6th June dawned clear and bright – it was going to be another hot one!
We called in on Barrie, or at least tried to, but 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 where, 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!
Having had a chat, drink & look over the battlefield, we set off, towards Villers Bocage for some lunch.
Fed, we drove back to Caumont and onto our tour, pointing 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) following as closely as possible the same route that 3rd Bn Scots Guards (the unit that both Muir and Mary’s uncle Andrew had served) until we arrived at the crossroads at the foot of Hill 226. We took a brief detour over the motorway to point out where the tanks had been parked up & the farm complex from where the German JagdPanthers had driven out of, then it was into the hamlet of Les Loges to place a Poppy Cross at the French War memorial.
Next it was 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 who had fought there in his first action of the war and so I walked over to his car – he’d stayed inside out of the heat – & told him of my thoughts and, although we’ve known each other for a number of years, made sure that I thanked 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 on of Eain’s phrases) blethered on a lot, it was foot down to head off to the CWGC Cemetery at St Charles de Percy for our 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. It was good to see the old gentleman that runs the proceedings with an iron will back on his feet & looking well (he had looked very frail last year) and ordering people about – I’m sure that he must be an ex-RSM!! I’ll try to find out
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 as well as to Stéphane Jacquet who’d also raced over & managed to meet us. Marcus (the German chap from last night was also there & it was interesting to have a 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!!
So a brief “conflab” & Mary & Jack decided that they needed to head back whilst Eain, Muir, Glyn Stéphane & me thought that we’d give Beny Bocage a quick visit to see if there was anywhere there open… 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 about the account that I’d pulled together of the action leading up to and on Hill 226 & how it was exactly how it had been… and I realised 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 & then 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 his “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) 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” and he is more than happy to share and talk about many (but not all) of his experiences to pass on that knowledge to future generations but 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 with!!
He also explained how, last night, almost as soon as Glyn & I had left, Eain also headed off to bed pleading a dodgy tummy leaving him to entertain the party of Germans… interesting as 71 years ago him & 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 take back to our beds