Christine Tongue: Our family’s D Day tragedy

Christine's Uncle Charlie and her mum Mary and a page from Charlie's diary December 1943

My uncle Charlie died on D Day. The telegram my grandma got said he never landed, and his body was never found. He was 25.

Listening to some of the veterans talking about their experiences brought home to me what he must have gone through. “I was terrified. It changed me.” “I saw men drowning around me, in the sea, weighted down by their heavy back packs.”

My three uncles, my mother’s brothers, were all involved in the war: Dick made tanks in a Midlands factory, Frank, the youngest, joined up at 17 and was in the Eighth Army in Africa and Italy.

Frank used to taunt Charlie with being a “toy soldier” because he wasn’t sent abroad. In Charlie’s letters he always said that maybe one day they’d find out what he’d been trained for. (It was secret at the time.)

Frank lived until 2013 and gave me Charlie’s letters. Among them were his diaries for 1943 and 1944.

He was no Anne Frank – this is a typical entry: “Pictures with Janet. Good!” “Football. WON. GOOD!” “Fish and chips. Good!”

It’s the life of a young man: football, girls, going to the pictures, above all food! My mother remembered Charlie as the joker of the family, laying claim to all the cream buns by telling his sisters he’d licked them all.

He worked on the railways, the Great Western, but football had been his life. He was a good player – he may have played for his home team Wolverhampton Wanderers if the war hadn’t intervened.

Charlie had trained for the invasion for a long time. He was based in East Kent for a while. Who knows, if he’d liked it enough perhaps he would have been my Kent uncle.

Instead he died. All that youthful energy suddenly wiped out. No wonder the surviving veterans are still horrified to remember what happened.

Christine with her Uncle Frank

Frank came back wounded just after this and the family didn’t tell him about Charlie – he always wished they had as he went on asking what Charlie was up to, and thinking that he’d had a tougher time being shipwrecked off Malta.

As Frank grew older he began to hate war in all its forms, in particular the sentimentality associated with remembrance services. He hated patriotism: he’d been fighting against fascism and for a better life for ordinary people. He hated hierarchies having seen officers making appalling dangerous decisions. Above all he thought all conflict should be handled through diplomacy and nothing was worth the waste of young lives.

The Queen has thanked the veterans and said she will never forget the sacrifice that was made on D Day. She means people like my uncle Charlie.

Well, I’d rather have him alive, stealing cream buns into his dotage and perhaps living next door.

Charlie Wedge is commemorated in a war grave in Normandy but I commemorate him in the way my uncle Frank approved – opposing war in all its forms, marching for peace whenever I can and watching the dignitaries – not the men who actually fought – at D Day services with heart felt cynicism.


  1. I’m always infuriated by the generals and members of our Government who mention’lest we forget’ while all the time selling weapons of war . Many stand there while half the country wants to dismantle the alliances that have helped keep the peace, with a US president who is manipulating polititians to break these European alliances up so he can put his sticky little fingers in the pie. Really shameful.

  2. It is commonly said that these young men (and women) “Sacrificed their lives”. They did NOT sacrifice their lives – they had their lives taken from them, by the actions of politicians. People from all nations, Allied and Axis, forced to kill each other, because of politicians. It would be far better if international issues were sorted out by diplomacy. If that doesn’t work, try playing chess!

  3. My Dad landed on Sword beach on D-Day plus 2, after spending 3 days in a Landing Craft in Portsmouth Harbour he once said, before crossing the Channel! He never talked about what happened after the landing, but after his death in 1988, I managed to have his Regimental War Diary copied for every day of the week before D-Day, until the end of hostilities on 8th May 1945, although he and his Regiment, the 103rd HAA Regiment Royal Artillery stayed in Germany for a further year before being demobilised in 1946.

    There is an entry in the War Diary by the Adjutant who maintained it, which says “Landing went better than expected only lost ten men”. Considering by this time the Germans had woken up to the fact there were 7,000 ships offshore bringing hundreds of thousands of men, and equipment ashore, I was surprised they only lost ten men! Later my Dad was awarded a Mention in Despatches medal (MiD), but he never said what happened.

    After my fathers death I found a copy of the Battery Orders in his papers, with a citation saying my father was awarded the MiD medal “for courageous and gallant service” I believe “gallant” was army code for saving lives. As mentioned like many people who had seen unimaginable horrors in war, my father never talked about it, except on one occasion he said he had been a guard at Belson! This was a conversation stopper, but I now know when the concentration camp was liberated by the British Army in 1945, different Regiments acted as guards to stop the inmates leaving and spreading disease amongst the German population!

    My fathers Regiment was attached to the 51st Canadian Division that fought all the way up the French and Belgium coast, to liberate the Channel ports which were so vital to shipping to bring men, and equipment ashore. During this time my father had two young sons in England, my baby brother and myself! We, along with our mother were evacuated in June 1944 to Stoke on Trent due to the flying bombs menace. Neither my mother, or father knew where each other were for many weeks, and in fact my mother once said she was on the point of being awarded a War Widows pension, when she got news my father was alive!

    I went into the last of the National Service Army myself in 1960, and was issued the same type of equipment my fathers Army were issued with! I served in the British Southern Cameroons West Africa, and on my return found I could not talk to people about what I had experienced, because I didn’t think they would understand, probably just like my Dad before me! To this day I do not understand what I was doing in West Africa “defending Queen and Country” as someone once said, and have been a life time pacifist ever since!

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