Sunday, 2 June 2019

Britain is still a country for an old D-Day Veteran, Peace Campaigner and Soulful Singer called Jim Radford

Jim, who is 90 years old, was a 15 year old galley boy serving on the tug the Empire Larch when it sailed to join the Normandy D-Day invasion on June 6th 1944 which marked the beginning of the end of the German occupation of Europe and the Second World War in Europe. Now, seventy-five years later a campaign has been launched to get the haunting ballad he composed to commemorate that day, 'The Shores Of Normandy,' to Number One. After performing the song for decades, it was rereleased  two weeks ago and briefly stormed ahead of Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber's joint single, on Amazon's music chart.

Jim, who is donating profits towards a memorial in Ver-sur-Mer honouring those 22,442 men and women under British command who died during the Allied landings and the Battle of Normandy. He said reaching the top spot was beyond his "wildest dreams". The Normandy Memorial Trust, which hopes to build the monument, has helped Jim to promote the single and gather support on social media. The group's official account has tweeted : 'With one week to go to #DDay75, let’s get 90-year-old veteran Jim Radford’s single to No.1!'

Last week Jeremy Vine told his Twitter followers he had bought the single after hosting Jim on his BBC Radio 2 show. Nationwide Bank also lent their support to his campaign, tweeting : 'We're supporting the Normandy Trust to raise funds to build a British memorial - you can download 'The Shores of Normandy' single by veteran Jim Radford.' https://www.normandymemorialtrust.org/

Jim himself said : "We want people to remember all those good men. All those young men. Boys really not much older than I was, lots of 18 year olds. They deserve to be honoured and remembered. A way to honour and remember them is to take this commitment and make sure that it never happens again. For that we need a focal point. Just as we need the Cenotaph, we need a memorial in France."

There is much more to Jim than just his song. He is a founding member of 'Veterans for Peace UK' in 2012 and was present at their Remembrance Day protest at the Cenataph in London in 2013. 

Back in 2014 when interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 'Today' programme, he explained that he no longer regularly attended the Remembrance Sunday Service held at the Cenotaph in November each year, unless in his capacity as an anti-war campaigner and said :  "Normally I don't go to the Cenotaph. I stopped going years ago. I go to the Merchant Navy memorial on Tower Hill. The reason I don't go is because that ceremony's been hijacked by politicians, by the Royal Family, by the Church. It's not about the Royal Family, it's not about the politicians, and it's not about the Church."

He also said that he thought the Second World War fought against Nazi Germany was justified but none of the wars fought since have been : "If you've seen slaughter on that scale, you have to stop and think, was it justified ? Well it was justified, in that case it was necessary, but in so many cases it's not. Most of the wars that have been since, I can't think of a single exception, seem to me unnecessary and avoidable."

Jim, who was born in 1928, was an 11 year old growing up in Hull, in East Yorkshire, when the family got the news that his brother Jack had been killed when his ship, the SS Cree, was torpedoed in the Atlantic and was 13 when his other brother, Fred, joined the 'Royal Navy Rescue Tugs Service' in 1942.

Determined to follow his brother and at 15, too young to be allowed to join the Royal Navy, he went into the Merchant Navy as a galley boy on the tug the Empire Larch and later said : "I joined the tugs because that was the only way I could get to sea and every kid in Hull wanted to play a part in the War" and “in 1944, you were either a boy or a man and we became men very quickly.”

He sailed out to join the invasion fleet and said : "As we got closer, there was the most tremendous bombardment taking place, every ship was firing it's gun. It was like Dante's Inferno. There were blazing landing craft on the beach and you could still see the fighting going on. Like everyone else, even then in '44, I'd seen war films, but it's amazing the difference when it's real."

"The water was full of dead men. A very sad memory of D-Day is all the poor devils who never made it to the beach, who were in the water with life jackets on, floating, and we hadn't time to pull them out. Your thought is 'this is real, this is actually happening'."

He was on his tug towing a 'block ship' into position before it was scuttled to help build a mulberry harbour to facilitate the landing of supplies for the invasion forces at Arromanches on Gold Beach.

After the War, Jim joined the Royal Navy and served for ten years ten years before retiring from the sea in the 1950s. After a varied career, he now takes a keen interest in the folk and maritime music, both as an attender and performer at maritime festivals around Britain and is best known for his sea shanties.

When asked if he 'had returned to the site of the landings since the War ?' Jim has said: "I've only been back three times. When I saw it was a beach, covered in children and sandcastles and people running and playing, that moved me enormously. The contrast is so amazing."

In 2015 he was appointed a 'Chevalier of the L├ęgion d'Honneur' by the French Republic 'In recognition of steadfast involvement in the Liberation of France during the Second World War.'

Jim composed his autobiographical 'Shores of Normandy' fifty years ago after an emotional return to Arromanches-les-Baines in Normandy in 1969 and in 2014, sang it for all those men who had served and died on the 6th June 1944 in BBC Radio 2's tribute concert at the Royal Albert Hall..He received a standing ovation from the audience where, there was doubtless, scarce a dry eye. It was also in 2014 that Jim was interviewed and related his D-Day experience on BBC Radio 4 : http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p020bmq9

The Shores of Normandy 
In the cold grey light of the sixth of June, in the year of forty-four,
The Empire Larch sailed out from Poole to join with thousands more.
The largest fleet the world had seen, we sailed in close array,
And we set our course for Normandy at the dawning of the day.

There was not one man in all our crew but knew what lay in store,
For we had waited for that day through five long years of war.
We knew that many would not return, yet all our hearts were true,
For we were bound for Normandy, where we had a job to do.

Now the Empire Larch was a deep-sea tug with a crew of thirty-three,
And I was just the galley-boy on my first trip to sea.
I little thought when I left home of the dreadful sights I'd see,
But I came to manhood on the day that I first saw Normandy.

At the Beach of Gold off Arromanches, 'neath the rockets' deadly glare,
We towed our blockships into place and we built a harbour there.
'Mid shot and shell we built it well, as history does agree,
While brave men died in the swirling tide on the shores of Normandy.

Like the Rodney and the Nelson, there were ships of great renown,
But rescue tugs all did their share as many a ship went down.
We ran our pontoons to the shore within the Mulberry's lee,
And we made safe berth for the tanks and guns that would set all Europe free.

For every hero's name that's known, a thousand died as well.
On stakes and wire their bodies hung, rocked in the ocean swell;
And many a mother wept that day for the sons they loved so well,
Men who cracked a joke and cadged a smoke as they stormed the gates of hell.

As the years pass by, I can still recall the men I saw that day
Who died upon that blood-soaked sand where now sweet children play;
And those of you who were unborn, who've lived in liberty,
Remember those who made it so on the shores of Normandy

In an interview in the Telegraph last month, Jim said that writing the song was "very hard" because "it meant reliving very harrowing experiences. I hadn't realised that, without knowing how I'd done it, I'd managed to convey that emotional impact to other people. I was very surprised that large numbers of people had contacted me to say they had been moved by it."

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