yes,” I said. And he seems to have done pretty well, don’t you think?” And here’s how it went from there:

Auntie Pat: Well, yes. Except for those stupid people stomping about waving things. Makes me furious, because, you know, they’re all sitting pretty because of the fact that America came into the war. If it hadn’t been for the Americans, we shouldn’t be here.

She: Right.

Auntie Pat: Well, it’s true.

She: Yes, I know.

Auntie Pat: We had not enough troops. I mean, there’s no argument about it. It makes me very cross. I mean, here’s the elected member of the, umm, society, and so he should be treated with respect. He may say stupid things sometimes, but he read quite a nice thing actually, which was quite good, and he did very well, and he’s coming home tomorrow, isn’t he?

Auntie Pat was 20 on 6 June 1944, and what she has to say about that, and everything else, is always worth listening to.  I wish there was a way to bottle her and keep her, and her memories, with us forever.  (I’m doing my best here, thanks for bearing with me.)

Like many baby boomers, I grew up in the shadow of the greatest generation, with first hand accounts not only from the troops, but also of what it was like when every member of the population on the home front actually was “war-weary” and suffering privation of one sort or another along with them. It wasn’t an occasional, or a particular, or an incidental, or a boutique war which affected only those intimately involved with it.  It was a monumental, existential, all-encompassing, shattering grind. I’ve always thought that one of Pat’s most cogent and heart-rending comments (sorry, yet another one, I’ve been here almost nine years, and I’m extraordinarily verbally facile) was that the ten years of continued rationing in the almost-destroyed Britain after the war was over was even worse than the war itself–“Well, you see,” she said, “there was no point. After all, we’d already won. Nothing we did helped or make a difference any more. It was just a miserable slog.”

[The “miserable slog” wasn’t entirely over until just a few months before I was born in 1954, nine years after the war ended.  In 1954, bacon (!!!) and a few other items that were still restricted had those restrictions lifted.  No other country at the time was still enforcing WWII food rationing.]

Yet it was a “miserable slog” they embraced and survived. As you do. Or as you used to.  When people believed that the world revolved around something other than themselves, and that even though they couldn’t see the point right then, perhaps there was one after all.

And so, here I am to make that point for her.

Here it comes:

United States of America, Auntie Pat thanks you.

And so do I.

All the photos in this post belong to my family.

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There are 5 comments.

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  1. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    A warm thank you for reposting this, She. My wife and I have a sense of finality, of bereavement hanging over us this time, the year of what one fellow Member has called The Last Parade, just after, in a New York courtroom, “something was broken”, as another person here wrote.

    God thank you for Auntie Pat and men and women like her. Like Kate’s dad, Col. JT Pierce.

    • #1
  2. Blondie Thatcher
    Blondie
    @Blondie

    How wonderful that you had these conversations with her. Your aunt might have liked a visit to the D-Day memorial in Bedford, VA. I haven’t been in years. Back then it was a solemn place. Sort of like going to Arlington. 

     

    • #2
  3. She Member
    She
    @She

    Blondie (View Comment):

    How wonderful that you had these conversations with her. Your aunt might have liked a visit to the D-Day memorial in Bedford, VA. I haven’t been in years. Back then it was a solemn place. Sort of like going to Arlington.

    Auntie Pat came for a visit in the 1990s, during the course of which she traveled all over the US–having had to revise what’s a common British misconception that you can “do” the Statue of Liberty on Monday and be in the Grand Canyon–only a short drive away!–on Tuesday.

    We spent a couple of days in D.C. during which she made very short work of the Smithsonian’s seven (I think it is) museums, took pictures outside the White House when you could still walk right up to the gates (she thought it pleasingly modest, and surprisingly (!) tasteful), and visited both the Vietnam and the Marine Corps memorials, which she found very moving.  My fondest memory of that trip was of her saying, “wait a minute,” and disappearing into a stand of bushes.  “Oh, dear,” I thought.  Next I saw a profusion of limbs waving about, like Birnham Wood on its way to Dunsinane, and she emerged with her “vest” (undershirt) folded in her hand, having taken it off, because it was so “blazing hot.”  I think it was about 70 at the time.  So was she, probably.

    During that trip, she stayed with the families of several of the US servicemen she’d met during the war, my very civic-minded grandparents having thrown open their home to them as part of the UK’s “Welcome” scheme, for weekend stay-overs and visits.  Pat stayed in touch with some of them for the rest of her life.

    • #3
  4. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor
    @9thDistrictNeighbor

    The two most popular songs in June 1944 by Harry James and Bing Crosby were darned melocholy:

     

    • #4
  5. Bugstein Coolidge
    Bugstein
    @Bugstein

    Thanks for sharing your memories.  What a gift to you and to us!

    • #5
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