6 June 2013

The day called D

Today is the 69th anniversary of the second invasion of Europe by allied forces.  (The first, of course, was the now almost forgotten invasion of Italy.)  The British, American and Canadian men (along with elements of Polish and French and other nations longing to be free) landed on heavily defended beaches, forged their way forward through incredible fire, and did the impossible.  Saving Private Ryan gave us a glimpse of what happened at the American landings at Omaha, the worst and bloodiest of the beaches, but even that was a sanitised version of the events.  In the movie, it seemed as though the Americans got off the beach and were moving inland within about twenty minutes or half and hour of landing.  In fact, they were pinned down on the beach for hours.  So multiply those opening minutes of the movie by a factor of about ten, and you begin to get an idea of just how little you will ever understand about what those men went through.  If you know any who are still around, thank them.

By some coincidence, last night and this morning was also the two hundredth anniversary of another battle where British, American and Canadian forces were locked in a deadly struggle- this time against each other.  After the defeat of British forces at Fort George and Fort Erie in the spring of 1813, the British retreated and made camp at Burlington Heights in present day Hamilton, more or less on the site of present day Dundurn Castle.  (you can still see some of the earth works on the grounds of the castle and in the cemetery across the roads.)  Since York (modern day Toronto) had been destroyed earlier in the spring, this was the last British position between Niagara and Kingston, and it was manned by just 800-900 men.  On the night of June 5th, the British received word that an American army of 3-4,000 men was marching towards their position, and had camped for the night at nearby Stoney Creek.  The British decided not to wait for the Americans, but instead gambled everything on a night attack.  Seven hundred men marched from the camp and made their way through the dark to Stoney Creek, where, in a surprise attack, they captured the two American generals, the American cannons, terrified the enemy, and sent them running back to Niagara.  This was the farthest into Canada the Americans would come in the war.

The war of 1812 is now remembered by and large as a war where a bunch of men showed up, shot at each other, and went home.  It is remembered like the battles of Rome, that one side won, and the other side lost.  I wonder how long it will be before the Second World War, the greatest and bloodiest war ever fought, shall be remembered the same way.

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