2012 – A Year in Review
Prior to November 11 the weather had been overcast, miserable days with rain and cold, but everyone was smiled upon as Sunday turned out to be a bright, sunny day with a blue sky, but we still had a fresh, cold wind.￼
The bright sun kept us fairly warm. Many thousands of veterans were on parade and as usual, the service and parade was a moving and polished performance. The Cenotaph memorial was a blaze of red poppies at the end of the parade.
So many memories, so much sadness, but wonderful that we never forget all the many thousands that have given their lives in wars and conflicts. We also attended the Field of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey, again there were thousands of little wooden poppy crosses. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have certainly increased the number of poppy crosses for the war dead.￼
We once again planted our two personal poppy crosses in remembrance of two family members, Lenny and Lorry Burton, plus another in remembrance of 16 year old Jack Banks, who was laid to rest in Jerusalem Cemetery in Normandy in 1944.
In Great Honour
It was a moving picture earlier this year when a hurricane swept through Washington, D.C. in the USA when the honour guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier stood steadfast at the tomb as the wind howled through and torrential rain poured onto the guards relentlessly. These dedicated guards patrol the tomb 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in 100 degree weather, snow, pouring raid, freezing cold, they never waiver. ￼
It’s been an eventful year with various displays to present veterans’ stories and educate the young. An extensive display was set up in a shopping centre car park with other public services such as fire, police, ambulance and the military. We created a great deal of interest with the general public who stopped by to see the vehicles and display of artifacts and bill boards, especially children who were attracted to our display Hurricane aircraft, all seeking a close view and the opportunity to climb into the cockpit and try out the various instruments. It was a most successful day complemented by a glorious hot sun and blue sky.
On another event, our President attended a retired persons’ day care centre. He took along WWII posters, pictures and even a collection of old wartime ration books. It brought back so many memories to the residents who were then able to share their own memories. The day concluded with tea and biscuits.
It was in November when our President, Terry Burton, had the pleasure of visiting the New Southgate Cubs to give a WWII history presentation. The presentation in educating the children on the history of D-Day and WWII went very well and obviously inspired the troop as he received a very nice letter of thanks from two of the troop, Matthew and Charlotte Carey.
What was nice that the charming brother and sister had also created their own bake sale to raise money to help the “Children in Need” charity, apparently from their own efforts in baking assorted cakes, they raised a grand sum of 67.50 for the charity.
New Headstones for Burials in Papua New Guinea
Three casualties buried in Port Moresby (Bomana) War Cemetery n Papua New Guinea have recently been identified and given new Commonwealth War Grave Commission headstones. Investigations were conducted by the Australian Army Unrecovered War Casualties Unit and it was discovered the three graves belonged to members of Z Special Unit of the Australian Army who were killed by the Japanese when operating behind the lines in what was then the Celebes in the final months of the Second World War. A rededication ceremony was held in November and was attended by family members of the three men, as well as Henry Fawkes, the sole surviving member of the patrol.
Such a sad time when we have to write about losing another of our most revered veterans. This time it was the loss of Sydney Bernstein at the grand old age of 96 years. Sydney and his son, Michael, have supported us over the years with various charity collections as well as joining us on pilgrimages to Normandy, a visit to the tank museum in Dorset, and the Poppy Factory in Richmond. As a tribute to Sydney, we publish his biography as follows:
He left Southampton at around 9.30pm on June 5th on massive United States landing craft. During the night he was woken up and offered food, but didn’t feel like eating. The tension was building up inside him as it was with everyone else, then at 6am he landed on Gold Beach.
Sydney Bernstein was 28 years old when he became part of the first wave of British troops to arrive on the French shores on June 6th, 1944. Along a 50 mile stretch of Normandy coast, the allied troops began advancing towards the enemy lines and Operation Overload- D-Day had begun! Sydney was a sapper in the Royal Engineers in the 81st assault squadron. He was in one of nine Churchill tanks and was in the first wave to land on Gold Beach.
I was too busy to be scared he once said, there was no time to think or be worried, you had to go there to do a job and if you came out of it alive, all well and good.
We did lose one tank to the biggest mine I ever saw, four of the five men in it died and the fifth was permanently blinded.
We had American soldiers to our right and Canadians to our left. The Americans sadly lost a lot of men. But everyone was well trained and we had three ships behind us firing salvo after salvo to areas in front of us to give us support. We ourselves were supporting the Canadians as they made their way up a hill, but by the end of the day the allied troops had made their way over the hill at Gold Beach.
Sydney, a self-confessed insomniac said, we had advanced quite a bit by the evening of D-Day and we finally settled in an orchard come evening to rest and I was so tired that is the only time in my life I have ever managed to sleep right the way through to the morning. That particular night as tired as we all were the mood was exuberant amongst us all.
But even now, all these years later Sydney often woke up in the middle of the night and wondered if he really did land on Gold Beach all those years ago or was it a bad dream, it all seemed such a distant memory now.
Sydney was Jewish and was born in the East End of London; he once said that he had some extra incentive to do some Germans in, as he put it. He had pride in his regiment, pride in that he was British and pride in his Jewish faith.
After the awful D-Day itself, Sydney’s 81st Assault Squadron steam-rolled its way through Normandy into Belgium and Holland, then by February 1945 they had reached Northern Germany. With the German s flagging on all fronts, Sydney was witness to the horrific scenes at the infamous Bergen-Belsen concentration camp after its liberation in April 1945. Although it did not have the killing ovens like Auschwitz, more that 35,000 prisoners, most of them Jewish had died there, many of them from typhoid which was running rampant in the camps inhumane conditions.
It was really too bad to describe said Sydney, it’s difficult to put into words because it was so awful there. The prisoners were just walking skeletons.
We only spent a few hours there as we were ordered to push on, but it really was the most terrible scene to ever have to witness.We gave them some food and I was able to talk to them in Yiddish, which really amazed many of the other soldiers.
Veterans Return to El Alamein 70 Years On
On 20 October 2012, veterans of the Battle of El Alamein attended a ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the battle. The service was held at El Alamein War Cemetery which contains 7,240 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War.
An Oath of Loyalty
It is a crying shame the children in England don’t have the same respect and allegiance in the British classrooms that they do in America. Could you imagine ever having a Union Flag on a pole in the corner of every British classroom and first thing every morning the kids, with hand on heart, swearing allegiance to the British flag, Queen, and country.