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I was a few months short of my sixth birthday on D-Day and have only a hazy memory of the excitement – and apprehension – it aroused. In truth the war made little impression on a small boy growing up in rural Aberdeenshire and it’s likely that my mother may have been more concerned with the progress of the war in the Far East since my father was in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp. But by the time my generation was in its teens we had heard and read a lot about the war, and, rather more influentially, had seen numerous war films. So we grew up in the proud knowledge that Britain had stood alone against Hitler, survived the Blitz, seen “the end of the beginning” at El Alamein, and on June 6, 1944, triumphantly returned to the continent to liberate France, Belgium and the Netherlands, and then defeat Hitler.
We knew of course that the Americans had played a part, even that General Eisenhower had been the Supreme Allied Commander, and we were even aware that there had been a terrible war in Eastern Europe and that it was the Red Army which had taken Berlin. But we didn’t make much of this, nor did the British film industry.
It wasn’t only 1940 that was “our finest hour”. The whole war was that, and Europe, or at least Western Europe, was in debt to us.