D-Day echoes through time

4th June 2004 at 01:00
Adi Bloom and Darren Jones talk to pupils who revisited the Second World War on the 60th anniversary of the Normandy landings

As Dom Billins stands on Omaha beach, he can hear the splash of bodies emerging from the sea and smell the sweat as they pound over rocks and run past him.

Sixty years ago, his grandfather stood on the same spot, hearing the same sounds and smelling the same smells.

Fourteen-year-old Dom is visiting the D-Day landing beaches of northern France as part of a school trip organised by St Christopher's, a private school in Hertfordshire.

He has seen the floating harbours used to gain access to the beaches on June 6, 1944, and walked through the neat rows of graves, marking the casualties of the event that was the turning point of the Second World War.

Sixty years ago, Dom's grandfather arrived on these same Normandy beaches, but under very different circumstances.

"He was part of the D-Day landings," Dom said. "I was breathless as I stood there. I couldn't say anything. I didn't know my grandfather was capable of that kind of bravery. I'll see him in a completely different way ."

He was not the only visitor to be affected by the scene. Lisa Lewis, 14, said: "I could picture all those men standing where I was standing, and fighting and dying.

"They did it for us: for all of us living today. It made me realise how lucky I am to be born now."

The Normandy visit by St Christopher's, a pound;3,585-per-term school in Letchworth, was one of a series of events held by schools nationwide to mark the D-Day anniversary. Many have invited veterans to address pupils and talk about their experiences.

A new children's book, Orphans of Normandy, by Nancy Amis (Pocket Books, pound;6.99), tells the story of the landings from the perspective of pupils at an orphanage in Caen, using their own drawings and words.

At Portsmouth grammar, in Hampshire, pupils have published a commemorative book, based on their interviews with old-boy veterans, many of whom left school to join the front line.

English teacher Alan White said: "It's one thing to talk about the Second World War in terms of statistics and events. It's another to bring in someone who, 60 years ago, was exactly the same as the boys he's talking to. Words on the page pale in comparison."

Zane Gray, 14, said: "The soldiers weren't much older than us when they fought on the front line. But I suppose you just do what you are told.

"It's a bit like listening to teachers at school. But we're threatened with detention. They were threatened with a pistol. One veteran had the pillow taken out by a shell from under his head, while he was asleep. It's impossible to understand it all, unless you were there."

John Braun, 87, who joined the army in 1940, agreed. But he said it was vital to try. "After D-Day, we felt we might, finally, be on our way home," he said. "Children need to learn about that. They need to know what it meant to Europe to be liberated from that kind of oppression. Perhaps that might stop it happening again."

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