• The Soldier-Historian

My Nannies War: Remembering D-Day

5th June 1944

A young 15-year-old girl eagerly walks down the high street towards the local library. Iris is of mid height with piercing blue eyes, and hair as black as a raven. She has pretty, delicate features that belies a fierce and passionate girl whose formative years have been shaped by the shadow of war.

Iris is not a local girl but has been educated in a Catholic boarding school run by a sect of Nuns since the outbreak of the war. As she walks along the high street, she calls to her friend Florence. ‘Hurry up Flo! Stop dawdling.’ Florence quickens her stride; she is smaller in stature with fiery red hair and pale skin. There is a friendly rivalry between the two girls, as Florence always beats Iris in the 100-yard dash, a fact Iris doesn’t forget even in her later years, yet they are good friends and eager to enjoy time away from the kind but strict Sisters and the austere environment of the school Convent.

Suddenly the sound of engines grumbling and sputtering abruptly stops both the girls as they search for the source of the noise. They peer expectantly up the high street as vehicle after vehicle comes into view. ‘Are they ours!?’ says Flo excitedly, ‘No, I think they are Americans!’ Iris replies equally excited but somewhat anxious. The trucks rumble past them, smiling American GI’s wave and call out to onlookers as they pass. ‘Nice knowing you!’ says one GI, who looks not much older than Iria and Flo, ‘Goodbye! Goodbye!’ he shouts as his truck rumbles past the excited and equally confused schoolgirls. It seems to take an age for the smiling Americans convoy to make its way down the street, but as the girls stare after the last vehicle receding into the distance, calm returns and Iris pulls Flo’s arm; ‘Come on, let’s go.’

6th June 1944

Iris wakes to a typical June day, the sun is bright and warms her as she yawns and stretches off the night’s stillness. She washes and dresses as usual, brushing her raven black hair and pinning it conservatively in the style of the era. Grasping her books she makes her way to her school room, as she walks along the corridor from her dorm, there seems to be a feeling excitement, of an almost imperceptible buzz around her fellow classmates and the Nuns that instruct them. She feels it too but is uncertain why or what to make of it. Iris decides to ignore it and settles down at her desk as the lessons begin and the school room’s atmosphere relaxes into a familiar rhythm.

In the course of the morning the Nuns seem to become more nervous, apprehensively stealing furtive glances at the clock. At an obviously pre-arranged time they address the class. Iris is surprised at this interruption and achingly curious to its nature, she glances at Flo who shrugs as the class files out and is shepherded to the great hall. An uncomfortable silence falls, thick and suffocating as the children nervously look to Mother Superior standing erect and imposing at the head of the hall.

The Mother Superior takes a deep breath and slowly enunciates every word; ‘My Children’ she began ‘this morning, the second front was opened on the beaches of France.’ Gasps of shock break the silence; surprised whispers permeate the room but are hushed quickly by the Mother Superiors stare.

‘We must now join together and pray for our brave soldiers and for the young men fighting against us, there are many families whose lives will change forever this day. May they all be brought together into God’s everlasting light.’ Iris is numb, eye’s wide with shock, she feels a mixture of hope and apprehension, she thinks of her Uncle Billy, serving in Bomber Command, of the countless families of the children around her who have Fathers, Brothers and Sisters serving in the forces. She puts her hands together and glances at Flo, silent tears fall down her friend’s face. As her voice joins the sombre chant of the De Profundis, the prayer of the dead; one overriding thought engulfs her: what will happen to us now?

My Nanny was 11 years old when the war began in 1939 and just weeks from her 16th birthday when Allied Forces assaulted the beaches on D-Day. This is her remarkably poignant memory of D-Day and gives an insight into how civilians reacted to the news that Fortress Europe had indeed been breached. It was a privilege to be able to listen to her stories and I hope I have done them justice, indeed my Nanny helped in the editing of this post, and I hope readers find her wartime memories as interesting and fascinating as I do.

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