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 on 14th August 1944, of St Vigor des Mezerets 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 problem. 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 in the TV comedy ‘Allo ‘Allo. Uninitiated see youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGNVU5ZjlgA[/youtube.  So, it wasn’t looking too good. Even worse when Benoit told us that he was away on holiday & so wouldn’t be able to attend the celebrations. Benoit was Stuart & Barrie’s friend who’d accompanied us on a couple of trips & provided the translation service.

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 and 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,  perhaps “collaborated” is 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. It formed part of his researches into the background of the operation. As a result Stéphane was kind enough to cite me as one of his sources. Fame and fortune beckons!!

So, after discussing the matter, we agreed that I’d revise the presentation into a shorter timeframe.  This would then allow Stéphane 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. 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 .There we saw 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

We had to deliver the talk twice as  there were lots wanting to hear it & only a certain amount of room in the shed! For the first  there were over 30 people for the second still more than a dozen. They were mainly locals. They sat listening to Stéphane and me explain their history – of which many of them were totally unaware.

However, before the talk commenced, I presented to Mme Chauffray an information board, that I had commissioned from my local printer. It contained some of the 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. They said that they had been totally unaware of this piece of history. In his manuscript, Ray Elledge had mentioned that when they were moved there were around 70 other PoWs assembled in the town. Therefore 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. Hopefully, it might have encouraged others to go looking…

We ended the day (following a “small beer or two” at Barrie’s) by a drive past the 11th Armoured Division memorial at La Bas Perriers. Taking a moment to view the sunset before heading back to Tony & Jill’s.

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