Normandy August 2014 – Day#04 – Saturday 16th August

Preparations for the “Men in the Shed” talk

So, the Big Day dawned…
Today was the day chosen to celebrate the Liberation, 70 years ago, of St Vigor des Mezerets (the actual day was 14th August 1944) by 43rd Wessex Infantry Division (the same one that Albert Figg fought with). As part of the celebrations, following the various “official” parts & the mid-day meal, I had been asked to deliver my “Men in the Shed” talk.

Initially, this presented something of a slight problem in that the majority of the audience was likely to be French with not many of them speaking English. Those of you that have been with me in France will know that my French resembles that of Officer Crabtree [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGNVU5ZjlgA[/youtube]in the TV comedy ‘Allo ‘Allo…so it wasn’t looking too good… even worse when Benoit (Stuart & Barrie’s friend who’d accompanied us on a couple of trips & provided the translation service) told us that he was away on holiday & so wouldn’t be able to attend the celebrations…

Hmmm…

Panic begins to set in…

Hmmm…

Finding a translator

And then an inspiration, followed by an email & chat during one of our earlier visits this year and step forward M. Stéphane Jacquet.

Stéphane is the curator of the museum in Tilly sur Seulles, a well-respected historian and author; his books on the Normandy fighting are impressively detailed and well-researched. We had collaborated last year on an article that he wrote for a Normandy 1944 magazine – well, “collaborated” is probably far too strong a word! I’d let him have a copy of the booklet that I’d pulled together charting the first day of operations of 3rd Bn Scots Guards in Operation BLUECOAT as part of his researches into the background of the operation & Stéphane was kind enough to cite me as one of his sources. Fame and fortune beckons!!

So, having discussed things with Stéphane, we agreed that I’d revise the presentation into a shorter timeframe which would then allow him to deliver the “French version” on a slide by slide basis.

Even more historians

We were also joined by Jean Marc Lesueur – another French historian – to whom I’d been introduced by the late Ian Daglish and also M. Gilbert Raimbault who you’ll recall was the son of the baker that used to own Stuart & Barrie’s house.

Liberation celebrations

The day started with a short service followed by some music and various personal testimonies. Unfortunately, we had to miss most of these as we were setting up ready for the afternoon when I’d be delivering my talk.. However, we did make the time to join the meal as we’d been specifically invited by the Mayor – Mme Lydie Chauffray Following the meal, we visited the house opposite the Mairie which was the command post of the local German unit & where there are a number of relics from the period including cutlery and a bicycle, then it was time to go to Stuart & Barrie’s for the talk

Delivering the “Men in the Shed” talk

For the first talk (we repeated it as there were lots wanting to hear it & only a certain amount of room in the shed!) we had over 30 people – mainly locals –sat listening to Stéphane and me explain their history… of which many of them were totally unaware; the second set was over 12…

However, before the talk commenced, I presented to Mme Chauffray an information board that I had commissioned from my local printer here in the UK with photos of the men that I’ve been able to obtain; a duplicate copy was presented to Barrie.

The talks were well received & much of this was due to Stéphane’s enthusiastic presentation (almost as animated as me) as we diverted from the carefully prepared dual-language scripts and were wholly absorbed into the story.

After the talk, a number of the local residents came up to Stéphane and me & having thanked us for the “Men in the Shed” presentation, explained that they had been totally unaware of this piece of history… given that in his manuscript, Ray Elledge had mentioned that when they were moved there were around 70 other PoWs, I wonder how many other bits of graffiti & names are written on walls in the village just waiting to be found?

Certainly, for me, this was a definite highlight of the visit… and hopefully, it might have encouraged others to go looking…

We ended the day (having had a “small beer or two” at Barrie’s) by a drive past the 11th Armoured Division memorial at La Bas Perriers and aview of the sunset before heading back to Tony & Jills

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