At La Fiere
A reasonably early start saw us arriving at the Sullivan family accommodation at La Fiere which is on the banks of the river Merderet which is a key battle in the history of the 82nd Airborne Division
Elizabeth, Bill’s wife had found some old wartime photos of Bill that she brought out to show us all.
Then, Bill’s Grandson showed us Bill’s original dogtags that he was proud to wear
Then, having split people between 2 cars we set out to our first visit for the day: the home of M. and Mme Lenot in between the villages of Varenguebec and Doville – an old flour mill.
With Bill Sullivan at the Flour Mill
Our welcome at the flour mill was, as last year, very warm and very friendly despite the fact that our French was still poor as was M. and Mme Lenot’s English, however the friendship and their pleasure at having Bill and his family back transcended any language problems.
On this occasion I had produced a booklet which showed some photographs that Bill had taken on his 1995 visit to Normandy and compared these to the photographs at we took last year as well as maps & copies of newspaper articles. This put things into perspective for both Bill & his family & also helped refresh Bill’s memory.
We went into the main part of the mill and explained to his family who had been there and where they had stayed. This was the place where the Germans that were in the area spotted the fact that whilst Bill, Morris and their colleagues were in civilian clothes they were still wearing a parachute jump boots and they were recaptured
M. Lenot explained that he had discovered that during the war, just after the paratroopers had been there, some Germans were based at the mill and one of them had shot the grandson of the previous owners through the cheek from one of the windows in the flour mill… this has been one of the nice things about the whole of this research project… it has encouraged others to do some research themselves.
Having taken plenty of photographs, M Lenot invited us in for a drink and produced some home-made Poiré which is a mix of the premier juice from the apple pressing for cider and Calvados together with some cloves; it is a fairly potent drink but very warming as everyone found out!
After a taste of M. & Mme Lenot’s home distilled calvados (which is awesome!) we were invited to see where the production took place including his very large cider barrels and large stock of bottles
Unfortunately we needed to move on to keep within our time schedule, but just before we left Mme Lenot presented Elizabeth with a bouquet made up of roses cut from her garden which were beautiful.
On to Créances
We then drove on to Créances where we were welcomed by M Lemoigne, the Mayor, M Athanase, the deputy mayor, and all the members of the village committee and also people who remembered Bill from the war or from our visit last year
A presentation to Bill Sullivan
The mayor welcomed Bill and his family and explained how proud they were to know him and to welcome back to their town. M. Lemoigne then disappeared into his office and came out wearing his official Sash of Office to present to Bill a special medal of Créances
Superb food and special permission from the Mayor!
After this presentation we all left the mayor’s office and went to the tennis club where the mayor had arranged for food to be provided. We had a wonderful sit down meal, starting with watermelon filled with port, then locally produced lamb which was incredibly tender then Tarte Normande and which is basically an apple tart which was truly awesome, finally followed by some local cheese. All of which was accompanied with wine and cider. I had explained that I was driving however the mayor gave me special permission to have an extra drink which was supported by the deputy mayor! I do like Créances!!
Having a fantastic meal and a speech of thanks by Bill, we then headed off towards the buildings where they had been hidden in in the forest.
Bill Sullivan meets some old friends
However there was a short diversion to the front of the building that the Germans had been using as a field hospital when Bill had been there in the war. There, we were introduced to the Chief of Police and his deputy and many other of the villages including 2 old ladies who do in the war had been the ones who took the food to Bill, Morris and their companions whilst they were in hiding. The idea was that girls taking food out to people working in the forest would not be seen as suspicious by the Germans. There was a tearful reunion between these ladies and Bill which was wonderful to see.
We then headed to the building in the forest and my car’s 4×4 capability came into its own as everyone got out except for Bill and the two old ladies and we went down a muddy, rutted track to as near to the building in the woods as we could get. I did wonder at one point whether we would get through but my brute force and ignorance approach and my Landrover Discovery’s electronics made sure that we succeeded.
When we arrived in the forest we were greeted by a large group of people including (again) the Mayor and his Deputy, the Chief of Police and his Deputy and the villages that we had previously met, but also lots of young people from the local school. One thing that is nice to see is how the young people are instructed in Remembrance and are made aware of what all the people died for their country did.
At the building in the woods there was a lot of people wanting to take photographs of Bill and his family which was fantastic; it was also wonderful to see Bill interacting with the youngsters & also how his family were “blown away” by the reception that they received. Unfortunately time, time flew by all too quickly and we began to realise that we would be late for our final appointment for the day at La Ronde Haye. To help us out, fortunately M. Lemoigne kindly telephoned his opposite number, M. Lenesley, the mayor of la Ronde Haye to explain that we were running slightly late and that we would be arriving proximately half an hour behind schedule.
Off to La Ronde Haye
So having turned the car around it was once again pressed in to use as a 4×4 wheelchair for Bill. However, also in the car was Bill’s son, grandson and Glyn so if we got stuck I would at least have someone to push us out through the mud! Having return to the main track we swapped cars, made our goodbyes and headed off to La Ronde Haye.
When we arrived at La Ronde Haye, it seemed as though most of the village had turned out!
There were speeches by M Lenesley (the Mayor) and his colleague together with a presentation of a medal of La Manche. Following this, there were some photographs taken with some of the local dignitaries and veterans; Bill decided to make his own mark by lying down at the front!
We then went off to the old school house where there were elderly people who remembered, as children, seeing some PoWs being taken into the building and then escaping through the window at the back; of course, they didn’t say anything at the time!! And then Bill took another look at the window through which he & Morris Sheppard and others escaped from when the German guards were round the other side of the building.
More food and wine!
We then went back to the village centre for some wine and more photographs with a further presentation of a plaque with signatures of many of the villages on it.
Unfortunately, by this point, Bill was feeling tired (as we all were it having been a draining day in the heat) so we decided not to head to the monastery, but instead to head back to Ste Mere Eglise and La Fiere to drop Bill and his family off.
We joined them for a quick beer and further chat, then Glyn and I headed over towards our accommodation near Bayeux
This was another new venue to us; the farm Du Rieu – a wonderful, typically French farm in lovely countryside. Having dropped our bags we decided to go out for a meal in Bayeux and found a nice restaurant in the centre, opposite a useful car park. Most of the prices were around 15 euros however they then brought a “Specials Board” where dishes started at 30 euros! We could, if we had wanted, have had a glass of 40 year old Glenfiddich Malt Whisky, but at 99 euros we decided to stick with the beer!