06 June 2009

Liberty, Normandy June 1944

I wonder if my mother's uncle, Bertie Harris, would have had much liberty in his life before his contribution to the liberation of Europe in June 1944. Today marks the 65th anniversary of his landing at Gold Beach.

The reason I began exploring my family history towards the end of 2007 was because my mother wanted to know what happened to her uncle. She had not mentioned much about him before, except to say that he had been killed during the Second World War.

I have already written about Bertie in this blog. You may recall that he was born in December 1910, twelve days before his mother died of infection, fever and exhaustion after giving birth to him, at the age of 38.

I don't know how Bertie died on 1 July 1944, but he had spent the last few weeks of his life in Normandy, saving his sister's children and grandchildren from becoming the slaves of a brutal regime.

Bertie may be somewhere in this photograph. It is from the Imperial War Museum collection.

Click here to see a larger version.

What would have gone through Bertie's mind at the time? What did Gold Beach mean to him?

I have provided a couple of links here in honour of Bertie:

His memorial at Tilly Sur Seulle

The Green Howard Regimental Museum

You may recall that my grandmother had quite a lot of siblings, according to census records, but the only one we have ever known about was Bertie. Did the others die before the war? What happened to them? What became of Bertie's wife Florence?

My grandmother never mentioned Florence. Perhaps there had been a family rift. Dorothy had been a lady's companion and an elegant dancer in her youth. Florence had been a factory girl for much of her life, making nuts and bolts.

Florence was 26 when Bertie died. He was 34. I don't know if they had any children.

Search the Commonwealth War Graves for one of your relatives

Learn more about what happened in Normandy in June 1944

Explore the Second World War

Discover our shared heritage at Gold Beach

Normandy Veterans Association

Royal British Legion

More about what happened at Gold Beach on 6 June 1944

Some more information about Gold Beach

Gold Beach Museum

Youtube - Gold Beach in recent years

Youtube - The D Day landings taking place

Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of Bertie's birth in Staffordshire. I hope to have the chance to visit his grave in Tilly Sur Seulle in Normandy. I wonder if Florence ever went there.

At least the Staffordshire countryside now has a place of peace and contemplation where we can remember people like Bertie.

National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire

Bertie of the Black Country

Tilly Sur Seulle, Normandy

I have always had a problem with the word "sacrifice" being used in relation to any type of violence or force, even when combat is justified. My interest is in peace, and with commemorating the sufferings of civilians as well as those whose job it has been to bring peace to the lives of civilians.

What is the best way to resolve conflicts and create lasting peace in the world, whether within households, between neighbours, or on a global scale? Explore my other blogs to find out!

Quieter Living

By Any Other Name

Continual Journeys

If you have any comments or questions, I would be delighted to hear from you.

Update - December 2010:

I have added more links above today, to co-incide with the 100th anniversary of Bertie's birth. If you know of other links I may find interesting, please let me know.

Did one of your grandparents or great grandparents have a sister called Dorothy (born in Wednesbury, Staffordshire in 1906) and a brother called Bertie (born in Wednesbury, Staffordshire in 1910)? Are John Harris and Harriet nee Lloyd amongst your ancestors? They were born in east Shropshire in the early 1870s.

I know now that Dorothy and Bertie had several siblings (though I did not know this when I started looking into the family history at this time of year in 2007):


John Harris, who married Amy (maiden name perhaps Carter). Married 1927? Children - John and Bertie who both became military police officers.

Leonard (Len) Harris, who married Mary (maiden name perhaps Bailey or Bayley). Married 1922? Children Len and Ray - both remained unmarried.


Annie Harris married William E Butler in 1913. Children: Annie, May, Bill, Jack, Harry.

Mary (Polly) Harris married Arthur Harper in 1918. Child, Arthur, born 1922.

Another sister was Keziah Harris, whose fate is unknown.

Harriet had a brother John Lloyd who married Agnes Maria Fisher in 1899. John and Agnes were living next door to Harriet and John in Wednesbury in 1901.

Bertie's wife Florence nee Hague was the daughter of John T Hague and Ruth nee Rudkin. Florence had a brother called Ralph and sisters called Iris and Vera. She also remarried after the war. I also now know that Florence managed to visit Normandy before she died.

I also have information to suggest that the photograph of Bertie at the top of this blog post was taken in India in the 1930s, perhaps in Bangalore circa 1932. Bertie was in the British army even then, perhaps with the second battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment. He may have reached the rank of sergeant major, though his great grandson is still awaiting a response to his request for Bertie's military records.

So now I am reminded of Mahatma Gandhi whenever I look at the photograph of Bertie. Although I have since been lucky enough to receive more pictures of my great uncle, taken before and after the one above, I will probably always think of Bertie as a thin, young man with dark hair, almost as if he was an Indian himself.

Mahatma Gandhi and the civil disobedience movement in India

Rabindranath Tagore writing in October 1936 about the English in India

You Tube - A Road in India, 1938

If you would like to know more about this family history, or you think you can help me to know more about those within it, here are some more blog posts you may find interesting:

Something quite marvellous

Superstitions and traditions

Songs my mother never taught me


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I especially appreciate historical insights.