A few years after I made aliyah, my parents sold the house that my sister and I had grown up in and moved to a sheltered housing facility for elderly people in north London. My mum and dad are warm and friendly people and they soon made friends with many of the other couples on the estate. Among these were a family by the name of Lamb – Ken Lamb and his wife Meeda.
Ken Lamb was Devon-born, and Meeda was Welsh. Ken had worked for many years in the construction trade in London, and he and my dad soon bonded and became fast friends over their shared love for rugby and various other sports.
As we got to know the Lamb family better, another element of Ken’s life became evident. As a young man in the seafaring county of Devon, Ken Lamb had witnessed the coming of war between Britain and Germany in 1939. It was quite natural and obvious, then, that Ken should volunteer to join the Royal Navy, and he did so and qualified as a naval officer.
As a result, Ken Lamb found himself on June 6, 1944, commanding one of the landing craft that brought Simon Fraser’s Scottish Commando Brigade on to the shores of Sword Beach, under withering enemy fire. Lovat’s Commandos had the vital role of pushing forward and linking up with British paratroopers who had jumped during the night, to secure the bridges that the allied troops would need in order to push inland.
The commandos achieved their mission, famously to the accompaniment of Bill Millen’s bagpiping, and famously with Fraser apologizing to the commander of the paratroopers for arriving two minutes late to Pegasus Bridge.
Ken rarely talked about the events of that day, or the rest of his war, but as we got to know he and his wife better, he would on occasion reveal some small details of the day, usually speaking in a very quiet voice, usually while sipping on a glass of beer or red wine.
He would describe how a landing craft alongside his own and commanded by his friend had been blown up, leaving nothing but debris behind.
Or he would note that Lord Lovat made sure that Bill Millen played his pipes through the ship’s tannoy system in the silence as they waited to leave the British shores, to still the nerves and raise the spirits of the men.
His voice had the cadences of London mixed with a memory of Devon, and a certain tone that I associate with the people of that generation, and which has almost vanished from modern British speech. A sort of calm and kindly tone, of people who look life straight in the face, with all the horrors that it sometimes brings, and are neither intimidated, nor afraid, nor impressed nor even angered by this.
This tone has almost gone from us. We are not the better for its absence, it seems to me.
Mr. and Mrs Lamb became great friends of our family. When my father was very ill in 2010 with the cancer which would kill him, Ken and Meeda were most kind. Once, when I was in Israel and my father couldn’t climb the stairs anymore, my mum described to me how Ken, who was well in his mid-80s himself, physically carried my dad up the stairs and made sure he was comfortable in his bed.
Ken was a fixture in the small community where my mum now lives alone. Early in the morning, at around 7 am, you would see the tall, slim and distinguished figure of Mr. Lamb going for his morning newspaper, usually smoking a cigarette as he did so. Ken liked to hear about Israel, for which he had much sympathy. ‘keep on flying the flag out there, my boy,’ he said to me once. He was not pleased with the way that England had gone in recent years, and was not shy about expressing his opinion in this regard.
I am writing this only because today it is the 70th anniversary of the day that Ken Lamb and his comrades took Lord Lovat’s commandos onto the shores of Normandy, alongside thousands of other British, American and Canadian men, embarked on a venture that would save Europe and the world from evil. I am very very happy to testify that following his exertions, Ken lived a wonderful, sane and dignified life of which my family and I were able to share a small part, through the bonds of friendship.
Also, he is alive still, nearly 90 now. I hope he is having a wonderful day.