Sunday, November 2, 2008
I was born in England, in a hospital on a US Air Force base just outside London, which is no longer there. The base, not London. I am an American citizen and a British citizen, although the British don't mind me being American as much as the Americans do me being British. But, being half English, half of my relatives, on my mother's side, live in England. My cousin, Leslie, with whom I will travel to the Continent, is the only one with whom I maintain contact. Not for want of trying. There was some sort of family split in the late 50's, estate related perhaps, but probably just an eruption of a sore that had festered for years prior. I have recently tried to contact another cousin who I haven't seen for 4o years. I managed to gain his email address, after a short phone call, to which I sent a short note stating my plans for the trip with Leslie as well as requesting information on any other family members with whom he may have be in contact. The reply was shorter. No, he didn't know where anybody was and good luck with the trip!
On the other side of it is the fact that I am married to an English woman, and,not surprisingly, her relatives are over there as well. And, they like me! Or they say they do. Well, they do enough to put up with me, er, put me up for a couple of days before I hie off across the Slip(English Channel to everyone but the French). And, bless their hearts, they have managed to get tickets to the London Symphony performing one of my mother's and therefore one of my, favorite pieces, Dvorak's 9th, "From The New World". Here is the proposed itinerary, although still not finalised(I am going to use English endings for words just because I want to). Actually, whenever I type a word that is spelt differently in the U.S. than in England, I always have to decide which version to use. Usually spell checker wins (i.e.,"American English"):
Nov 11-Leave Shreveport, via Atlanta, for London Gatwick Airport
Nov 12-Arrive dazed after 9 hour overnight flight at 7am London time.
Nov 12-try to stay awake
Nov 13 -off to see/hear LSO
Nov 14-Here begins the main focus of this journey.This will be long day as we drive a rental car to the far west part of England, Bodmin in the county of Cornwall, to visit the Duke of Cornwall Light Infantry(DCLI) regimental museum and have tea with a survivor of the battalion. He landed in France June 24, 1944 , survived some of the most horrific battles you have never heard of, and was with the unit until VE day. H goes back yearly to pay tribute. He is now mid 80's and one of the few remaining of his regiment.
Nov 14-later that day we will drive to Portsmouth from which we will embark to LeHavre France., 2300 hours. If this day goes as planned, we will have gone all the way across England and halfway back again. If time permits, meaning if we haven't become hopelessly lost, before we leave England we hope to meet an author of numerous WWII books, one of which is entirely devoted to the nearly forgotten battle in which my uncle died, and another about crossing the Seine. The author lives just outside Portsmouth. I have been in contact with him, have an autographed book, and an invitation to give him a ring when we get near. If only he was a relative!!
Nov 15-After an 8 hour overnight ferry to France, we shall arrived fresh and chipper, ready for our excursion. I am sure we will arrive in much better shape that the DCLI men did in 1944. Our main destination in Normandy is Caen, more on that later, with some tentative visits to other points of interest in the area, among those being the Beaches, the Caen Memorial, the Bayeux Tapestry, Cheux, and other places. My uncle's unit landed three weeks after D-day, yet suffered some appalling casualties in the battles to breakout of Normandy during the next two months. Contrary to Tom Hank's statement in Saving Private Ryan, they weren't wasting their time, but they were losing their lives.
Nov 16- Vernon France, where in August 1944 the British forced a crossing of the Seine under heavy fire. This area is 5 miles or so from Giverny, Monet's home. We plan to visit both places.
Nov 17-Vernon to Arnhem, Holland -And points in between. For you history buffs, you recognise Arnhem as the town with the Bridge Too Far. Well, my uncle was there.
Nov 18-After a long drive south, we will be in Geilenkirchen, Germany. This battle is long forgotten by most, as it fell between Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge, and was not a stunning Allied victory. It is notable to some, and I guess to him especially, that is the place that a young US Army officer named Henry Kissinger first saw action. It was a joint British-American operation, and due in part to the unceasing rain, became almost a WWI- like stalemate. My uncle was killed the first day, Nov 18 1944, of the battle, in a "textbook" capture of a village that saw only minimal casualties. It brings to mind All Quiet on the Western Front. It was the first day that British forces had attacked Germany on their homeland.
We will be guided by a local citizen, who grew up in the area. He has served in the West German Air Force and was actually stationed in Mississippi, during a NATO exchange program.He is about my cousin's age, and his father fought in the war for Germany. He has emailed me pictures of my Uncle's headstone and has offered to show us the battlefield area. The battlefield is not that large, and after we see it, we will drive 2 hours North to the Cemetery. Here are over 7500 British Commonwealth dead, from all services. There are two crews of the famous Dambusters buried there. And one , in the words of my mum, "lovely man", who never saw the son he had just heard about. At this point, I am not sure what we will do. Just seeing a picture of my uncle's headstone moved me to tears.
Nov 19-The drive from the Cemetery to the coast, Dunkirk, is not that long. In light of the events of Nov 18, we may stayovernight in the area to catch our breath and regroup. Or we may drive straight from the cemetery to Dunkirk, spend the night, and catch the ferry from Dunkirk toDover.
Nov 20-25 are open, possibly finding and visiting relatives who it appears don't want to be found or visited!! I think my brother and sister-in-law are planning on me being with them. I think I better check on that! And, maybe a trip to a real English Premier League footie match! Or even a brief stab at rock climbing, or hiking, or walking, or visiting the pub in order to get a feel for the local atmosphere. Or another hair-raising ride in an American left-hand drive Corvette down narrow English county roads!!coupled with a trip to the pub, the ride in the 'Vette becomes even more hair-raising. or playing with my great niece and nephews-let's hope I don't scar their image of Americans too badly!! Here is the rub, there are so many things to do, people to see, places to go, and limited time to do it.
Nov 25-Leave London Heathrow for Shreveport, via Houston.