Today is, of course, the anniversary of D-Day, when the largest invasion in history ensured that, 77 years on, we don’t speak German, except on a Rhine cruise. It liberated Europe, it defeated fascism, and it saved many Jews and others from a terrible death at the hands of Nazis. Those of us who weren’t born then owe an unrepayable debt to those who died and those who finally defeated Nazism.

People like Lieutenant James Doohan of the Winnipeg Rifles who was shot in the hand and chest. A silver cigarette case stopped what would have been a fatal bullet to the chest but the second round took off a finger. Doohan went on to be beamed up as Scotty in Star Trek. I don’t know if he continued to smoke.

And JD Salinger, who landed on Omaha Beach, where there would be 2,400 US casualties, with six chapters of his unfinished novel Catcher in the Rye in his backpack. In one of those spooky coincidences Evelyn Waugh, recuperating with his leg up after injuring it in paratroop training, finished the final chapter of Brideshead Revisited in Devon.

Then there was Juan Pujol Garcia, a double agent working for us, who convinced the Germans that D-Day wouldn’t be in June. His code name was Bovril, but it was changed not to Pie but to Garbo when it was realised how great an actor he was. He also had a wonderful sense of irony. Hitler awarded him the Iron Cross and he asked if it could be posted to him. In Hendon.

Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, landed at Sword Beach with a wading stick he used for salmon fishing and his personal piper Bill Millin whom he instructed to pipe the commandos ashore, in defiance of strict orders not to do so. When Millin, the only man in the invasion to wear a kilt, demurred, Lovat said: “Ah, but that’s the English War Office. You and I are both Scottish, and that doesn’t apply.”

So Millin played Highland Laddie, The Road To The Isles and All The Blue Bonnets Are Over The Border, in the kilt of the Cameron tartan his father had worn in the Great War as his comrades fell around him. He talked later to German snipers who were there that day and asked them why they hadn’t shot him – they replied that they couldn’t because they thought he was mad. And he surely was.

For sheer laconic stiff upperlippery there is General Bernard Montgomery, who planned the invasion with Supreme Commander Dwight Eisenhower. Monty wrote in his diary of the day just: “Invaded Normandy; left Portsmouth 10.30.”

MoD in the head

The new British army tanks, called Ajax and Ares, are costing £3.5 billion. They’re unsafe at over 20mph – a decent cyclist with a limpet mine could easily catch them – and they can’t fire their main guns while on the move. What’s more, they’re so heavy they can’t be airlifted without taking chunks out of them. They can’t reverse over anything higher than 20cms, which isn’t even a medium-sized boulder. And they’re four years late (which is a blessing). Oh, and they’re so noisy and shaky inside that crews can’t be in there for more than 90 minutes or HR will be on the case, which is a touch awkward in a war.

You might think a head or two would roll in the MoD and among its political masters but, of course, it won’t happen. War brass don’t do surrender, apart from on the battlefield. You might also think that such a hideous and ridiculous mess was unique but it isn’t. Two carriers arrive late and wildly over budget, destroyers and frigates still in the pipeline, and during the week it emerges that HMS Audacious, a nuclear-powered submarine, will be 17 months late although I bet it’s longer.

They used to say about US service personnel: “Overpaid, over sexed and over here.” Now it’s “Over budget, overdue and not over here.”


Diphthongs of praise

IF there’s anyone who should get an Arts Council grant and an NHS bursary it’s Len Pennie, aka Miss PunnyPennie, who brings her Scots word or phrase of the day to Twitter and other social media platforms I’ve never heard of.

She gets abuse online about it from eejits who couldn’t rub two brain cells together never mind combining two vowels in a single syllable. I think she also suffers from depression. Well, she never fails to make this auld yin smile and the day just a little warmer.

Rail life dilemma

IF there was ever a compelling argument needed to sort out and renationalise the railways it came again, for me, last weekend on a return trip to London, so bad and slow a man with a red flag would have disappeared into the far distance.

Not that it started out as rail. On Sunday, there was a badger on the points, or the wrong kind of leaves or perhaps it was just the wrong kind of Sunday. They, I presume Network Rail, had decided that a bank holiday was the perfect opportunity to do some essential maintenance. So, it was a bus and a two-hour journey to Carlisle from Glasgow.

But, of course, at Carlisle it had been decreed that there was even more maintenance to be done on a different part of a different line with different badgers, so it was another bus and a similar time to Lancaster. This bus didn’t even have a toilet and there were several crossed legs and muttered curses from people who had gone four hours or more without a break. Fortunately, there were no kids on the antique omnibus.

This was a journey meant to be carried out by Avanti, but I guess Opposto had taken on the franchise. Then it was a crawl through Manchester and south, but at least I got a glimpse of Macclesfield where Slade’s Noddy Holder lives and where Joy Division’s Ian Curtis rests.

You would think that when you’ve paid the normal price for a ticket which should get you to London in five hours or less that when it takes eight hours and two buses and a slow tour of the north you might be entitled to a discount, or meal vouchers, a long service medal, even a pat on the back, but no. Nada.

I had been advised to return through Edinburgh on the east coast line because on the west it was dog sled from Durham or some such, and LNER was certainly better.

It was on an Azuma train, which means east in Japanese, and not the Pendolino, which means crap in any language. The only trouble was the buffet, or lack of it. It seemed to conk out around Wembley and did not revive before Waverley.

At least LNER is publicly owned, whereas Avanti is only partly publicly owned. By the Italians. Apart from the livery and the uniforms, there is nothing different from the previous franchisee, Virgin – the same trains but with different decals. Even the staff are the same.

Franchises are ridiculous. It’s not as if there can be competition on lines to encourage them to invest or buck up. Let the train take the strain?

Never was a slogan so manifestly misapplied.