Showing posts with label D-Day. Show all posts
Showing posts with label D-Day. Show all posts

06 June 2019

A Foreign Field

by Eve Fisher

Yes, today is exactly 75 years after the landings of the Allies in Normandy, D-Day, a/k/a Operation Overlord a/k/a Operation Neptune.






























First, the facts:  It was the largest seaborne invasion in history, with nearly 5,000 landing and assault craft, 289 escort vessels, and 277 minesweepers participating.[186] Nearly 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel on D-Day,[27]with 875,000 men disembarking by the end of June.[187] Allied casualties on the first day were at least 10,000, with 4,414 confirmed dead. (Wikipedia)


Secondly - Blessings and thanks to all the survivors!  Blessings and thanks to all who died.

Image result for remains of d-day at normandy beach
Relics left over from D-Day at Omaha Beach
D-Day still remains in the actual physical landscape of Normandy.  And in the memories of the soldiers, the Normandy citizens,  and of course the books and movies that have been made about it.  "The Longest Day", book by Cornelius Ryan, was made into a 3 hour movie (written by Ryan with "additional material" by Romain Gary and James Jones, among others) with a cast including (apparently) every male star they had on the  Hollywood lot.  And some that weren't.
Trivia:  According to the 2001 documentary, "Cleopatra:  The Film That Changed  Hollywood", Richard Burton and Roddy McDowall were sitting around, not having been used for weeks, and bored senseless in Rome (I find the latter hard to believe - Burton always had drinking), but anyway, they phoned Zanuck, the director, begging to for something to do.  So they flew themselves to location and did a day's worth of cameo work for free.  (Wikipedia)
D-Day is also recreated in both "Saving Private Ryan" and "Band of Brothers."

But the most touching movie about D-Day takes place long after the event.  1994's "A Foreign Field" is written by British screenwriter Roy Clarke (who also wrote two of my favorite comedies, the miniseries "Flickers" and the longest running comedy series ever, "Last of the Summer Wine").  It stars Leo McKern as Cyril and Alec Guinness as Amos, two elderly British veterans, John Randolph as Waldo, an old American vet, and Geraldine Chaplain and Edward Hermann as Waldo's daughter and son-in-law.  These five gather for the 1994 D-Day anniversary, where they also look up Jeanne Moreau's Angel, the good-time girl who apparently took care of all the soldiers in 1944.  Let me assure you, even at 65, Moreau makes you believe she was worth remembering - and perhaps still worth fighting over.  Here's the original trailer:



With Lauren Bacall as the mysterious alcoholic who tags along.  BTW, Alec Guiness does a master turn as Amos, permanently brain-damaged by shrapnel at D-Day, who (as one reviewer put it) "brings more meaning to a flip through the channels on a French TV set than most actors find in a Shakespearean soliloquy."   (New York Magazine)  It's funny, it's touching, it's moving, it's full of memory and meaning.  Wonderful.   (It's also available on Netflix on DVD or at Amazon.)

Part of what works in "A Foreign Field" is the relationship between Cyril and Amos.  Which, in turn, is based on the great chemistry of Alec Guinness and Leo McKern.  That relationship also worked in "Monsignor Quixote", which starred Alec Guinness as parish priest Quixote, whose best friend is the Communist ex-mayor of El Toboso.  When Father Quixote is elevated - by a sheer fluke - to Monsignor, things get complicated.  Based on a short novel by Graham Greene (who also worked on the screenplay!) it's, funny, touching, moving, with one of the greatest endings (imho) of any film.  It's available here, on YouTube, in its entirety:


I wish that Guinness and McKern had made more movies together, but then I also wish that Paul Newman and Robert Redford had made a couple of more.  But "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "The Sting" are good enough.  So are "Monsignor Quixote" and "A Foreign Field."

We're going to watch "A Foreign Field" tonight.  It seems the perfect tribute to D-Day, and to all those who fought, and fought, and would not shift.  Watch, and you'll understand.



08 June 2016

The Weight of Silence

David Edgerley Gates


An obituary for an Englishwoman named Jane Fawcett, who died recently at 95. She was a codebreaker at Bletchley Park during the war, and deciphered the message that led to the sinking of the Bismarck. I've talked about Bletchley before, and Alan Turing, and breaking the Enigma, but I bring it up in this context to note that a lot of our witnesses to history are taking their curtain calls. This is the natural order, and marks the passage of time. It also means that we're losing an immediate living connection to a common, remembered past.

Yesterday (as I write this) was June 6th, the anniversary of the Normandy landings. D-Day was a big deal. The largest air-sea amphibious combat operation ever mounted, I think I'm safe in saying, it cracked open Festung Europa and marked the beginning of the end for Hitler and the Third Reich. Every year, there are fewer surviving vets who visit the battlefields and the cemeteries. The event itself recedes, and pretty soon there won't be anybody left that was actually there.

On a more domestic scale, my cousin Jono has a fairly exhaustive collection of his parents' personal effects. They've been dead more than a few years, and he's in effect the keeper of the flame. My sister and I have run a similar course, with our own parents' stuff, but we've divested ourselves of an enormous amount. The lesson here is that simply because an object or an artifact meant something to them doesn't require us to be their proxies. You can make a counter-argument here, though, and I think Jono's entitled to make it. Whether our own families were walk-ons or center stage, they were part of collective memory. They may have been present at historically significant turning points. Or not. But if they're not in the record books,. then as each of us in our own generation die off, our memories of that previous generation disappear with us, and those people disappear.

History is surprisingly empty, in this sense. Kings and generals crowd the canvas, but the background, the foot soldiers and camp followers, don't leave much more than a shadow. We intuit or interpolate, but the raw detail isn't always that sharp. A lot of them couldn't read or write anyway, and for a long time they just got squeezed out of the story, except as spear-carriers, literally. So losing our first-hand storytellers drops a stitch in the fabric. And all too often, these people will say, Jeez, kid, what I did wasn't all that interesting or important.

Well, yes and no. One of the more fascinating histories I've ever read was based on the accounts of a merchant family, trading out of Brest or the Hague or someplace - I've forgotten - and it was so many bolts of cloth or barrels of salt, but it was an amazingly vivid picture of daily life, in the commonplace. We forget that it isn't necessarily the sword fights, much of the time it's just making the car payments or shoeing the horse. 

So, here's to Jane Fawcett - or Miss Jane Hughes, her maiden name in 1940 - who may have fallen off the radar in the meanwhile, but I'm glad she was manning her desk at the time. And here's to all those guys who struggled ashore, or who didn't, or who never made it off the beaches, I wish I could hear your stories. We bear witness to the times we live in. We don't always sort the wheat from the chaff, or spin gold out of straw. The silence, though, is heavy.