On Not Forgetting

Today is 6 June 2019. 75 years ago today my father, Jim Jukes, was not sitting in a warm room typing on a computer. He was in a living hell.

In the early hours of 6 June 1944, my father boarded a landing craft and began his journey across the Channel to Sword Beach on the Normandy Coast. He was a Royal Marine Commando and taking part in the D Day landings. His mission was to get inland to Pegasus Bridge to relieve the paratroopers who had been dropped there in order to take control of this vital strategic point form the German troops defending it. Pegasus Bridge carried the main road inland across the river. Whoever controlled the bridge controlled the movement of troops and supplies. A lot depended on the men securing that bridge. Jim knew the importance of his mission. He was 20 years old.

Jim sat on deck talking to his Regimental Sergeant Major. The RSM threw Jim a piece of cloth – the three stripes of a sergeant. “Sew these back on your arm, Jim. Someone with a bit of sense will need to be in charge when we get there.” My father had previously been made a sergeant but had been stripped of his rank after hitting an officer who had told him to do his top button up. Jim had held the rank for just one day. Knowing my father, the officer had probably wound him up by talking down to him. He was not a violent or angry man but he had little respect for authority for authority’s sake. As far as he was concerned, respect had to be earned. Jim had a simple way of judging people – if your actions were honourable, if you were true to your word and loyal to your friends, then you would be judged “a good bloke” and that was that. Jim would stand by you and whatever he had was yours. If you acted dishonourably and were not “a good bloke,” Jim would bear you no malice, would still share whatever he had, but he would not put his trust in you, would not respect you, would not do as you told him to do – even if you were a superior officer. I often wondered how my dad survived in the military given his inability to follow orders. Then, in later years i began to research the Commandos – then I began to understand. The Commandos were a fighting unit, set up on Churchill’s command, who were specifically targeted to be sent into situations where it was likely that they might become separated from their comrades, on missions that were dangerous and unpredictable. They had to be able to be self-sufficient, creative thinkers who could be adaptable, take risks, find new solutions, break the rules. Being a Commando was a perfect fit for my father and probably the only way he was able to stay out of Military Prison. It also explained why he put such store in his assessment of “good blokes” and why comradeship was so important to him. When you were in the sort of situations my dad was put in as a Commando, you needed to know that you could trust the men you were with. that you could rely upon them to watch your back.

Jim smiled at the RSM – he was a “good bloke.” Jim went below decks. He told the RSM he was going to make a cup of tea for them both. He told my wife, many years later, that really he went down there to pray. He lay down on the bunk for a second and closed his eyes. At that moment there was an almighty roar. An explosion. The landing craft had been hit my a German shell. My father raced up the steps to the deck. The deck was ablaze. The RSM was sitting where my father had left him. Dead. His legs blown off by the shell. The landing craft was badly damaged and sinking. Jim grabbed his rifle and packed and jumped off the deck into the icy water of the Channel. They were still too far out for Jim to be able to stand. Fully clothed, with pack and rifle, Jim had to swim to the shore.

My father told me all the above in his last few years before he died. For most of his life he never spoke about the war. I think that he just found it too difficult. How could you communicate what it was like to someone who had not been there? He certainly never told me exactly what happened when he managed to reach the beach. I asked him questions about it but simple facts just cannot communicate the horror of it all. I do know that he went to the cinema with my mother to see “Saving Private Ryan” and he told her that the opening sequence of that film is the only thing he had seen that came anywhere close to the reality of the experience. My mother said that she didn’t know how he sat through it. Watch the film if you haven’t already and you will see what she meant. He did tell me that there were German machine guns stationed along the beach. My father would have emerged exhausted from his swim, soaking wet, frozen, weighed down by a water-logged uniform to be met by a hail of bullets and the screams of dying men. My brother and I were lucky enough to be able to take dad back to visit Sword Beach before he died. We spent a long weekend there. We visited the graves and museums, monuments and memorials. On the Sunday morning we went down to the beach where dad had landed. It was a beautiful sunny day. Clear blue skies. It is a pretty beach now. People were out taking a walk, jogging, horse riding, enjoying the warmth of the day. I walked with my father towards the oncoming waves. He stood looking out to sea. It looked heavenly on that beach on that morning but I could see in my father’s eyes that he was remembering a very different scene, a very different day. We stood together and I held his hand.

Dad had medals but they sat in a box in a wardrobe. He had no time for pomp or ceremony – he hated the fuss. He hated politicians who glorified war for their own ends. He protested against the war in Iraq. He said “You need a better bloody reason than that to send young men to die.” But every Remembrance Day he stood in front of the TV and observed a minute’s silence. He told us that he did it out of respect – to remember all the “good blokes” who had died in that war so that we might live lives free from tyranny and oppression. Dad died on Remembrance Day 2011.

He did make it to Pegasus Bridge….but that is a story for another day. Today I just want to remember Jim and all the young men like him and the sacrifices they made 75 years ago today.


  1. Thanks, Andy, for sharing your dad’s story. So much to thank brave men like him for. So moving to watch some of the survivors take part in the various ceremonies yesterday and today.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Absolutely incredible. Your dad was the same age as my dad. My dad was a pilot for troop transport and glider tow planes. He said of the glider pilots: “Some of the poor bastards were dead before we left the ground. Their necks snapped as the line went taut.” I can’t imagine being that young and sent to do such a (no word for it) job. When I would complain about what I deemed a heinous task my dad set before me he would say, “Sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do.” It wasn’t until later on that I realized exactly what he must have meant. They did it to save us from that maniac Hitler. There hasn’t been such a cause since.

    Was your dad a loving man? Did that experience change him and make him stern and no-nonsense?


    • Was he a loving man? Good question. I think so, yes. Like most men of that generation, he wasn’t overly demonstrative, but I always knew that he loved me, without the shadow of a doubt. He spent his life in the service of others. I would say he exuded love and that drew people to him. I cannot remember him ever raising his voice to me.
      Was he stern and no-nonsense? Quite the opposite. Playful and unpredictable would be better words.
      I am going to write a lot more about my dad. I have been planning something for a while.
      What about your father?


      • My father was not like your father. My father was stern and no-nonsense. I knew that he loved me but I’m not sure how I knew this. He had a mean streak. I think he got it from his alcoholic father who was extremely disappointed in how his life turned out. I look forward to reading more about whatever you write!


  3. What a beautiful piece of writing about your father, Andy. I found it very moving, thank goodness you can pass his story on. Thank you!


  4. An incredible read thank you Andy. I was hanging on your every word and the details your Dad was able to share. My uncle Ron, my mans sister was there too, and survived. He didn’t share many details either. I can barely bring myself to watch war films knowing my relatives were in them, but I did go and watch the Winston Churchill film about D Day. How anyone survived is a miracle. I loved to read your journey with your Dad through his remembering. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. It seems to have struck a chord with a lot of people. I will be writing more about my dad. I think that his story is worth capturing somehow. I am working on a spoken word piece about him too.


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