There can be a tendency sometimes to assume that historical programming is the sole domain of the BBC or Channel 4. If I Don’t Come Home: Letters from D-Day, which aired on ITV earlier this month, rather thoroughly disproved that notion.
A partly dramatised account of the lives of four Allied servicemen ahead of D-Day, the programme told their story through their final letters home before the assault. Captain Alastair Bannerman was married with two small children, as was Capt Norman Skinner, from the Royal Army Service Corps. Lieutenant Glenn Dickin was a 22-year-old Canadian who had never seen action before, and Leading Aircraftman fitter Maurice Hardstaff was an RAF man who had waited more than four years for this moment to come.
All-in-all it was an admirable and successful effort to bring the servicemen’s stories to life, using a combination of archive footage and contributions from the mens’ children and relatives.
The bad news for those who missed it is that the Programme itself is no longer available on ITV Player. The good news however is that the book released to accompany the series is, and is well worth picking up, as it represents a more complete look at the single letter – that from Alastair Bannerman – which inspired the programme.
Bannerman had decided he would write an extended love letter to his wife, recording his thoughts and emotions before and during the invasion. This he put together in his notebook, which was confiscated when he was taken prisoner by the Germans on the day after D-Day. Having narrowly escaped death, and survived the ordeal of a prisoner of war camp, he returned home to his wife and sons in April 1945. By a series of extraordinary circumstances, some years later a German translation of his letter was returned to him, and he was able to complete the story.
The book, which is effectively an annotated version of Bannerman’s extended letter and notes along with a foreword and brief biography from his sons, is a genuinely fascinating read. Letters from the battlefront, and indeed from D-Day, are not uncommon, but it is rare to get such an extended account of a soldiers thoughts on the events he was going through at the time.
It’s also an unusually candid account of an officers thoughts, something that is somewhat rarer. Bannerman himself, despite being the son of a career soldier, had never intended to join the army. Indeed he was a man with a strong pacifist bent and with both a wife and two young children already he was acutely aware of his commitments at home. As he would write, however:
In the face of the foul poison of Nazi doctrine which would destroy the flowering of our children’s minds and which is a denial of all things spiritual that Western civilisation however imperfectly has won from the centuries, I am at last resigned to believing that in this instance war may be the lesser of two evils and that the relics of freedom left to the human mind and the val- ues that we still maintain, must be defended by force. I am not easy however and we must watch that we do not ourselves become Nazis in the struggle, and that our present ideals are maintained to the end.
For both these reasons it is well worth picking up, whether as a casual reader of history or as someone more interested in primary sources. Indeed frankly the fact that it retails at only £1.49 in digital form pretty much makes owning it a no brainer, as it’s well worth sacrificing the price of a morning coffee for.