As I write this, the road outside my office is jammed with protestors carrying placards saying things like #dumpTrump, while the President of our most important ally continues his controversial state visit. Whatever you think about its current President, 75 years ago this week the USA helped make possible the liberation of Europe from fascism. Forces from the US joined our own divisions and those of our allies to mobilise the world’s biggest ever amphibious assault. General Eisenhower led Operation Overlord to its bloody but successful conclusion and went on to be elected President in the great line of American soldier statesmen.
I have just been at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Bratislava. The North Atlantic Treaty was signed seventy years ago and the Alliance has been the lynchpin of Western defence and security for seven decades. While President Trump’s style may grate, on defence spending he is right. In 2014 NATO members agreed to spend at least 2% on defence. Some like Britain do live up to this commitment but too many rely on US taxpayers to provide for their security in an increasingly dangerous world.
During World War II, US forces were based at the Greenham Common and US fighter squadrons and troop carriers flew from here in the build-up to D-Day and in support of ground troops in the days after the invasion. Seeing a grainy black and white photograph the other day of General Eisenhower speaking to allied troops brought this home to me. It was taken at Greenham at about 8.30pm on 5th June 1944. Many of the young men he was speaking to never made it back. Their legacy is commemorated by the special 75th anniversary performance staged this week by the Greenham Trust, together with the Watermill Theatre and the Corn Exchange, which marks this extraordinary moment in our history, looking back at how the war affected those living on the air base and in the local area around it.
On Walbury Hill, southwest of Newbury, is a memorial plaque commemorating the Merville Battery. The inscription reads ‘In the fields and woods below this hill in May 1944 the 9th Battalion The Parachute Regiment commanded by Lt Co TBH Otway DSO rehearsed plans for their successful assault on the German Coastal Artillery Battery at Merville, France, before the Seaborne Troops landed in the invasion of Normandy on the 6th of June 1944.’ D-Day has deep roots in West Berkshire and we should be proud of all that our greatest ally did and continues to do for ‘we that are left’.