puzzles, surprises and plans – first published 5 June 2014

Walking to work along a rainy Boardwalk in early June 2014, the poppy mystery was solved. When I first noticed a lone poppy amongst the grass and wild flowers beside the railway track I thought it was an oriental poppy escaped from a garden somewhere. Along the shore at Stokes Bay I saw the yellow horned poppies blooming and revised my identification, at least until I saw flowers. Now the first bud had opened and it turned out my second thought was right. The flower was yellow and, speckled with raindrops, it made my morning. As it was 5 June, almost the anniversary of D-Day, a red poppy for remembrance might have been slightly more fitting though. 

5 June 2014

Once I’d solved the mystery of the Boardwalk poppy, the dog roses gave me something else to puzzle about. They grow all long the wire fence of the demolished TV studios and, right now, are putting on a beautiful show. If I’m honest I prefer them to the blowsy garden variety which seem just a little too full of themselves for my liking. The thing that has me scratching my head is the way the colours vary. Near the road, white petals with just the slightest blush of pink to the edges. Walk a few steps and the flowers have powder pink edges. Further still the pink is deeper. Turn the corner and there are more flowers but these are deep pink, fading to white in the centre and the final flowers before the fence runs out have hot pink petals. I know dog roses come in many shades but why this gentle graduation along the fence? Is it evolution in action or something more?

There was one more surprise in store along the boardwalk. Common toadflax have suddenly appeared. Just the one for now but it’s the first I’ve seen along here. I wonder what other surprises lay in store for me as the seasons change?

With the 70th anniversary of D-Day very much in the news at the moment my mind keeps drifting back to all the plans Arabella and I made for the D-Day 70th Anniversary cruise. Did Fearghal’s harp get onto the ship in one piece? Did the lovely Malcolm ever finish writing his special, one off, D-Day concert? How will the veteran journalist make a presentation of all the recorded veterans’ memories from the CD I listened to on the way to work last spring? We worked so hard to get just the right programme of entertainment for the veterans who are passengers on this cruise and it seems terribly sad that we’ll never know how it all worked out.

Here in Hampshire a very fitting tribute has been going on. Plans have been afoot for some time and yesterday Lee on Solent residents were able to witness a fly past of veteran Dakotas and Spitfires. The planes were arriving at Daedalus airfield in preparation for a very special recreation of the airborne invasion of Normandy. More than a hundred parachutists, wearing authentic WWII uniform will jump from those planes landing in the Norman village of Ranville, the first place to be liberated back in 1944. Having visited the villages of Normandy myself on many occasions the thought sends a shiver down my spine and brings a tear to my eye.

Amongst the many plans and memorial services one other recreation plan made me smile. It was one of the stories I listened to on the journalist’s CD. Bill Millan was Lord Lovat’s personal piper when, aged just 21, he landed on Sword beach on D-Day. He was the only man wearing a kilt. Lord Lovat ordered Bill to play on the beach amongst all the chaos and carnage. Bill, knowing the use of bagpipes had been restricted to rear areas of battle, declined, telling his boss it was against the rules.
“Ah, but that’s the English War Office. You and I are both Scottish, and that doesn’t apply,” Lord Lovat said.
So Bill marched up and down the beach playing “Hielan’ Laddie” and “The Road to the Isles” as bullets flew and the soldiers around him were killed. Imagine the eerie sound.

Bill Millin from Wikimedia Commons by War Office official photographer, Evans, J L (Capt)

Later Bill asked the captured German snipers why they hadn’t shot him. After all they’d had ample chance as he marched, head high along the shore with his pipes. The Germans told him they hadn’t fired on him because they thought he was a madman and they were afraid to. Perhaps he was a little mad because his only weapon was the sgian-dubh or black knife in his right sock. He carried on to play his pipes as the commandos marched across Pegasus Bridge and the pipes themselves were donated to the Pegasus Bridge museum.

Bill Millin landing on Sword Beach from Wikimedia Commons by Details
Evans, J L (Capt), No 5 Army Film & Photographic Unit

Of course brave Bill is no longer with us but his 59 year old son, John Millin, has left Portsmouth with a set of specially made bagpipes including a chanter from the original pipes. John will be playing the pipes on the ferry journey to France and again on sword beach. In the nearby town of Colleville-Montgomery, he will play one final time for a group of a Normandy veterans before presenting the pipes to the town mayor. What a wonderful tribute to his brave father.

Of course the weather will make or break many of these careful preparations. Yesterday was mostly rainy and, walking home, I tried desperately to outrun a huge black thunder cloud hovering over my village. Thankfully I made it home just as the first crashes of thunder sounded. The rain overnight was torrential. Thankfully this evening it was a different story. I left the office to bright blue sky and bright sun. Let’s hope it stays that way for all tomorrow’s D-Day memorial plans.

Talking of plans, Commando and I have other, non shed related plans. After a considerable amount of dithering, Commando has signed up for a second marathon this year and this one is going to give me the chance to revisit somewhere I explored back in my late teens. We are off to Cologne (or more properly Köln) in September! How exciting. It will be interesting to see how much it’s changed in thirty odd years.

Cologne cathedral from Wikimedia commons by Climey Amors

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Writer, walker, coffee drinker, chocolate eater, lover of nature, history and the little things that make me smile

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