Stand in battlefield tour guide
Earlier in the week, I’d received a phone call from Eain Findlay to say that he and his father, Muir, wouldn’t be able to make the trip this year as he’d put his back out. Eain was happy to drive munching on painkillers, but somehow, Muir was less happy with that idea! Anyway, part of Eain’s concern was that he’d agreed to do a Battlefield Tour of the first part of Operation BLUECOAT which his father had taken part in as a member of “S” Squadron, 3rd Battalion Scots Guards; an element of the 6th Guards Tank Brigade. BLUECOAT was their first operation having arrived in Normandy. The tour was for another family on a first visit to Normandy & so Eain had asked me whether I would mind doing the tour in his stead. We’d planned to join them on the tour, anyway, after all, being in the company of a veteran was an added bonus & whilst I know a reasonable amount about this specific part of the operation, Eain’s knowledge is phenomenal; I only hoped that I’d be able to deliver a reasonable experience to Malcolm Fleming and his family especially as Malcolm’s father had also been in Scots Guards.
Start at Caumont
We met at one of the supermarkets in Villers Bocage & then drove up towards Caumont where the operation started. We began where the Scots Guards had formed up & looked across the operational area towards their objective – Hill 226 – which was also ours for the day.
Normandy’s smallest cemetery
Our first stop was the solitary grave of Lieutenant James Marshall-Cornwall of the Grenadier Guards. He was killed by a sniper in the early stages of the operation & was buried where he fell. After the war the landowner gave the ground to the young officer’s father, General Sir James Marshall-Cornwall, who requested that the grave site should not be disturbed. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission erected a headstone on the soldier’s grave, and the family added a memorial behind. This is the smallest military cemetery in Normandy, and probably of the Second World War.
Personal flypast #1
Having visited the cemetery, we were stood looking at our maps & talking through the route that we were going to follow when we noticed that the Lancaster, Dakota and two Spitfires of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight were forming up ready for its fly-past over the assembled veterans and dignitaries (including HM the Queen) at Bayeux Commonwealth Cemetary… a fantastic start to our little tour… and a disaster, as I realised that I’d left my camera back at Tony & Jill’s!!! The next bit is unprintable as I vented my frustrations!
In the track-steps of 3rd Battalion Scots’ Guards
Undaunted, we set off following as best as we could the route taken by the tanks of the Scots Guards. Whilst I drive a “go almost anywhere” landrover, it still can’t compete with a Churchill tank, so we had to follow a winding route around the lanes, whereas they went straight over the hedges!
Les Loges memorial
Our next stop was the hamlet of Les Loges where Malcolm had agreed to leave a wreath on behalf of Muir Findlay & also one in memory of his own father at the war memorial in the small churchyard.
We then drove up to a small parking area from where it’s possible to gain access to the top of the hill (fortunately, following our previous visits, Glyn & I are able to go to the correct track!). As we were about to walk up the track, another car pulled up & it turned out that this was driven by Stuart Garland whose father, Archie had served in the same tank as Eain’s father, Muir. Prior to visiting Normandy, Stuart & Eain had been in touch concerning a possible meeting & so Stuart joined us on our walk towards the top of the hill.
On Hill 226 & personal flypast #2
As we were there talking about the Hill & where the various units had been back in July 1944, we noticed two specks moving around in the sky… back then, they would have had any Germans running for cover as the specs turned into two Spitfires readying themselves for a run over Bayeux… this time, they flew almost directly overhead – our second flypast of the day & again, me without a camera!
Then it was off to St Martin des Besaces for some food & Stuart left to arrange his camping accommodation for the evening.
St Charles de Percy
After a very brief visit to the museum at St Martin, we headed off to St Charles de Percy to attend the annual Act of Remembrance at the Commonwealth Cemetery there. This was followed by a swift beer or two before heading to the celebratory evening event in Montchamp, brilliantly organised, as ever, by Ulrike Mabbutt.