Monday, 11 November 2019

They and their legacy must not be forgotten

What have Denis Healey, Alan Whicker, Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe, the fathers of both Peter Hain and myself, and Gary Lineker's grandfather have in common?  They all served in the push from the south which ended fascism in Italy, overcame the consequent vicious Nazi seizure of power and thence made arguably as big a contribution to ending the war in Europe as the D-day landings. Nancy Astor ignorantly referred to the eighth and fifth armies as the "D-day dodgers", but the Italian campaign was bloody. Monte Cassino alone saw 54,000 allied casualties and was a by-word for the horrors of war for years after. (My father may well have been on the periphery of Monte Cassino as part of a REME Light Aid Detachment. He certainly mentioned the engagement to us children after the war, and, unlike those who were intimately affected by the horrors of it, was willing to speak about it. One of my greatest regrets is not questioning him about his wartime experiences.) There was a sardonic response to Astor's perceived insult in the form of a song (to the tune of Lilli Marlene) which Denis Healey was able to recall sixty-odd years later on Desert Island Discs. The hurt clearly went deep.

Tonight, BBC-1 will be showing a tribute by Lineker to his grandfather and to his fellows who served in Italy.

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