6th June dawned clear and bright. It was going to be another hot one, especially for a tour of the start of operation BLUECOAT.
We called in on Barrie, or at least tried to, as he wasn’t there. So we headed off to meet up with Mary, Jack, Eain & Muir at Mary & Jack’s accommodation in Caumont l’Evente.
This had fantastic views over the initial Operation BLUECOAT area. With the aid of maps, binoculars & a compass we were able to identify the Scots Guards initial objective of Hill 226. Again, it still amazes me how they found their way around Normandy back in 1944. It’s difficult enough nowadays with a lot of the bocage hedges having been removed & peaceful countryside. But back then with smoke, dust, heavy undergrowth and people shooting at you, it’s fantastic that they got even close to where they should be!
Over a drink, we had a chat and looked over the battlefield. We then set off, towards Villers Bocage for some lunch.
The battlefield tour of the start of operation BLUECOAT
After lunch, we drove back to Caumont for our tour.
First I pointed out the memorial to Captain George Grey of the Grenadier Guards at the road fork in Le Repas just outside of Caumont.
Next stop was the smallest CWGC site consisting of a single grave, that of Lt Marshall-Cornwall.
Then we followed the roads winding down into the valley (with only one almost missed turning). Taking, as closely as possible, the same route that 3rd Bn Scots Guards had. This was the unit in which both Muir and Mary’s uncle Andrew had served. In due course we arrived at the crossroads at the foot of Hill 226. We took a brief detour over the motorway where, firstly, I pointed out where the tanks had been parked up. Secondly, the farm complex from where the German JagdPanthers had driven out of. Then we drove into the hamlet of Les Loges to place a Poppy Cross at the French War memorial.
Next we moved up to the farm of Fumichon for a closer look at the Hill and the dispositions of 3rd Bn Scots Guards. As we were talking about the battle, I realised what an honour & privilege it was to be there, on that spot, with a veteran. One who had fought there in his first action of the war. So I walked over to his car – he’d stayed inside out of the heat – & told him of my thoughts. Although we’ve known each other for a number of years, I felt that I should take the opportunity to thank him again. For what he and his comrades had done for all of us all of those years ago.
At St Charles de Percy
Because I’d (to use one of Eain’s phrases) blethered on a lot about operation Bluecoat, it was foot down to get to the CWGC Cemetery at St Charles de Percy for their annual Remembrance service. This is where many of the casualties of the latter stages of Operation BLUECOAT are buried. The Scouts Guards that lost their lives back on Hill 226 are largely buried at Hottot les Bagues as that action was at the start of the operation.
It was good to see the old gentleman that runs the proceedings with an iron will, back on his feet, looking well and ordering people about. He had looked very frail last year. I’m sure that he must be an ex-RSM!! I’ll try to find out.
Some though are rebels.
Eain & Mary placed wreaths at the central memorial and we met up with some friends . Tony Stansfield was there & it was great to be able to introduce him to Eain & Muir. So was Stéphane Jacquet who’d also raced over & managed to meet us. Marcus (the German chap from last night) was there as well . It was interesting to chat with him & begin to get an understanding of the remembrance services from a German perspective.
Following the service, we headed into Monchamps for a refreshing cold beer only for disaster to strike – the Bar Tabac was shut!!
Given this, Mary & Jack decided that they needed to head back. Whilst Eain, Muir, Glyn Stéphane & me thought that we’d go on to Beny Bocage to see if anywhere was open there. Not that we were desperate for a beer, of course!
Before we parted, Muir kindly signed mine & Mary’s copies of the Forbes History of 6th Guards Tank Brigade. At that point it struck me exactly what Muir had said in the restaurant yesterday, How the account that I’d pulled together of the action leading up to and on Hill 226 was exactly how it had been. I realised then how much of an awesome compliment that was. Not only from a veteran, but from a veteran that had been there & fought through it. I’d thought about it last night as I was reviewing the day’s events, but suddenly there & now it hit me with the force of a sledgehammer! I told Muir this & he just gave me one of his, what I’ve now come to recognise as, “old Fashioned” Looks!!
A cooling beer and great company
Anyway, it was then off to Beny Bocage. We sent Stéphane in advance to check that the bar that we’d found would stay open – well he does speak the language better than us. The answer was yes and we then settled down to a nice beer. I don’t normally like really cold beer (ok, I’ll drink it, but…). However, on this occasion, with the heat of the day, it was exactly what was needed.
And there we sat, Eain, Muir, Stéphane, Glyn & me chatting and discussing. It was also great to see Muir relax. Being a proud Guardsman, it is obvious that, when in Normandy – especially at “events”, he is “On Parade”. He is more than happy to share and talk about many (but not all) of his experiences. In order to pass on that knowledge to future generations. However many (& I freely admit to being in this category) keep wanting to know more. That is obviously very tiring… especially in the heat of the summer. Which is why, in this little bar, it was great to see him totally wind down – even insisting that we should have a second beer. Which, of course, so as not to offend him, we agreed to!!
Alone with an old enemy
Muir then told us how last night, almost as soon as Glyn & I had left, Eain had headed off to bed pleading a dodgy tummy. Leaving him to entertain the party of Germans alone. An interesting situation as 71 years ago he & the German veteran might have been shooting at each other!!
All in all, it was a brilliant end to a fantastic day with lots of tears of laughter; a fantastic memory to cherish.