Vicky McClure – My Grandad's War, ITV1, review: reminder to celebrate veterans before it's too late

Next year will be the 80th anniversary of D-Day, and it is a fact of human biology that very soon there won’t be anyone who was there on June 6, 1944 left to tell the tale. The testimony of Ralph McClure, 97, in Vicky McClure: My Grandad’s War (ITV1), showed why first-hand accounts are so valuable: under the prompting of his granddaughter, the Line of Duty actor Vicky McClure, Ralph’s story of manning one of the landing craft that delivered Sherman tanks to Sword beach on that fateful morning was extraordinary. 

How he got there at all – a boy from Nottingham who lived 80 miles from the sea – was a fascinating chunk of wartime history, with McClure and historian Stephen Fisher tracing the path of his landing craft from training up in Scotland right down to its journey across the channel from Newhaven on the day itself. 

Incredibly, there were reconnaissance photographs of remarkable detail for every stage. Add in access to the map room at Southwick House in Hampshire, the secret headquarters for the landings, and My Grandad’s War provided a useful and timely overview of the whole operation. 

In truth, however, there wasn’t enough here to fill an hour and so McClure, such an easy communicator (as we’ve seen in two series of Our Dementia Choir) found herself dressed as a soldier and wading out to sea, in order to wade back in again and show how tough it would have been. She looked a little uncomfortable, and not just because her boots were full of cold water – this was a little gimmicky. 

The focus should probably have remained on Ralph, because he was wonderful. His self-possession and modesty as he returned to the Normandy beaches were as telling as the bare facts of his story – “Just doing a job, weren’t we?” 

The most moving parts of the documentary came when Ralph and his granddaughter went to the British Normandy Memorial. He was surrounded by people wanting to shake his hand, saying they wouldn’t be here without him (McClure too, for different reasons) and hoping that they might “be half as good as you.” 

It reminded you of the importance of story-telling and remembrance in a tragedy as grievous as the Second World War. Early on, McClure explained that when she was younger she had known that her grandad had taken part in D-Day, but had never taken much interest. Films like this one show why we should all take an interest in anyone with a tale to tell. Soon it will be too late.

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