65th Anniversary of D-day landings in Normandy

As previously mentioned I went to Normandy in France to see the historic sites associated with the Allied invasion of Europe in 1944 to free the world of Nazi tyranny.

On the fist day we visited strategically important Pegasus Bridge the site of the first action when British commandos landed gliders and surprised the German defenders to captured the bridge with few casualties. Later we visited the Merville Battery where allied paratroopers attacked a heavily defended German artillery position encased in concrete and surrounded by machine guns, barbed wire and land mines. Expecting to have over 700 paratroopers for the assault the allied colonel in charge found he had only 150 men and none of the heavy equipment he needed. Knowing that the battery could fire directly onto the landing beaches causing massive loss of life they charged the battery anyway eventually routing out the last of the defenders with brutal hand to had combat. When the guns fell silent only 6 Germans were still unscathed from 130 and 65 allied soldiers were dead. The story of D-day is a lot like the attack on the Merville Battery. The chaos of the night time glider and parachute landing meant that Allied troops were badly scattered and often had to improvise and attack with who and what they had to hand. The Germans didn’t realise that this was the the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany defended bravely and both side suffered huge loss of life.

During the weekend we visited the Ranville War Cemetery and Ranville Churchyard, Bayer Cemetery, Normandy American Cemetery and the German Military Cemetery which combined contained tens of thousands of graves of young soldiers who fought and died in Normandy. The cemeteries are very well looked after and very moving especially when you consider how young they all were. One thing that surprised me was the number of allied veterans who visited the German Military Cemetery to pay respects to the young German men who had died trying to kill the allied veterans.

Our coach had six veterans on it. One from the Gulf War, one from the Korean War and four from the war against the Nazis in Europe. One of our veterans even got an OBE from the King for charging all over Europe shooting people with nothing more that a camera and a few spare rolls of film. Shortly after D-day he had to dive into a bomb crater with some other soldiers to escape a German fighter strafing the beach. When the danger had passed he got up and said “well that was close chaps” before he realised everyone else in the crater was dead. Another veteran I met at Arromanche called Dick was shot twice in the back while retreating from a German counter-attack in North Africa. A retreating Maori soldier picked him up and carried him to safety. He only found out what had happened weeks later when he woke up in hospital. He never met the man who saved him and he didn’t even learn his name. The more you talk to the vets and the more you hear their stories the more you realise that war is a complete lottery for all involved.

Three veterans sheltering from the rain, Arromanches, Normandy, D-day commemorations 2009

During the weekend we also visited Sword Beach where the Brits came ashore against relatively light defences and advanced inland several kilometres. Next we visited Gold beach where defences were stiffer and finally Omaha beach where the American 1st and 29th infantry divisions were cut to pieces by veteran Germans defending inhospitable terrain. The official record stated that “within 10 minutes of the ramps being lowered, [the leading] company had become inert, leaderless and almost incapable of action. Every officer and sergeant had been killed or wounded […] It had become a struggle for survival and rescue”. Looking at the narrow gulley that the Americans fought their way up it’s hard to imagine how any survived.

On Saturday we tried to visit the Arromanche museum but it was close because of visiting dignitaries. Two hours later of standing in the rain with hundreds of veterans who were mostly over 83 years old and Prime Minister Gordon Brown turned up to rapturous booing from the British in the Crowd. The booing was so much fun loud it made international news.

I have followed politics in NZ and England since I was a teenager and never before have I seen a politician unite the public against themselves so effectively. Several times during the weekend random people I was chatting to raise the subject of how much they disliked Gordon Brown. And I wasn’t even wearing my “I hate Gordon Brown” t-shirt :)

Heading home after a thoroughly enjoyable politician booing we realised that our coach was one veteran short. Two hours later we had finally tracked him down. Can I just say that there can be few harder places to find a white haired old veteran in a blue blazer with loads of medals on the front than at a Normandy beach on the anniversary of D-day. It was like a really hard version of Where’s Veteran Wally.

Overall the weekend was excellent an my coach full of oldies were excellent value. I might go back one day when it isn’t so crowded and I have more time to wander around the sites.

Brown’s cover-up has begun

This is so true. Gordon Brown got into government in 1997 on the promise that he would bring an end to destructive booms and busts in the property market.

Eleven years as Chancellor (the money guy) and Prime Minister later he has presided over the biggest boom of them all. And now the evidence of his initial bold claims is starting to disappear from government websites. Shameful.

I am reading this book that explains it all:

Boom Bust: House Prices, Banking and the Depression of 2010

To ‘do a Palin’ (definition)

I have submitted a new definition for the word ‘palin’ to Urban Dictionary, an online dictionary where people can submit their own slang definitions and other people can vote up or vote down different definitions. If my submission is accepted it will appear here: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=palin

Palin

To have enormous success at something that you are completely unqualified for.

As in “Wow I really did a palin landing that managers job straight out of school!”

[Note: 06 October 2008]
I have submitted this to Urban dictionary twice. Both times they have rejected it.

Responsible Spending

I saw this staggering statistic about English public spending in the latest issue of Money Week.

If public spending had only grown in line with inflation since 1997, we could have abolished income tax, corporation tax, capital-gains tax and inheritance tax, leaving the taxpayer £200bn better off.

Governments have gotten very rich in the ten years of financial boom prior to the onset of the credit crunch. In the UK the Labour government has managed to spend it all and nothing was put aside for leaner times like um a global credit crunch.

I suspect people will look back on the UK governments fiscal looseness during the boom and wonder whether they were mad, drunk, on crack or all of the above.

Helen Clark and Helen Clark

Last Friday I had the honour of being best man at my Kiwi mate Bundy’s wedding to an English girl called Laura Clark. As part of my duties I had to read the telegrams from people who couldn’t make the wedding. One of them included this cracker paragraph referring to the current very unpopular New Zealand Prime Minister, Helen Clark:

First off, my apologies that I couldn’t make it up there to talk you out of it. You see, Helen Clarke likes my money. So you can blame her for my lack of funds, and the need to bypass time off so I can work even harder to get my own share of the pie. Vote National.

You know people are really feeling it when they start giving voting advice in telegrams to be read on the other side of the planet.

What was even funnier was that the bride’s mum’s first name is Helen (for her last name see above). The Kiwis in the crowd were pissing themselves.

I’ll write more on the wedding and add some photos in the next few days.

Packed May bank holiday weekend

Rachel and I had a packed bank holiday weekend.

On the Saturday we rode along the Regents Canal to the London river boat festival.

Canal cavalcade

On Sunday we spent 8 hours on England’s wonderful railway service (making a journey that should have been 3 hours) to Monkey World in Dorset. Monkey World is sanctuary for monkeys that are saved from all over the planet. Some were kept in research labs for in one meter cages by themselves for year after for year. Others were pets that got too big to be pets any more.

Chimp enclosure Monkey World, Dorset

Finally on the Monday off work we took our bike out to the country and covered them in mud. My bike the Canondale “Road Warrior” did okay in the muddy conditions despite it’s skinny road wheels.

Bundy, Laura and Hubbers

Half way through the day the front tire split and I got two consecutive punctures which I fixed while everyone else was enjoying their lunches.

Fixing a flat tire

All in all a packed and fun May bank holiday weekend in England :)

ANZAC DAWN SERVICE IN LONDON

This morning I got up at 4am and rode to Hyde Park Corner to participate in the Australian and New Zealand Army Core dawn service to commemorate the Aussie and Kiwi soldiers who have gone to war for their countries. The service starts at dawn to match the time that the ANZACs first hit Gallipoli beach in Turkey 93 years ago. Eight months of bitter military stalemate later 2721 New Zealand, 8709 Australian, 33,072 British, 10,000 French and 87,000 Turkish soldiers were dead.

New Zealand has had worse days while fighting for King and country but the Gallipoli campaign was the first.

In 1914, New Zealand’s population was just over one million. When the war began 124,211 men joined up and 100,444 went overseas. This was a staggering 10 percent of NZ’s population. 40% of all men aged between 18 and 45 signed up. Per capita New Zealand made the largest contribution to World War 1.

The last ANZAC dawn service I attended in London was on a hungover Saturday morning in 1998 just after I first arrived in London. That service was at an Australian memorial in Battersea Park and only a few dozen people turned up to hear legendary Australian orator Clive James speak. From memory he talked about how modern historian’s views about the Gallipoli campaign had changed and as he was saying what they had changed to a slow low flying plane flew over and I missed it all.

Today’s service at the new New Zealand memorial on Hyde Park Corner was attended by a much larger crowd as ANZAC commemorations seem to be undergoing something of a global revival. This service was a much more religious affair with lots of prayers and songs to Jesus the so called “prince of peace” etc. I guess it’s hard to tell young men to run towards machine guns if they don’t believe they will go to a better place when it inevitable goes badly wrong for them.

ANZAC Dawn Service Hyde Park Corner 2008

None of my Aussie/Kiwi mates who said they would come actually made the early start. Excuses included: sleeping, over-sleeping laziness trumping patriotism and just getting back from Nam.

Cunning Torch Organisers

This is one of the buses in the Olympic Torch procession through London. The were very clever by choosing to play very loud music to drown out the booing and chanting by the protesters. To distract us further the next vehicle to pass was full of dancing girls!