Normandy 2018 Day 5 – War diary review, misty photos, revisiting farms and Pizza

Day 5 – Monday 4th June

This ended up being a long day with an equally long post! Following the war diaries to the capture sites of some of the men and returning to Noir Nuit.

War diaries in detail

So, after the extreme heat of the past two days, a later start saw us waking up to very overcast clouds and a light drizzle. Non-British readers would be amazed to learn how many words and phrases we Brits have to describe the wet stuff that falls from the sky . These include “that wet old rain” to describe precipitation that is so light & fine that you can hardly feel it, but you’re suddenly very wet indeed!

Anyway, back to the plot!

After breakfast, I finally got round to changing my headlight beams to cope with driving on the “wrong side of the road”. I thought that I might need them today. The rain started falling heavier, therefore we decided to spend some time further reviewing the various war diaries that we’d photographed last year.

Copies of the Battalion War Diaries told us the various locations where the units had been in Normandy. We had dates of capture for all the men and hoped that we could find some indication of where they had been captured.

The diaries of the 1st Hampshire & 2nd Devonshire (together with supporting documentation) had allowed us to find out where they had attacked the village of Hottot les Bagues in Operation MAORI I. Which we were able to put to good use, yesterday.

Cpl Victor Scott (the one mentioned in the war diaries)

We were hoping for some more gems – such as we had found with Cpl Victor Scott who had been specifically named in his unit’s war diary, however, whilst naming him, the War Diary of his unit is less clear as to where he was captured. It tells us that they had recently moved to positions held by the 4th Lincolns with no further details, returning to the former position after Scott is captured.. We believe the position to be between Fontenay le Pesnel and Rauray, though we’ll have to go back to the National Archives to confirm this.

Unfortunately, none of the others are directly named in the war diaries, but there were some intriguing passages which allowed us to make some educated guesses.

2nd Essex Regiment – Pte AE Smith

On the Shed wall, Smith wrote the date of his capture as being 9th July, 1944. At that point, his unit were involved in operation MAORI I.  Unfortunately, the war diary is fairly scant on information.  It merely states  (on the 11th July) – “A rest day at conclusion of battle”

However, from other information in the war diary, we know that this battle occurred to the southwest of Longraye as the Operational Orders state.

I have pinpointed those places on the following map.

We were able to get some misty photographs of their “phase lines”, but little of great detail due to the weather.

5th Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment – Pte NHT Welch

This war diary was a little more helpful as around the time that Welch states he was captured on the shed wall (5th July), his unit has been patrolling and there are some detailed patrol reports.

The patrols mentioned were in the area of La Poterie. I have highlighted La Poterie in purple on the above map.

I wonder if the signs were as clear in 1944?

In addition, we worked out the positions of the various companies in the Battalion, based on some sketch maps in the war diary. They sent the patrols out from those locations.

6th Battalion Green Howards – Pte CA Wellings

The Germans captured Wellings on or about the 13th July. For once, the war diary is quite helpful.

Although the war diary doesn’t mention Wellings by name, given the match between when he said that he was captured & the war diary recording on that day that “… and one man taken back by the enemy who appeared to be badly in need of identification“. The conclusion from this is that they are one and the same.

All of this occurred in the area marked in Green in the above map, though the weather didn’t help with our photographs.

Site of Wellings capture?

7th Battalion Green Howards – Pte A Oliver

On the 18th July, the war diary for the 7th Battalion Green Howards shows that they suffered one casualty (used generically for killed, wounded or captured).

On his Returning POW questionnaire, Oliver states that he was captured on 17th July (there is no reference to any casualty that day). However, the date that he wrote in the shed appears to either 18th or 28th July – the first digit is difficult to read. The only conclusion is that the reference on the 18th is to Oliver’s capture.

So, it looks as though we’ve been able to track another one down!

Unfortunately, as I’ve realised when typing up this post, the photo that I took of the remains of this orchard is facing the wrong way!! Ah, well, another reason to return next year (in hopefully better weather!)

7th Battalion Green Howards – Pte G Reid & Pte PD White

We were now quite wet. At least I was, as I kept getting in and out of muddy places to take photos & I’d been foolish enough not to put my boots on! We began to think of  heading back. However, as we had just one more location to check, we decided to press on… especially as it looked to be the most promising of the day.

The war diary is quite specific for the 27th July.

10:30     Sgt Laing takes out patrol to wood 795633

11:30     Adv party leaves for new Bn. Location
Patrol under Sgt Laing having reached edge of wood, was fired on by a Spandau and 2 other automatic weapons from line of track between them and our FDL. Patrol was pinned down. Fire from fwd Coys enabled half of patrol to renter our lines via the farm at 795637 remainder of patrol (4), thought to be wounded were unable to return, and are now missing.

Both Reid & White wrote on the shed wall that they were captured on the 27th July. But what about the other two mentioned in the war diary?

The Other Two

After our return from Normandy, I looked at the relevant casualty records on Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. I noted 4 deaths on 27th July… three from 7th Green Howards & one from the 6th. . Our chaps were from 7th Green Howards, so that narrows field to three of these 4.

surnameforenamedate_of_deathrankregimentunit
LAWSAM27/07/1944SerjeantGreen Howards (Yorkshire Regiment)6th Bn.
MERCERJOHN27/07/1944PrivateGreen Howards (Yorkshire Regiment)7th Bn.
OLDROYDARTHUR27/07/1944PrivateGreen Howards (Yorkshire Regiment)7th Bn.
WEBSTERNORMAN27/07/1944Lance SerjeantGreen Howards (Yorkshire Regiment)7th Bn.

Interestingly, one of the three is buried at Hottot, the other two at Tilly… hmmm… Hottot is nearer where we want. So I began to worry.

Concentration files

Their “concentration” files tell us that Mercer (now buried at Hottot) was originally interred near La Belle Epine, the other two near Le Feugret.

On a map, we can see how all of this now makes sense…

Looking across the field from the farm to where Sgt Laing was taking them you can see the edge of the woods through the mist.

The conclusion is that of the 4 “casualties” mentioned in the War Diary, two were found dead the next day & buried nearby & two were captured by the Germans.

If only it was always that easy or straightforward 😊.

Of course, it would be good to find out whether there was any paperwork reporting the missing chaps as an ultimate confirmation.

If you’d like to see the Commonwealth War Graves Commission paperwork on the two men that died, they’re here – Pt Arthur Oldroyd and Cpl Norman Webster 

All in all, following the war diaries had proved successful.

Back to Noir Nuit

You’ll recall that last year, Glyn & I had found the farm complex of Noir Nuit, south of Aunay sur Odon. It was a strong contender for the intermediate place where, according to Elledge’s manuscript, the 4 Americans (Elledge, Gillespie, Willen & Sheppard) had been taken. Here they were introduced to John Harder before being taken the following day to the shed at St Vigor des Mézerets.

We’d decided on a second visit, but this time accompanied by Stéphane Jacquet as interpreter and fellow researcher. We hoped to be able to find out some more information & confirm (or otherwise) our identification work.

So, we picked Stéphane up at Aunay & headed off to the farm. We explained the logic & reasoning for our conclusions. He agreed that the points that we’d checked for did make sense… but could we get more?

At that point, Mme Leplanquais and her family arrived back at the farm. Once we’d given them a brief time to get out of their car, Stéphane introduced himself. Mme Leplanquais recalled our visit of the previous year. Following on from it she had asked her grandmother about what happened at the farm during the war.

Disappointment

She told us that it was correct that the Germans had used their farm buildings at some stage. However following the Allied devastation of Aunay, their farm complex had been used by the local town council. In addition to official meetings, a school & various other French town organisations had been established in the buildings. At this point the Germans had moved out. Unfortunately for our purposes, this occurred shortly after the bombing on the 12th & 14th/15th June.

These photos (via https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aunay-sur-Odon & the RAF photographic archive) show the impact.

It looked as though we’d found a “dead end”. However, during the conversation, Stéphane was reminded of a M Lepesqueux who is a local historian. So he’s going to follow that up & hopefully get us a stage further!

So, we then headed off into Aunay to a new pizza restaurant for a well-deserved meal with Stéphane – one that we’d promised him the other year!

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