acrylic painting by Candia Dixon-Stuart (then colourised)
It was an entirely fortuitous and serendipitous encounter. Major Howard was
sitting at a table outside Arlette Gondree’s cafe. (Arlette’s house was the first
French home to be liberated.)
I was in the company of Major Michael Hickey, a military historian who
was with my choir. We were singing The Brahms Requiem seven times
in ten days, all over Normandy, along with a French choir and the
orchestra of Basse Normandie. We sang in different towns
and we sang in German. The audiences were in tears. It was an
emotional and healing experience for all involved.
Photo: 9th June, 1944. Wikimedia Commons
Generous gesture – German flag festoons,
hoisted with the Allied banners. Bunching,
fussy boudoir blinds. Here swooping platoons,
like death’s head moths, stealthily came gliding.
Across the bridge John Howard bravely strode,
piper ahead, deflecting sniper shot.
Now European coaches block the road;
the dispassionate stamp postcards they’ve bought,
sending snapshots of Hell to those who knew
the mark of Caen first-hand. Wish you were here!
He was: a fact to startle and imbue
those that have eyes to see and ears to hear.
The café’s bright umbrellas shelter all
from noonday’s heat, so one could fail to spot
cool nonagenarian. By the wall,
hero’s crutches propped, ready for action.
His longest day is past; his time now short:
German beer his major satisfaction.