Day 5 – Monday 4th June
This ended up being a long day with an equally long post!
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 (for my non-British readers, you’d be amazed at how many words we have to describe the wet stuff that falls from the sky – including “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” as I thought that I might need them, today, & as the rain started falling heavier, we decided to spend some time having a further review of the various war diaries that we’d photographed last year.
One of the reasons why we’d taken copies of the Battalion War Diaries was to track down the various locations through Normandy that the units had travelled in the hope that we might find some indication of where the various chaps that we were researching 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 II which we were able to put to good use, yesterday.
But we were hoping for some gems such as we had found with Cpl Victor Scott who had been specifically named in his unit’s war diary. Unfortunately, as we read either side of the entry mentioning Scott, the War Diary of his unit (the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment) tells us that they had recently moved to positions held by the 4th Lincolns… before returning to their former positions after Scott had been captured. Unfortunately, it doesn’t provided details where that was! We believe it to be over between Fontenay le Pesnel and Rauray, though we’ll have to go back to the National Archives & check the war diaries, again, to confirm this.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to directly confirm and of our chap’s names, 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, merely stating (on the 11th July) that “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:
Which are shown on the map below.
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 were all in the area of La Poterie which is highlighted in purple on the above map
I wonder if the signs were as clear in 1944?
In addition, based on some sketch maps in the war diary, we were able to work out the positions of the various companies within the battalion from where they were sending out patrols…
6th Battalion Green Howards – Pte CA Wellings
Wellings was captured 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“, I think that it is reasonable to presume 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…
On his Returning POW questionnaire, Oliver states that he was captured on 17th July… and the date that he wrote in the shed is either 18th or 28th July – it’s difficult to work out whether the first digit is meant to be a 1 or a 2. However, given that the war diary mentioned that someone was a “casualty” (generic term for wounded, killed, missing or captured), then, if Oliver had been captured the day before, I think that it’s reasonable to assume that it would have been mentioned.
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 (and to hopefully better weather!)
7th Battalion Green Howards – Pte G Reid & Pte PD White
We were by now getting quite wet (or 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!) & so were thinking 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 show on their entries on the shed wall that they were captured on the 27th July… but what about the other two mentioned in the war diary?
After our return from Normandy, I checked the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website to see whether there were any relevant casualties recorded…
There are 4 noted as dying 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
|LAW||SAM||27/07/1944||Serjeant||Green Howards (Yorkshire Regiment)||6th Bn.|
|MERCER||JOHN||27/07/1944||Private||Green Howards (Yorkshire Regiment)||7th Bn.|
|OLDROYD||ARTHUR||27/07/1944||Private||Green Howards (Yorkshire Regiment)||7th Bn.|
|WEBSTER||NORMAN||27/07/1944||Lance Serjeant||Green 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…
So, I followed through to their “concentration” files… Mercer, 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
So, it looks to me as though 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…
Back to Noir Nuit
You’ll recall that last year, Glyn & I had identified the farm complex of Noir Nuit, south of Aunay sur Odon, as a strong contender for the intermediate place where, according to Elledge’s manuscript, the 4 Americans (Elledge, Gillespie, Willen & Sheppard) had been taken & 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 who would, we hoped, 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. When we explained the logic & reasoning for our deductions, 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 & had checked the details with her grandmother.
Whilst it was correct that the Germans had used their farm buildings, following the Allied bombing (& total destruction) of Aunay sur Odon, 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, with the Germans moving out. Unfortunately for our purposes, this occurred on the 12th & 14th/15th June
These photos (via https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aunay-sur-Odon & the RAF photographic archive) show the impact…
So, 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 (& who Stéphane knows), 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 that we’d promised him the other year!