The darkest hour of the week: an old soldier remembers

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'I CAN remember the D-Day celebrations as if they were yesterday,' says Major- General Donald Fougasse. 'But of course the D-Day celebrations weren't yesterday. They are happening today. That explains why I remember them so well. Or were they yesterday? I can't remember now. Drink, anyone?'

Major-General Fougasse is a survivor of the 1994 D-Day celebrations. Many went over. Not many knew why they went or what the ultimate aim was. Many came back. Major-General Fougasse knew why he had gone. He had gone to meet up with some old mates and sink a few pints of French beer and pack the car with a lot of crates from the supermarket at Sainsbury-les- Deux-Eglises. But that wasn't all.

'What you've got to remember is that the 1994 D-Day celebrations came at just the right moment for Britain. Things had been going badly for us. We had been knocked out of the World Cup. Lloyd's had sustained huge damages and I myself had lost more than pounds 400,000. I'd lost it on Lester Piggott in the Derby, actually, but it comes to the same thing in the long run.

'What we desperately needed was something like the 1994 D-Day celebrations, which could perform the vital task of keeping John Major's premiership going for at least another week, until help arrived . . .

'How it all comes back] Who can ever forget crowding round the tiny radio as the hour came closer and closer, listening to the inspirational words of our leader, John Major? It is now almost a whole 24 hours since those stirring events took place, but I can still more or less remember roughly what he said, word for word. How did it go?'

And Major-General Fougasse rocks back and forth, as the words of John Major come back to him in a sort of dream, as if he were really back in early 6 June 1994, when Europe seemed united - those words of John Major which were to become a rallying cry for freedom.

'A multi-speed Europe, that's what Major wanted to tell us about. This is not just a battle between Euro-sceptics and pro- Europeans, he said. This is not just about federalism. What are we fighting for? That's what he asked. And he gave us the answer. I will tell you what we are fighting for. We are fighting for a multi-speed Europe] We are aiming to create a Europe in which guidelines can be laid down for the intake of new member states according to a set of agreed criteria which will enable us, whether or not we reach a common European currency on schedule, to safely accommodate new member states, whether or not they have the economy ready to take on their new duties.'

Fougasse's voice sinks away as he utters the golden words. Either he has been overcome by emotion, or he cannot remember any more. Then he takes a pull at his hip flask and resumes the quivering tale of the events of only an hour or two ago.

'You can have no idea of the charisma that John Major exerted in those dark hours, when Britain was really up against it. I myself have no idea of the charisma that John Major exerted and I was actually there at the time. That, I think, gives you some idea of the sort of charisma that John Major exerted. The only question mark there was hung over his capabilities as a tactician. Look I'll show you.'

And, in the time-honoured manner of the old soldier, he pushes around the salt cellar, the pepper pot and the cruet to recreate those long-ago battles.

''The Tories were here. The Labour Party was here. The Liberal Democrats were here. It was absolutely vital that the Tories should dig in and hold as many seats on 9 June as possible - if possible, push back the enemy and make gains. The Labour Party had agreed to help by not having a leader during hostilities. But many authorities felt that the Tories could still lose badly against a leaderless enemy.

'And what made it worse was that John Major had opted for the first-past-the-post method of deciding the outcome. That meant that if the Labour Party made enough gains, the future of Europe would be in the hands of the socialists, who would have taken over without a struggle. Look, let's say this mustard pot represents Brussels . . .'

And the old man wanders off on his memories again. But one still gets a feeling of how vividly he remembers it all, and how desperately close everything was on 6 June 1994.