Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Auntie Pat Weighs In On the 75th Anniversary of Operation Overlord

 

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.”

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 it for her.

United States of America, Auntie Pat thanks you.

And so do I.

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  1. JustmeinAZ Member

    I wish I had an Auntie Pat. She is four years older than my Mom who still has all her marbles but has little wisdom to impart.

    • #1
    • June 5, 2019, at 2:28 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  2. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Special relationship? Damn right there’s a special relationship! Like many an American baby boomer I grew up with gratitude for Britain standing brave and alone in the world, 1939-41, helping to save all our necks from Adolf Hitler. 

    • #2
    • June 5, 2019, at 2:35 PM PDT
    • 19 likes
  3. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    The Brits weren’t always happy with us pre-invasion. As many saw it the problem with our GIs is that they were “over-paid, over-sexed and over here.”

    Our intrepid boys had the retort, “You Brits’ problem is that you’re under-paid, under-sexed and under Eisenhower.”

    From the end of the war until 1950 it’s estimated that 70,000 young British ladies followed their American loves back to the States. While they had substantially better material lives in those immediate post war days, it also came with great sacrifices. It wasn’t easy to get across the Atlantic. Family weddings, births and the loss of loved ones often took place separated by 3,300 miles of ocean. 

    We may be “two great nations separated by a common language,” but we are blood by kin, by law and by soul. There had never been, as Mark Steyn likes to point out, a more amicable transfer of world military dominance than that seen in the late 1940s, as the British Empire receded and the American Empire ascended.

     

    • #3
    • June 5, 2019, at 3:30 PM PDT
    • 16 likes
  4. She Reagan
    She Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    EJHill (View Comment):

    The Brits weren’t always happy with us pre-invasion. As many saw it the problem with our GIs is that they were “over-paid, over-sexed and over here.

    Hm. I might have another take on that. Not one I can recount here. And, BTW, “sexed” is a euphemism for the actual phrase. Which started out “overpaid, over-fed, over-[sexed], and . . .”

    From the end of the war until 1950 it’s estimated that 70,000 young British ladies followed their American loves back to the States. While they had substantially better material lives in those immediate post war days, it also came with great sacrifices. It wasn’t easy to get across the Atlantic. Family weddings, births and the loss of loved ones often took place separated by 3,300 miles of ocean.

    Yes. I’ve known a great many “GI Brides” in my over 50 years here, and that’s true. My mother, who was at boarding school in Malvern during the war, was warned off the American G.I.s with their promises of jam, chocolate and nylons. One of my favorite movies about this period is Hope and Glory. I especially love Ian Bannen’s scene-stealing performance as Grandpa.

    Even in the late 1960s, communication across the Pond was difficult. Phone calls were exorbitantly expensive, there was no email or texting, and plane flights were still costly and difficult. My family experienced that separation on our own part.

    We may be “two great nations separated by a common language,” but we are blood by kin, by law and by soul. There had never been, as Mark Steyn likes to point out, a more amicable transfer of world military dominance than that seen in the late 1940s, as the British Empire receded and the American Empire ascended.

    True dat.

    As I mentioned in one of the posts I linked to, the privations of war sometimes led to lifelong friendships, even absent connubial incentives:

    The very welcome first influx of American troops arrived in England on January 26, 1942, and, naturally, Granny Louise was one of the first to join the Birmingham committee set up to establish good relations by creating “weekends” for the troops to spend with a British family. And while, as many families did, my own enjoyed the generous gifts of chocolate, jam, and a new snack never before seen in England—popcorn—deeper friendships also grew. Thus it is that Auntie Pat still speaks fondly of Mr. Ragland from St. Louis, Terry Anderson from Des Moines, Colonel Hunter from Nebraska, and many others, including the brother of actress Anna May Wong, all of whom spent weekends at the family home. Some came back, bringing their own families with them after the war; some were visited by Auntie Pat when she came to the States in the 1990s. None of them has ever forgotten either their exigent circumstances, or the friends they made because of them.

    • #4
    • June 5, 2019, at 3:47 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
  5. Susan Quinn Contributor

    G-d bless Auntie Pat, and thank you ever so much for sharing her with us again. It’s such a gift to “hear from” her and the way you tell the story is so sweet. Thanks, @she.

    • #5
    • June 5, 2019, at 4:21 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  6. MichaelKennedy Coolidge

    EJHill (View Comment):
    it’s estimated that 70,000 young British ladies followed their American loves back to the States.

    Lots of British lads who did not come back. Many of the complaints about Monty and his timidity on offense should be understood as an effort to keep casualties down as the British were running out of young men. Those “war brides” might not have found husbands at home. WWI left a whole generation of spinsters who had no prospects.

    • #6
    • June 5, 2019, at 4:34 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  7. She Reagan
    She Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    MichaelKennedy (View Comment):

    EJHill (View Comment):
    it’s estimated that 70,000 young British ladies followed their American loves back to the States.

    Lots of British lads who did not come back. Many of the complaints about Monty and his timidity on offense should be understood as an effort to keep casualties down as the British were running out of young men. Those “war brides” might not have found husbands at home. WWI left a whole generation of spinsters who had no prospects.

    Britain really hadn’t recovered from WWI by the outbreak of WWII. The double whammy almost did her in. Perhaps it did.

    • #7
    • June 5, 2019, at 4:41 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  8. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Wish Auntie Pat a happy birthday from one Yank who won’t forget who our friends are.

    I was never able to understand kids of my age who didn’t listen with rapt attention to older family members. One uncle would have been stationed somewhere nearer to your Auntie Pat. He repaired B-17s for the 8th Air Force. His stories frequently revolved around trips to London. I got the idea that I wasn’t old enough to hear those stories, even when I was 25. Another flew Hellcats in the South Pacific, then he switched to air rescue. The third went into Rome when your dad did, or maybe a day earlier. He and his driver were supposed to meet a unit that was supposed to be at a crossroads, but the jeep got there first, and they rolled right on by. They came upon some guys in uniform loading trucks. It wasn’t until they noticed that they were German uniforms and German trucks that the excitement started; Unc swore that he had no idea until that moment just how fast a jeep could go in reverse.

    The biggest battle was the Battle of the Chicken Coop. The middle two aunts averred that they did all the chicken coop cleaning. The youngest aunt said that she had done it alone. All three of them agreed that the eldest didn’t clean the coop at all — she was in the house “putting on her makeup and talking to boys on the phone.”

    • #8
    • June 5, 2019, at 4:50 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
  9. She Reagan
    She Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Percival (View Comment):

    Wish Auntie Pat a happy birthday from one Yank who won’t forget who our friends are.

    Will do.

    I was never able to understand kids of my age who didn’t listen with rapt attention to older family members. One uncle would have been stationed somewhere nearer to your Auntie Pat. He repaired B-17s for the 8th Air Force. His stories frequently revolved around trips to London. I got the idea that I wasn’t old enough to hear those stories, even when I was 25. Another flew Hellcats in the South Pacific, then he switched to air rescue. The third went into Rome when your dad did, or maybe a day earlier. He and his driver were supposed to meet a unit that was supposed to be at a crossroads, but the jeep got there first, and they rolled right on by. They came upon some guys in uniform loading trucks. It wasn’t until they noticed that they were German uniforms and German trucks that the excitement started; Unc swore that he had no idea until that moment just how fast a jeep could go in reverse.

    The biggest battle was the Battle of the Chicken Coop. The middle two aunts averred that they did all the chicken coop cleaning. The youngest aunt said that she had done it alone. All three of them agreed that the eldest didn’t clean the coop at all — she was in the house “putting on her makeup and talking to boys on the phone.”

    Those are wonderful stories! Please flesh them out a bit more, and tell some of them in separate posts.

    • #9
    • June 5, 2019, at 4:55 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  10. Front Seat Cat Member

    Extraordinary! Thank you for this wonderful story!

    • #10
    • June 5, 2019, at 5:13 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  11. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    She: Hm. I might have another take on that. Not one I can recount here. And, BTW, “sexed” is a euphemism for the actual phrase. Which started out “overpaid, over-fed, over-[sexed], and . . .”

    Hey, now. We’re trying to keep it clean here.

    • #11
    • June 5, 2019, at 5:23 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  12. OmegaPaladin Moderator

    You have an awesome Auntie, She.

    • #12
    • June 5, 2019, at 6:58 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  13. Mim526 Member

    What a heritage. Thanks for the memories, @she.

    • #13
    • June 5, 2019, at 11:16 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  14. She Reagan
    She Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):

    You have an awesome Auntie, She.

    Thank you! She is indeed.

    • #14
    • June 6, 2019, at 4:28 AM PDT
    • Like
  15. Skyler Coolidge

    I had an uncle that was a tail gunner in a B-25, another that was on a submarine in the Pacific, and another that served on a LCS (essentially a landing craft modified to have a whole lot of guns). They all lived far away (dad was in the navy, so all our family were always far away) and I never got to talk to any of them about their war experiences. My dad did, though, and shared some of their feats with me. They’ve all passed away now, and I wish I had known them better.

    • #15
    • June 6, 2019, at 5:55 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  16. She Reagan
    She Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Dame Vera Lynn, 102 years young, recorded a special message for the Normandy veterans of the Royal British Legion, which was played as their ship set off on a week-long commemorative trip.

    Here she is, on the 50th anniversary of D-Day in 1994, when The Forces Sweetheart was still in pretty good voice, with impeccable stage presence, at age 78.

    • #16
    • June 6, 2019, at 6:32 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  17. Doug Watt Moderator

    Lovely essay. When we went to India there was no internet. Telegrams from family arrived shortly before the ship sailed from New York. My mom wrote letters home during our two year stay describing our experiences in India. When we returned her letters were returned to her and we still have those letters. They really should be put together into a book.

    My brothers and I came home with British accents. During our stay tea time was a feature of the daily routine. Our servants had all worked for British families. My parents closest friend’s were a British family. The husband was a British Naval officer, and my dad was an American Naval officer. We spent many afternoons at the British compound swimming pool.

    Their friendship lasted up until their deaths many decades after leaving India. They exchanged letters, and a long visit to the States after leaving India. The letters always contained updates on their respective children. It was a close relationship.

    A little glimpse of India. Our furniture arrives from the States

    • #17
    • June 6, 2019, at 6:52 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  18. James Gawron Thatcher
    James Gawron Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    She,

    How very much I like your Auntie Pat. Thanks for sharing.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #18
    • June 6, 2019, at 7:39 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  19. Goldwaterwoman Thatcher

    EJHill (View Comment):
    From the end of the war until 1950 it’s estimated that 70,000 young British ladies followed their American loves back to the States. While they had substantially better material lives in those immediate post war days, it also came with great sacrifices.

    My Uncle Bill came home from WW II with an English bride. We were all impressed with her posh accent but felt sorry that she was so far from her birth family whom she missed every day of her long life. Many of those English girls came here expecting to live in mansions filled with servants only to discover their husbands were simply ordinary blokes who had to work for a living.

    • #19
    • June 6, 2019, at 12:11 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  20. MichaelKennedy Coolidge

    I still have V Mail from my cousin, Bud, who flew 50 missions as a bombardier in a B 17 from north Africa. I wonder how many know what V Mail was? You wrote a letter and it was photographed and reduced in size. I was not much on writing yet as I was about 6 so my letters were usually “CAT” an d “DOG.” He wrote longer letters back, however.

    This is my son sitting in the bombardier seat in a B 17 about ten years ago. The ride was his 40th birthday present.

    • #20
    • June 7, 2019, at 8:34 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  21. She Reagan
    She Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    MichaelKennedy (View Comment):

    I still have V Mail from my cousin, Bud, who flew 50 missions as a bombardier in a B 17 from north Africa. I wonder how many know what V Mail was? You wrote a letter and it was photographed and reduced in size. I was not much on writing yet as I was about 6 so my letters were usually “CAT” an d “DOG.” He wrote longer letters back, however.

    I didn’t know that. Fascinating

    This is my son sitting in the bombardier seat in a B 17 about ten years ago. The ride was his 40th birthday present.

    Cool! We’ve been to a number of air shows, and have toured the planes, but never been up in one

     

    • #21
    • June 7, 2019, at 9:28 AM PDT
    • Like
  22. She Reagan
    She Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Percival (View Comment):
    Wish Auntie Pat a happy birthday from one Yank who won’t forget who our friends are.

    Cross your fingers. I may be able to deliver your good wishes in person.

    • #22
    • June 7, 2019, at 3:05 PM PDT
    • 2 likes

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