The White Cliffs of Dover

The White Cliffs of Dover is more than just a song it’s a family tradition

Three months after the end of World War II, my father was relieved of his military obligations in Europe. He went home to see his family in Chicago, 3 weeks later he was in Detroit, soon to be joined by his GI Bride and about a year later, by me.

the white cliffs of dover vera lynn

Dad was an ace mechanic and he loved Chevy cars, by 1950 he was maintenance chief at a large Chevrolet dealership. He was living his dream. My mother was from the East End of London, she lost a sister and a niece and nephew in the London Blitz.

By the time I was eight-years-old I had two brothers. The young boys were all over dad, they wanted to do what he did, go where he went. I was a mothers boy. Her family had a tradition of working for the British Rail companies, most of them based in London and one of the perks was free or very cheap travel. She used to tell me about the trips she had taken, all over Great Britain and occasionally over to continental Europe. I was fascinated.

Dad worked hard and long, but when it came to vacation and holiday weekends, he loved his time off with us. Two or three days, sometime a week, at a lake fishing and cooking out. Dad and the boys would do all the fishing and swimming, mom and I would hang out, and she would tell me about her travels and the things she had seen. In the evenings we would all sit in a circle and sing songs, we had quite a choir.

Memorial Day was a special holiday for my parents, for reasons I came to understand as I was older. Mother’s loss in the Blitz and dad’s friends who didn’t come home from the beaches of Normandy gave them a depth of belonging and emotion which, in reflection, I have too. The songs that were sang on Memorial Day took on a different tone. My parents favorite singer from the WWII era was the English songstress Vera Lynn. Her songs were patriotic and full of yearning and hope and in the dark days of the war she was a beacon. One song my parents attempted to sing was “The White Cliffs of Dover”, I say attempted because they never got through the first verse without bursting into tears and clinging to each for dear life. My brothers and I found this a little disconcerting, but mom used to say, “don’t worry boys, we’re crying ’cause we’re happy.”

By the time I was in High School, my younger brothers were playing sports and fishing, I was out to earn a dollar. I had a plan. I begged my dad to get me a job cleaning cars and polishing tires at his work. He was pleased that I was showing an interest in what he did and that I was a willing worker. I made friends with the used car salesmen and if they had customer coming to look at a car, I would hear, “Hey JD, blue Chevy, must look like new, buyer in 45 minutes.” If they pulled off the sale, I would get as much as a $5 dollar tip, and I socked it all away. When I started my senior year at High School my parents sat me down for a talk.

At teacher/parent conferences they had been told I was college material and they were keen for me to be the first member of either family to go to University, which school was I going to try for, was the theme of the talk. When I told them as soon as possible after graduation I wanted to go to Europe, things got a little tense. My father was angry, even my mother looked shocked. After listening to them for several minutes, I took several deep breaths and said: “Dad, I want to see the Normandy beaches, I want to go to the Ardennes, because you were there, and mom, I want spend some time with your family in London and I want to see the White Cliffs of Dover.”

They were both visibly at moved at my little speech and dad said: “Take a hike son, I want to talk to your mother.” Twenty minutes later, they came out to the front porch were I was sitting and wondering if this was beginning of a family rift. My dad, speaking softly said: “OK son, go and see grandma and the family for a few months, she has come to see us, so you return the favor, when you come back we’ll talk about your future.” Within seconds I was hugging them both, spluttering: “Thanks, thank you, thank you.”

“If you are going to visit grandma in London, WHY are you buying a ticket to Paris, that’s France son,” said mom with dad glaring silently. “I know, I’m flying into Paris then taking the boat train to London, I want the first thing I see in your homeland mom, the place where you met and married dad, the first thing I see has to be the White Cliffs of Dover.” Silence.

Two weeks after graduation, a tearful family goodbye, even my younger brothers seemed sorry to see me go. A Greyhound bus to Chicago, I insisted they didn’t drive me to the airport. I arrived in Paris at 7.15am local time and was soon being bussed to the Gare du Nord to catch my train. I hadn’t slept, but I was wide awake. Never been so excited. The super fast train soon had me at the channel port of Calais. We left Calais it was misty and raining lightly. I positioned myself as far forward on the boat as I could and kept peering into the fog. After about 45 minutes the sun peeked through and the visibility improved dramatically.

There they were, the White Cliffs of Dover, resplendent in the growing sunlight, magnificent. I started to sing softly to myself: “There’ll Be Bluebirds over, the White Cliff of Dover, tomorrow just you wait and see . . . .” In the true family tradition I couldn’t get through the first verse.

Vera Lynn sings the White Cliffs of Dover HERE and on the Pink Floyd album “The Wall” they sing about Vera HERE


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Posted by on August 5, 2010. Filed under Commentary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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19 Responses to The White Cliffs of Dover

  1. One Fly

    August 5, 2010 at 11:18 am

    Nice Jodie!! From a life long “Chevy Man” I enjoyed this so much. Thanks.

    • Jodie Fozdyke

      August 5, 2010 at 11:48 am

      Thanks, as you can imagine nobody in my family has the nerve to buy anything but a Chevy.

    • MadMike

      August 5, 2010 at 1:53 pm

      Sorry guys but if I were forced to buy American it would have to be FORD. I mean recent financial history should speak volumes 🙂

  2. Gwendolyn H. Barry

    August 5, 2010 at 11:35 am

    Refreshing! A great read. TY and welcome aboard @ MMA. (I must have missed your welcome piece…. 🙁 )

    • Jodie Fozdyke

      August 5, 2010 at 11:50 am

      Thank you too, I was introduced about 6 weeks ago, but I have been traveling, it’s what I do best.

  3. osori

    August 5, 2010 at 11:53 am

    What an excellent post, thanks for an enjoyable read. I’d heard of the White Cliffs of Dover and of the song but never had heard it till now. We grew up during the same era, although my father was stationed stateside.

    I’d missed your welcome piece too, possibly Gwen and I were experiencing sixties acid flashbacks simultaneously when your welcome piece arrived.

    So, welcome !

    • Jodie Fozdyke

      August 5, 2010 at 5:17 pm

      Thank you sir, just a little bit of my history by way of an introduction, writing personal stuff is always a little hard, but it should get easier as the travel writings get underway.

  4. MadMike

    August 5, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    Jodie this was a fantastic post. I have had the great privilege of seeing the white cliffs and it is a sight I will never forget. Great story man.

    • Jodie Fozdyke

      August 5, 2010 at 5:18 pm

      Thanks Mike, here’s hoping we have a long and fruitful relationship.

      • MadMike

        August 5, 2010 at 8:31 pm


  5. fourdinners

    August 5, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    I HATE YOU!!!…you just made me cry.

    Bloody marvelous post mate. Bloody marvelous!

    Love (in a manly way of course) from England…


    • Jodie Fozdyke

      August 5, 2010 at 5:23 pm

      Didn’t mean to make you cry (or did I). Manly love is returned from Missouri to you in Limeyland.

  6. Mother Hen

    August 5, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    A beautiful story. I am envious of your parents having such a gracious, thoughtful, and sentimental child. Wish that I could make my kids the same way. A “travel year” is a wonderful idea for anyone heading off to college, but especially if you have family to stay with.

    • Jodie Fozdyke

      August 5, 2010 at 8:48 pm

      My parents did not think me so gracious or thoughtful, I didn’t go home for 6 years.

      • Mother Hen

        August 5, 2010 at 9:32 pm

        And that was a bad thing? 😉

        • Jodie Fozdyke

          August 6, 2010 at 9:06 am

          Telecommunications were different in the 60s, so relying on postcards and letters as the main source of information on my whereabouts upset my mother some, and anything that upset her, upset dad.

          • Pam Ladds

            January 23, 2011 at 2:23 pm

            Ah Jodie, Your mother had no reason to be mad, not really. You did what she did, left a country and traveled. Sure, her excuse was marriage but Brits are travelers. We migrate everywhere -for better and worse, for the pleasure of travel. I arrived in the USA from Britain for the pleasure of seeing the world. And it was 6 years before I visited the UK again. I still wander! Beautifully written piece.

            • Jodie Fozdyke

              January 26, 2011 at 4:10 pm

              Thanks a lot Pam, your compliments are much appreciated, nice to know somebody reads it and then bothers to tell me they liked it.

  7. chevrolet dealership chicago

    August 12, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    What a story. Thanks for posting this. I really liked it a lot. It almost brought me to tears, but I did my best and made sure that no tears came out. I would love to read more. Do you have other stuff like this available?