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Normandy 2017 Day 10 – Respects at Hottot then beers at Brasserie Thiriez

Day 10 – Thursday 8th June

Paying our respects at Hottot les Bagues

We had a couple of things planned for our final day in Normandy; needless to say they didn’t go as anticipated!

We were a little later leaving in the morning than we had planned,  so,  having a visited the Commonwealth graves at Hottot les Bagues on behalf of Muir Findlay and placed some flowers on the grave of his friend, we headed off all the way through France north to the small village of a Esquelbecq to our overnight accommodation at the Brasserie Thiriez which we’d discovered last year.

Excellent timing at the Brasserie Thiriez

Our timing was immaculate as we arrived just as a coach party were moving from the brewery tour into the brewery sampling area and so as it would have been rude of us not to join them, we did!!

Our meal that night was at a traditional French restaurant – La Taverne du Westhoek in the nearby village of Quaëdypre    – specialising in local delicacies that had been recommended to us by Marielle from the brewery

We awoke next day to a bright and sunny but breezy morning and the shock results from the UK General Election but that’s politics and outside of the scope of this blog!

We then set off to join the Chunnel train back to the UK and another year’s onsite research completed, though with , as usual, plenty of follow-up stuff to do!

Normandy 2017 Day 9 – Estry, Deep Purple, barbed wire and beer

Day 9 – Wednesday 7th June

A walk around Estry

This morning we spent time looking around the village of Estry as Colin wanted to take photographs of the locations of damaged and destroyed Churchill tanks following the battle to liberate the village as he needed this for his war gaming group and his military history society.

We returned back to Tony and Jill’s for a quick beer with Tony before then heading back to check out the location of the “intermediate barn”.

More searching for farms

The first two locations that we found, although they had looked quite suitable on maps and aerial  photographs, didn’t match the descriptions in Ray Elledge’s manuscript.

However driving through a little hamlet called Black Night we are spotted an interesting group of buildings. Both of us being Deep Purple fans, we found this amusing & wondered if this was “a sign”!

So we decided to turn the car round, park & have a look.

German barbed wire – were we getting close?

One of the first things that we noticed was that the was some German barbed wire still in place over the windows of a barn, and when speaking in a mix of broken French and English with both the farmer and his wife, it appeared that in the garage where the barbed wire was covering the window was used to hold prisoners by the Germans! In his manuscript, Ray mentions a window in the barn that they were going to with barbed wire covering the windows.

This is something that we will be following up because the layout of the buildings ties in quite well (and better than others that we had found) with the one given in the Manuscript.

Off to Tilly sur Seulles

We were quite pleased with this result and so we then headed off to meet up with Stéphane Jacquet at the ceremony at Tilly sur Seulles, arriving about halfway through.

We then had the opportunity to meet up with some veterans & have a chat with them, including one who’d been in the 2nd Essex Battalion & recalled there being 3 “Smith”s in the Battalion. Unfortunately, he couldn’t recall their first names.

We followed this with a beer with Stéphane, but then realised that we were now going to be late for our meal back at Tony and Jill’s! Fortunately, they now know us well enough net to understand that sometimes research takes over!

After our meal, we shared with them the aerial photographs of their local village of Estry

Normandy 2017 Day 8 – Chasing Ray Elledge and other Americans

Day 8 – Tuesday 6th June

A late start!

We had a late start today partly as we’d decided on a leisurely lie-in but more to do with the previous night’s socialising!

Chasing Ray Elledge and other Americans (again!)

Our plan for the day was to use the narrative in Ray Elledge’s manuscript to try to finally confirm, on the ground, the locations of the farm where they were able to get a carriage with help of some French people which we believed to be just outside of Villers Bocage and then also the location of the building which they were taken to having been re-captured the night before they ended up in the Shed; this being the building where John Harder joined the other four Americans (Elledge, Sheppard, Willen & Gillespie)

Having checked contemporary aerial photographs & re-read the narrative, we realised that one of the locations that we had found last year didn’t exist in 1944 (at least, it doesn’t appear on a 1947 aerial photograph, so we could count that out). The second place, just outside of Villers Bocage to the North, didn’t quite match. However, in the background there was an “itch”, as near to that latter place (on the opposite side of the road, in fact), was another property that we’d discounted as it was hidden behind a screen of trees.

A successful find

So, on arrival, today, we realised that to get into the property, we had to go through a formal gateway (described by Elledge) and then up a driveway where at the end, there was an imposing house on the right & storage barns on the left. This was exactly as described in Ray Elledge’s manuscript…

Whilst we were now reasonably confident with the location of the farm where the carriage was obtained from, we will be hopefully able to confirm this as the person who we found at the farm  and discussed our research with said that people within his family were also researching their history and the history of the house; However, he could confirm that Germans had been billeted there during the war

The start of the hunt for the farm where they were joined by John Harder

The next location that we looked for was the large storage barn where the 4 Americans were held having been recaptured & where John Harder had joined them. Again, using aerial photos, maps & an estimation of the distances that could be travelled, on foot, during a day, we’d narrowed down an area south of Aunay sur Odon. However, visiting the first of our “targets”, we were less certain that they’re the correct place as there were some “mis-matches” to the manuscript.

Off to St Charles de Percy

So, given the time, we decided to check again the following day as we couldn’t spend more time looking, now, as we needed to be at the service at St Charles de Percy as is our tradition on the 6th of June each year

Following the completion of the service we attended the vin d’honeur in St Charles, itself, and the other small ceremony that is held there at the Guard’s Memorial.

Following this, we then went off for a meal in Beny Bocage before returning back to Tony and Jill’s where we joined them for a glass of cider and watching some classic TV programmes on D Day.

Normandy 2017 Day 7 – On Hill 112

Day 7 – Monday June 5th

On Hill 112 with Albert Figg

Today saw us heading off to meet with Albert Figg on the top of Hill 112.

This is something that we do each year and following the small ceremony that is held there,  we go for something to eat. This year the ceremony was larger than usual as I think people had been attracted by the fact that the trees have now been planted and the statue of the infantryman moved into its final location

The 112 trees have been planted as a living memorial to all on both sides of the conflict that fought & died here.

Whist on the Hill, we were privileged to meet two other veterans that had fought there – David Mylchreest who at the time was a lieutenant with the 4th Somerset Light Infantry and Jack Woods who served in tanks with 9th Royal Tank Regiment (& who would have been in Churchill tanks similar to the one that is a memorial on the hill). So, in addition to Albert, we now know a Gunner, Infantryman & tanker all of whom fought on the hill

As part of the promotional stuff for the Hill, Ben Oostra had produced some stickers with the emblems of all of the allied units that had been involved in the fighting for the Hill. He had also produced some medallions for people who had helped in promoting and supporting the efforts to raise funds and awareness of the memorials. Colin was privileged to receive one of  these in recognition of his support for the project including some fundraising & general raising of awareness.

We then spent the afternoon taking photographs of key locations for the battle for Hill 112 which Colin had not been able to get in previous visits as he is delivering the talk on the battle in July to his local military history group – the Manchester Military History Society – as the annual Ian Daglish Memorial lecture

Becoming “Tired and Emotional”

It was then off to Tony and Jill Stansfield for our new accommodation for the evening and a meal with the family. As is traditional, wine flowed as did Tony’s Calva which, by the end of the evening resulted in both of us becoming “tired and emotional”!

Normandy 2017 Day 6 – With the Green Howards

Day 6 – Sunday 4th June

With the Green Howards

After breakfast at a leisurely 8:30 in the morning we headed off to the village of Crépon, where we had been told of a ceremony dedicated to the Green Howards, one of the Battalions that some of The Men in the Shed were members of.

We had been told that it would be at 10 o’clock in fact it was two hours later, so we put the additional time to good use in working out the route taken by Elledge, Sheppard, Willen and Gillespie

We believe that we have identified one key Passage in Elledge’s manuscript which refers to the town of Villers-Bocage. There is a very descriptive process that he goes through which matches exactly the lie of the land. We couldn’t work out where they went from this point, however and that was partly because of the arrival of the various veterans who we wanted to meet!

There was a very nice ceremony and afterwards, a number of the veterans were awarded a local medallion. Then it was round to the Salles de Fettes for some drinks and some very light snacks where we had the opportunity to speak briefly to Colonel Mantell who is the chairman of the Old Comrades Association for the Green Howards we also had the opportunity of speaking to some veterans, one whom actually landed on D-Day and another who had come in on one of the waves of the Airborne reinforcement units

A missing brewery

From Crépon,  we went to try to find a brewery that Glyn had seen information on. Unfortunately this does not appear to be in existence or if it is, the signage is not clear as they would have one believe from their website

Tilly Book Fair and Albert Figg

We then went to the Tilly book fair, organised each year by Stéphane Jacquet and whilst there we met veteran Albert Figg who was selling his life story which year he released in English last year and this year a French translation; an excellent read

Whilst here we also had lunch which consisted of some rice pudding and a small cake! Food was not always going to plan!

At the fair,  Colin purchased an original copy of the divisional history of the 43rd division which he asked Albert Figg to sign as he was a gunner in that division.

We then helped with some translation for some people who were buying Albert’s book explaining how where he was firing are in support of the fighting on hill 112 and fundraising that he has done to get the various memorials on the Hill and finally the trees being planted this year

Tracking down 1st Bn Hampshire Regiment

We then left to take some photographs just north of the village of Hottot les Bagues where the 1st Hampshire Battalion were between the 1st and 12th of July 1944. As the 11th of July is the date given by some of the prisoners in the shed as the date of their capture, this was of particular interest. So having an aerial photograph that we collected from the National Archives on which was marked the location of the various companies of the Battalion,  we took a series of photos of the locations. Obviously, there’s little to see following the passing of over 70 years, but the lady who owns the farm & gave us permission to go & take the photos said that there was very hard fighting in the area which resulted in her parent’s house being destroyed.

The battery in my camera dying just after the final photograph, we headed off into Bayeux for a well-deserved meal in a traditional French restaurant.

Normandy 2017 Day 5 – Normandy Museums, models, veterans and pizza

Day 5 – Saturday 3rd June

Lost errand boys

Today would see us running errands for various people.

We set off from Rouen through some light rain and worked out a schedule to meet up with Albert Figg to pick up some of his books to take to the museum at Saint Martin de Besaces

Unfortunately rather than typing Colleville Sur Mer into the Satnav, I typed Colleville-Montgomery, names about 70 miles away from each other. So, having arrived at Colleville-Montgomery, we decided to go down by the beach. We then agreed where we’re going to meet Albert we set off along the motorway eventually stopping off for a quick snack before arriving at the Overlord museum (our first of three Normandy Museums of the day) to see Albert and Annette

Whilst there, we had a brief look around the outer tents and met Gilles Osmont, the president of the Hill 112 Association, who was being soundly beaten (even though he denied it) in a table top “Bolt Action” war game run by French representatives of Warlord Games

There was also a fantastic display of dioramas using Action Man 12-inch high models together with the relevant vehicles

Picking up some scrap metal

Having collected the books from Albert we left the museum to visit Dominique Bidart, who lives near Hill 112 and had a good chat with him. Colin came away with a piece of a 4.2 inch Allied mortar shell for his wargaming building. Dominique did offer Colin a Panzerfaust tube also. Unfortunately, as the propellant charge was still in the tube, Colin didn’t feel it was suitable to take through UK and French Customs especially with the current heightened security even though this would have been a fantastic addition to his wargaming and military history building

At the “Bluecoat” Normandy museum

Leaving Dominique we planned to head directly down to the museum at San Martin des Besaces (the second of the three Normandy Museums in the  day)  to hand over Albert’s books and also some that David Mabbutt had asked to be dropped off: “The Search for Sidney” – the search for the exact location where Sidney Bates won his VC during the Normandy campaign. Unfortunately we missed the turning off the motorway (French motorways don’t appear to be well signposted!) and ended up having to travel through a series of side streets with Colin getting more and more frustrated until we eventually got back onto the motorway to head down to St Martin where we met Mark the new President of the museum.

Although we felt a little embarrassed about arriving much later than planned, Mark was quite relaxed about this as four visitors had turned up and although the museum should have been shut had decided to pay their entrance fee and walk round as Mark was waiting for us.

Having handed over the books, we went for a beer (you would expect nothing else!) with Mark and have a chat about his plans for the Museum and how to increase visitor numbers all of which sounded good

Pizzas and Bren Carriers

We then headed to our accommodation at St Pierre, a little village across the river from the town of Tilly sur Seulles and on the way I spoke to our friend Stéphane Jacquet who told us he was in the local bar and as soon as we had dumped our bags to come down for a beer which we did as he was with some owners of restored military vehicles (they had a Bren Carrier and a Daimler Dingo Scout car). So, following the beer, Stéphane bought everyone pizzas which we ate outside of the museum in Tilly sur Seulles (the final one of the Normandy Museums that we visited today) which was already set up for the following day’s Book Fair.

We then made our way back to our accommodation and had a relatively early night

Normandy 2017 Day 4 – Mixing history and beers; a heady cocktail

Day 4 – Friday 2nd June

Mixing history

An early start saw us arrive at the Eurotunnel terminal with the ability of catching the train prior to our scheduled one. This enabled us, once in France, to spend an hour walking around Cap Griz Nez, taking photographs of both the later German installations but also the earlier fort built by Henry VIII which apparently was never used

A revisit for the first time

We then drove down to the town of Samer where last year we had spotted the Le Clos des Brasseurs restaurant that looked very interesting as it appeared that it had beer brewed for it or brewed at it

Having eaten a most enjoyable meal, we headed south to Rouen and the Chant du Loup Brewery where we stayed as we have done over on many occasions. Patrick, as usual, was an excellent host providing beer for us on our arrival

Frustrations with a manuscript

We took some bread, cheese, ham and butter so we had this with Patrick’s beers and then proceeded to try to work out the route taken by Messrs Willen, Shepherd, Elledge and Gillespie from the narrative in Elledge’s manuscript written just after the war. Unfortunately we got very frustrated in not being able to clearly identify many of the places; partly with Colin being tired and so we ended up having to agree to differ as to where the various places were for the evening

Normandy 2017 Day 3 – Hop Fuzz Micro brewery, canalside food and sailors

Day 3 – Thursday 1st June

Back to the Archives

We returned to the National Archives to do further research, not only for ourselves but for other people and after lunch we headed out to Hythe for our last day in England. Unfortunately, this took longer than we had planned as we got caught in quite a bit of traffic trying to get out of London

Hop Fuzz takes over the SatNav

Eventually, we managed to get onto the motorway and headed out to Hythe. We have a new car and I am still practicing with its onboard sat nav. So, I tried to type in Hythe, unfortunately it picked up West Hythe (close enough, I thought) but it took us about 3 or 4 mile away from where we really wanted to be. However, as we went down the hill into the centre of West Hythe, we nearly passed a small sign saying “come in for beer”. This was the Hop Fuzz micro brewery which was not scheduled to be open that night and so we’d not planned to go however, our SatNav obviously knew better!

Arresting food!

A quick beer and then we went off to our accommodation: The Swan Hotel and then went out for something to eat. Unfortunately, by this time, everywhere was shut as far as food was concerned, so we ended up visiting the local Aldi where we picked up a packaged sandwich and a pork pie, having these on the bank of the Military Canal. Then we headed to the Mariners’ Arms for a couple of locally brewed beers before walking back to our hotel for the night where we found some policeman arresting people; fortunately it was nothing to do with us!!

Normandy 2017 Day 2 – National Archives, Brewpubs and history

Day 2 – Wednesday 31st May

At the National Archives

An early start saw us arriving at the National Archives in time to get new Readers Cards and spend the day researching the war diaries of the Battalions of some of the Men as well as doing some additional research for others

Expensive beer

In the evening on the way back from the Archives, we drove past the Ealing Park Tavern brew pub but unfortunately there was no car parking nearby. Fortunately, we noticed that the 65 bus went past both our hotel and the pub so, having booked in and had a little rest, we set out for a beer. We spent the rest of evening recovering from the shock of paying London prices of £11 for two pints of beer (back home this would be nearer £5!)

We then caught the bus back to the Express Tavern at Kew Bridge which is a really unusual pub that’s been going for many years (and again of historical significance) where we had some food as well as a couple of beers before walking back to the hotel

So, two days and two pubs of historical significance! As you can see, it’s not just the beer with us, there’s history & culture, too!!

Normandy 2017 Day 1- Using the Good Beer Guide to the full

Day 1 – Tuesday 30th May

Using the Good Beer Guide in non traditional ways

We started by heading towards Aylesbury where we used the CamRA Good Beer Guide to find a pub that was not in the guide! It was called The Plough. Unfortunately, the beer that we wanted (one brewed locally) was not available but then the barmaid had to replace one of the beers as it had gone off, so a National brew was replaced with a local one which suited us as it was what we had intended to try

… and more traditionally

Then it was off to the 6 Bells pub where we were able to use the Good Beer Guide in a more traditional way to find a pub that was in it. We used this pub for our lunchtime meal, though Colin’s chips were large in size but small in quantity and not particularly nice! It looked as though the potatoes had suffered frost damage as the chips were quite black in parts; fortunately the beer wasn’t too bad.

We then headed (finally) to Aylesbury to the Wetherspoon’s pub The Black Bull where we were staying overnight. Unfortunately, it did not have any car parking and so we had to walk about half a mile from where we had to leave the car. Exercise this early in the holiday was definitely NOT planned!!

An early dip into history

We popped out to the Farmers’ Bar at the King’s Head which is the brewery tap for the Chiltern brewery and of historical significance dating from 1455, it is now owned by the National Trust & is the oldest remaining courtyard inn in England. Then, having returned to the hotel for a brief rest, we met up with Stuart Hadaway and had another beer in the Wetherspoons, before heading back to the Farmer’s Bar for the rest of the evening