Operation EPSOM, the “Scottish Corridor” and Hill 112
Last year, we had visited the “shoulder” of the Operation EPSOM battlefield when we took a look around Rauray & its surrounds, but whilst I’d read about the battle, I’d only ever visited the main objective: Hill 112. So this year, as our first “proper” WW2 visit in France, we’d decided to focus on this one as it was relatively close to Caen & Bayeux, the former which we’d be driving through; the latter staying overnight at.
In addition, last year, whilst on a visit to the MUSEE LA PERCEE DU BOCAGE we had met Veteran Albert Figg who was a Gunner in an artillery field regiment firing 25-pounder guns in support of Operation EPSOM. Given the objective, it was quite appropriate that he should be a member of 112 Field Regiment Royal Artillery. Through a series of emails, I discovered that Albert would be returning to the area for the D Day Anniversary with his daughter and so we agreed to meet at Cheux (where EPSOM started from) and work our way to the memorial on Hill 112 for a short Service of Remembrance.
So a (relatively!) early start saw us on the road to Caen, avoiding the toll motorway for the quieter roads – in France there’s very little traffic (at least away from the cities) so you can get along quite quickly – until we reached the Peripherique around Caen… unfortunately, the most direct route was following the “Nord” route which involved going over the Caen Canal via a large bridge (why are there so many tall bridges??), but this time, this one didn’t seem so steep as the first time I’d met it back in 2004.
Narrowly avoiding a wrong turning at a set of traffic lights due to a road diversion, we soon pulled up in Cheux where Albert & his daughter were waiting; we were soon joined by another family who were researching the history of a veteran who they knew.
Our first port of call was the Mairie where Albert recalled there was a display showing the details of the battle; unfortunately, this was either locked away or had been moved and there was no-one around who we could ask. So Albert briefly outlined the events of EPSOM so that we knew what to look for when we saw it…
Unfortunately, for some reason, I don’t appear to have taken any photos of the Marie & small Memorial outside; however over the weekend of writing & updating this, my friend JeanMarc Lesueur happened to email out some photos that he had recently taken of the area and he has kindly allowed me to include two of his photographs so that I don’t look a complete idiot! Thanks JeanMarc!
The memorial is at the edge of the D89 road, between Tourville and Tourmauville and on arriving there, another family with their Veteran were taking some photographs… needless to say, I decided to ask for a photo, at the same time, thanking him for what he & his comrades did all those years ago.
The Bridge at Tourville
The bridge at Tourville on the River Odon (on the D89 road, over the river Odon) cost many casualties to the 15th Scottish Infantry Division; fortunately, they were able to cross and secure it before the Germans could destroy it as this then provided an effective means of getting tanks and other vehicles across what otherwise would have been a fairly impenetrable barrier.
Once again, Albert explained some of the fighting that occurred here as we dodged the traffic trying to cross the bridge… it was quite interesting to see their reactions… initially it was one of “get out of the way” as we tried to slow them down with hand signals, but then as soon as they saw that we were with a Veteran, they immediately slowed down & smiled; quite a nice reaction, really.
So, back into the cars and, following one of the tours described in the BattleZone Europe book on Operation EPSOM we then made our way up onto Hill 112.
Hill112 is a relatively small hill in the grand scheme of things, but with much lower-lying ground all around it, once you’re up there, you have commanding views over a huge area & it is understandable why, during the Normandy fighting, the Germans said “Who controls Hill 112, controls Normandy” and then proceeded to do their best to retain control. If you’d like to know more about this, then in addition to the book mentioned, Ian Daglish’s book on Operation EPSOM is also to be recommended as is Albert Figg’s website which not only tells of the battles to take the Hill (Operations EPSOM and JUPITER), but also of the Memorial that he led the fund raising for, the highlight of which being a Churchill Mk VII tank.
When we arrived at the memorial, we found it to be quite busy with other Veterans, families and a Guard of Honour from French ex-servicemen all there to remember the hundreds of men from both sides who had been killed during the fighting there.
Two short, but poignant, Acts of Remembrance – one in front of the Churchill Tank (where Albert took the opportunity to tell of his hope to raise more funds to provide for an Avenue of Trees which will lead from where the road is to be diverted up to the Memorial) – with the second in front of the 43rd Wessex Division Memorial brought the proceedings on top of the Hill to a dignified end.
We then ended our time with Albert by joining him & his party, together with Nigel Hay of “Milweb” fame whom we’d arranged to meet to hand over some copies of Ian Daglish’s books for the Operation BLUECOAT museum that he’s involved with, for lunch at Le Poivrier restaurant in Evrecy which looked after us very well… even staying open a little later than they’d planned!
For a start, if you’ve never had Calvados before it is, to say the least, interesting! There is a wide variety manufactured, ranging from very expensive and select varieties to home made types; some of the latter can make you afraid… very afraid!
Last year, during our time with Bobbie Harder & her friends, regular readers may recall that we visited the site of Flt Lt John Harder’s plane crash & met up with M Filoche who, at the end of the day, presented Bobbie with a bottle of his home distilled Calvados. I have to be honest & say that his was far, far better than some I’ve had! When we returned to Tony & Jill’s B&B where we were staying, they mentioned a farm near to the Jerusalem Commonwealth War Cemetery near Tilly sur Seulles where they’d had some nice stuff!
We were not disappointed!
On the trail of Ray Elledge and Francis Gillespie
Before leaving for France, I’d followed up on a contact passed to me by Ian Daglish who had kindly introduced me, via email, to his friend Jean-Marc Lesueur asking him if he was aware of the location of either Elledge or Gillespie’s crash sites. As I developed the conversation, Jean-Marc introduced me to his friend, also called Jean-Marc, who is a member of ANSA (the Normandy Association for Air Remembrance 1939-1945) who had provided two links relevant to Elledge and Gillespie.
The first of these was to the 404th Fighter Group Memorial in the church of St Martin in Saint-Martin-de-Blagny; the second to Advance Landing Ground A5 used by the 404th Fighter Group once they’d left Winkton in England. So, with time available, we decided to call in a supermarket for some provisions (no surprises there, then!) and then head off to visit both of these this afternoon, rather than tomorrow morning as originally planned. This was to prove a great decision following a call later on in the evening… but more of that later!
Both of these places are just to the North D15 heading South-West out of Bayeux.
404th Fighter Group Memorial
Fortunately, neither of “our” men are featured on this memorial as they both survived, but it is nice to see these smaller memorials dotted around France remembering those that gave their lives in the places where they were lost.
Unfortunately for us, the weather had turned decidedly wet, so Glyn stayed in the car whilst I did a run to the memorial wall in a time worthy of Usain Bolt (well, almost!). Afterwards we reflected on the gentleman that we’d met moments before on a pushbike… it’s been a while since either of us saw anyone wetter!
Advance Landing Ground A5
Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) was the term given to the temporary advance airfields constructed by the Allies during World War II in support of the invasion of Europe. They were built in the UK prior to the invasion and thereafter in North West Europe from 6 June 1944 to V-E Day, 7 May 1945.
Unlike the permanent airfields built in the United Kingdom and designed for the strategic bombardment of Germany, the tactical combat airfields on the continent were temporary, often improvised airfields to be used by the tactical air forces to support the advancing ground armies engaged on the battlefield. Once the front line moved out of range for the aircraft, the groups and squadrons moved up to newly built ALGs closer to the ground forces and left the ones in the rear for other support uses, or simply abandoned them. (Source: Wikipedia).
ALG A5 at “La Chippelle” can be found here and is not only also mentioned on Wikipedia, and in Ray Elledge’s manuscript, but there is also a memorial here again mentioned on the Aérostèles website. The gold lettering on a Granite memorial does make photographing difficult; fortunately, the names are listed on the memorial link page.
Fortunately, by the time that we arrived at the site, the rain had cleared allowing us to look round in the dry. However, there is little to show, now, where the ALG was however, I’ve since come across this site which includes a map & also explains why the Memorial in the Church and the one near the airfield are where they are…
An interesting phone call
Once we’d returned to Bayeux & found our hotel – sometimes Etap hotels are so difficult to find; in spite of their maps! I made a call to try to contact Bill Sullivan who was staying in Normandy near Sainte Mere Eglise. Readers of an earlier blog posting will recall that Bill retraced some of the places he visited back 1944 when he revisited in the mid 1990’s. He then provided details of these to Jim Sheppard (son of M/Sgt Morris Sheppard) who then passed them on to me & last year we were able to retrace these steps ourselves.
I knew that Bill & his wife Elizabeth were back in Normandy & we’d said that we’d try to make contact & this evening, after a couple of abortive events, we did. Elizabeth then mentioned that on the morning of 6th June, Bill would be visiting the village of Eroudeville which was where Bill had parachuted down as the road that he had first walked along in his attempt to join up with other forces was being re-named in his honour & if we were available, we could come along & join in.
Not one to miss an opportunity like that (and having completed already, what we’d planned on doing that morning), it was a case of getting the maps out & working out what time we needed to set off to be there on time…