We were encouraged to go to see Michael Caine’s latest and last film: ‘The Great Escaper’. Michael Caine plays the part of Bernard Jordan – a man in his 90s, living in a care home in Hove with his terminally ill wife, who is played by Glenda Jackson – who has died since the film was recorded.
The story is based on the real life episode in 2014 when Bernard took himself off one morning to attend a ceremony in France – 70 years since a battle on the beaches: D-day veteran, 89, who ran off to France for anniversary: 'I'd do it again' | D-day | The Guardian
The original was extraordinary. Bernard was an extraordinary man – not notably distinguished during the war, but he survived to be a very active man in the community and politics of Hove, right up to his 90s. He was a determined man of action.
The film embroiders the known facts with suppositions of what might have happened during his days away. This includes spectacular and blood-chilling flashbacks to life on the beach with bombers, bombs, tanks and gunfire: death all around.
We do not know that the real Bernard Jordan had such flashbacks on his expedition or at any other time – but it makes for a gripping, heart-breaking narrative.
Flashbacks and re-enactment of wartime terror is certainly encountered amongst people living with dementia.
I had much experience of this amongst the residents of a care home in South Manchester which was a refuge for Jewish survivors of the war.
Revisiting the scene or circumstances of war can be enjoyable for any old solder or sailor, even if they are living with dementia: WW2 'dementia' pilot relives memories with Duxford visit - BBC News
It seems probable that this was the case for the real Bernard Jordan, who declared his intention to visit the scene again next year. He did not because he died six months on from his adventure.
There are a few published studies of veterans with dementia and their reliving the war experiences – These are from the USA: Trauma Reenactments in Aging Veterans with Dementia - PMC (nih.gov)
The suggestion is that such phenomena are more common in Lewy Body dementia and Subcortical dementia.
There is an interesting thesis exploring the similarities and differences between memories of the war as recorded in literature from England and Germany 3 (ntu.ac.uk)
Real life may be less flamboyant than Hollywood – but has its own charisma
Each week we post a blog from David Jolley where he shares his personal views on relevant subjects.