Guest Blog by Tansy Forster of Normandy France
I feel the need to tell the back story of the photo taken by my husband Mike Forster who was formerly Fleet Street photographer in London. With Harry’s interest in photography, he and Mike struck up a great friendship.
We got to know Harry as he was billeted with us by our local Mayor for the 60th Anniversary 2004 of D Day here in Normandy…there was a request sent from Paris that all local Mayors in the area of the Invasion Beaches find folk prepared to take any veteran as their guest into their home plus how many you could accommodate. With us being English/Irish we were natural ‘targets’!
We said we’d be delighted…it was confirmed that we would be getting a veteran from 3rd June for at least a week with 1 family member, so made all the preparations to include planning a special dinner for the 5th June, the flags went up, the bunting was all around the courtyards, beds made, on the 5th laid the table, wine opened…still no veteran! So we went ahead & had a party!
Next morning the 6th June 2004 whole area went into lock down, from Cherbourg right round to Caen with the N13 motorway closed & a 17 mile radius as no go area all the small roads closed, (we are 4 miles from Ste Mere Eglise in one direction & 4 miles from Carentan the other 10 minutes from Utah Beach)…16 Heads of State in the area including President of United States, The Queen and for 1st time Chancellor of Germany. So if you weren’t in place by a certain time and you didn’t have the correct pass you weren’t going anywhere!
We’re nursing hangovers and disappointment so I clear up the night before & have loads of bread over so sack it up and wearily trudge round to our Mayor’s house to give it for his chickens & sheep…I get there and there’s these 2 men…one with a goatee beard and quite animated the other one a big guy with a folder of letters & photos…ahhh Tansy, Raymond The Mayor says to me and starts machine gunning French – the older guy then says ‘do you speak English? No one understands us here – gotta get to the beach’ head thumping not understanding what is going on – ‘what do you mean – I am English darling’ I say…with that I get a huge bear hug…Harry Kulkowitz is in my life!!
I take him and now know it’s Mark home…call out to Mike & our other English friends that had come over for the 60th anniversary & meet a veteran…’hey guys I’ve got a veteran’…’oh yeah, yeah’ they say – ‘but I have, meet Harry’…all Harry wanted to do was go to the beach & explaining to him that we were in lock down you have to watch it on the TV was not an easy task…fortunately jet lag kicked in and he had a little sleep until the evening and we could then get him to the beach!
How he & Mark got through the barriers is a lesson to us all – never take no as your answer!! He was waving the letter from our Mayor under all these security men with machine guns…’I’ve got a letter from the Mayor’, the funny part of it is every single village in France has a Mayor – there are 345 people in this village but we have a Mayor…Harry & Mark didn’t know that – they thought of the Mayor like a New York Mayor! Power to them, the Gendarmes & the machine gun carrying Army let them through – hilarious!
The photo here of Harry at Taps at The American Cemetery is 2010 – 6 years on from our 1st meeting…(they then took to arriving by the 2nd June to combat jet lag etc. & be on form for his audience!).
The young soldier in combat fatigues was to help Harry fold the flag at taps…he came up to Harry saluted and went to shake his hand saying all the usual things about what an honour it was to meet him…”Beat it son, you’re embarrassing me”…typical Harry, it was very funny.
But that sums up Harry – every morning when we were going out for a ceremony in his honour he would not have his medals on, every morning I would pin his medals on his shirt, every morning he would look over to Mike and ask for help and Mike would say” it’s all your fault Harry! ” At the end of a long and emotional day where he was welcomed back as a conquering hero he’s say ‘jeez, what was that all about – I didn’t do anything’… ‘it’s all your fault Harry’ the stock reply – after 10 years of this he then started to say with a twinkle in his eye ‘it’s all my fault!’
June 6th weeks are huge here in Normandy and they seem to be getting bigger every year even though the veterans are less…we get very few American boys now – The British still come, last year 150 Black Cabs from London brought over Normandy Veterans, it’s not so far and no real time difference, just an hour.
Our 6th June weeks are just not the same without Harry…we will treasure our weeks we had with him, it was a privilege.