The wail of the air-raid siren was deafening even that far underground. I watched them: the women, the workers, as they huddled together in their small groups. Their bodies shivering in the bitter cold, flinching and whimpering at each crash of the distant bombs. The earth above them shook under the bombardment and, each time it did, they’d press closer together. All but one.
She sat alone. Her back against the cold tiles, knees tucked tightly against her chest. She was sobbing quietly. Her tears cut clean tracks through the black grease that stained her cheeks.
I sat beside her and touched her bare arm. She hadn’t known I was there, hadn’t registered the caress. I could see then, her thoughts and memories. I could see her slender hands and arms buried deep in the machine’s innards. She worked fast, fretting the delay and the loss of production. She knew her role was vital, knew all of them were vital. They relied on her, he relied on her, wherever he was.
She jumped as another bomb landed nearby and my hand slipped from her. Loose earth dusted her blond curls.
When I touched her again, I saw the life that grew inside her. She hadn’t told anyone, hadn’t wanted to worry the father, hadn’t wanted to lose her job. She trembled beneath my fingers and wondered, what if he never comes back?
I dried her tears and kissed her brow, but she never saw me. I whispered softly into her ear, words for her and her alone. Her shoulders rose, back straightened and the corner of her mouth twitched, curling into a smile. She had known then, known they’d get through it. The country would survive, the world would survive, because of her and countless others like her. I’d given her a piece of my heart, just a little to fortify her own.
I found him on a French beach, amongst the broken bodies of his fallen brothers, pinned down by enemy fire. Bullets and shrapnel cracked and whizzed past his head, so close he could feel their heat on his skin. His face was pale, eyes wide. He stared out from beneath his scuffed, oversized helmet at the face of his sergeant, watching the man’s red face while he screamed at him to “Move! Move! Move!” The sergeant’s spittle landing on the soldier’s face.
If he could hear the order, he made no visible sign. The din of the battle drowned out everything but the screams of the wounded and dying. I watched the sergeant lean towards him, watched the older man’s expression contort and then freeze. I shirked away as the gore and bone that had been his head struck the soldier wetly on the cheek. The soldier touched it with a shaking hand and looked like he would vomit. He turned then, stared right up into my eyes.
He saw me. Really, saw me.
“An angel,” he whispered and I shook my head.
I offered him a hand, which he took and, as skin brushed skin, I felt his fear, not for himself but for his young wife back home in England. He was doing this for her, to protect her, to protect all of them – the wives and the children. I nodded, leaned in close and whispered in his ear.
He smiled, raised his weapon and, with a battle cry dancing on his tongue and through his heart, he pushed on up the beach.
On this day seventy years ago, thousands of fighting men lost their lives on the beaches of Normandy, France fighting for our freedom and the freedom of Europe. We owe much to these men. We owe it to them to remember their sacrifices, remember their bravery. These men gave us courage, they gave us strength…they gave us hope.