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Normandy 2018 Day 9 – Beer, tanks and more beer

Day 9 – Friday 8th June

Back to the UK

For a change, I’d got the timings right with regard to the Chunnel crossings in that I gave us plenty of time to get there from our final night’s accommodation in France – the Rollus Brewery. In the past, even though I’ve apparently allowed plenty of time, the weather, roadworks or other contrivances seem to have got in the way & it’s seemed like a last-ditch effort to arrive on time. This year, it was different!

Lunch at the Farriers

Our timings meant that we arrived in the UK ready for lunch & we’d even pre-planned where to go! Almost unheard of in all of our trips – just a short distance from the M20, between the terminal & Ashford is the village of Mersham where you’ll find the Farriers’ Arms. This pub, dating back to 1606 was taken over in 2009 by the villagers following its closure. Lots of hard work later, it’s a really welcoming place, doing excellent food – we’d stopped the before… oh, yes, and it has its own brewery (The Old Forge Microbrewery) on site, too! What a surprise!!

Tanks at Armourfast

I think that I’ve mentioned before that one of my hobbies is tabletop wargaming & the team at Armourfast make a series of high quality, quick build plastic kits (of which I have a considerable number!) so, where possible, it’s nice to take the opportunity to pop in & see Tracy & Nicholas (the mother & son partnership that run it) & share ideas of possible new kits & see what’s on the workbench.

Billericay diversion

Leaving Armourfast, we took the opportunity to visit the Billericay Brewing co Micropub, unfortunately, parking was limited & we ended up on the carpark for the local Waitrose & having got onto the carpark we saw that unless you’d purchased a minimum amount of food, you had to pay £10! Ah well, beer first! We then needed some provisions for when we arrived back at Glyn’s so not a completely wasted visit.

Mermaids amongst the thatch

Our final visit was just off the A14 not far from Huntingdon in the small, bypassed village of Ellington. This is a delightful village with thatched-roofed cottages & next to the church is the Mermaid pub. The Good Beer Guide suggests that this is a “Quintessential English village pub” which you can’t argue with… unfortunately, on our visit the “locally sourced beers” were not in evidence as only national brews were available. Hey, ho, you win some, you lose some. A swift half & we were back on our way; another year’s trip over.

Normandy 2018 Day 8 – Another brewery ticked off

Day 8 – Thursday 7th June

Northwards into the sun

A reasonably late start saw us on our slow way back home, leaving the mist, drizzle & coolness that we’d experienced over the past few days behind us & off into clear blue skies & very hot summer sun.

Lunch was very elegant… lounging in the sun with a baguette… at a motorway service station!

Rollus Brewery

As regular readers will be aware, WW2 research is often interspersed with beer & breweries… & the trip back was no exception.

We’d booked to stay overnight at the Rollus brewery in the village of Louvrechy, south of Amiens in the Picardie Region of France. The brewery is based in a hundred years-old barn at the side of the main property which holds the accommodation & eating area. Unfortunately, when we arrived, the owner & brewer – Laurent Widcoq – was out, so we made ourselves at home in the rear garden – continuing to bask in the warm sunshine – awaiting his arrival.

Glyn & I occasionally enjoy the absurd & so, having spotted what appeared to be a replica of Stonehenge – but of “Spinal Tap” proportions – decided to do the traditional dance…

If you’ve never seen the original, here’s a You Tube clip… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=STHKFlO-zBw The reactions from 2:26 onwards are excellent!

After Laurent had arrived & showed us to our rooms – which were very nice – we went out for some food at the Moulin des Ecrevisses which Laurent had recommended – an elegant local restaurant set around an old mill complex: http://lemoulindesecrevisses.com/.

Returning to the brewery, we noticed that lots of Thunder Clouds had arrived, following us up from Normandy, perhaps? But providing a great sunset.

On arrival, Laurent asked whether we’d like to see the small brewery where he made his beer – well, that didn’t take asking twice – and following a discussion about which type of hops were best – pellets or fresh, we returned to the garden to sample some of the finished product…

It’s a tough job, this researching… aren’t you glad that you have someone to do it for you?

Normandy 2018 Day 7 – Fog, diversions, exhibitions, kilts and memorials

Day 7 – Wednesday 6th June

An early and foggy start

The unhelpful weather continued as we said “à bientôt” to Mme Barratte for another year as we headed off for the opening of a new exhibition in the village hall at St Martin de Besaces.

It was quite misty as we got on the motorway which was bad enough, but then, as my SatNav took us off that onto an “A” road, the mist turned to fog… which was then made worse by the fact that the road was closed due to resurfacing. Here in the UK, they do one side at a time, but for these works, they’d shut the whole motorway.

Eventually, after many diversions, we arrived at St Charles… where the weather was completely clear! Fortunately, our tales of woe were supported by Tom Mountain who arrived just after us reporting the same weather problems!

Exhibition at St Charles de Percy

The exhibition had been created by Mme Rolande OLIVIER and Mlle Charlotte LETEINTURIER (grand-daughter of well-known local historian Michel LETEINTURIER) and was to pay tribute to those soldiers of the local community who died for France during World War One 1914 -18; we had been invited by the mayor of St Charles, M Jacques DESORMEAU-BEDOT who we had met on many occasions when we attended the 6th June commemorations at the nearby Commonwealth War Cemetery.

Picture 1 Tom (L) & Gordon (R) enjoy a chat during the exhibition

The Exhibition included, amongst other things, the following:

  • 11 Panels each dedicated to the each of the 11 Soldiers of Saint Charles de Percy who died for France
  • The War Memorial
  • Saint Charles de Percy heritage (concerning the Church, Castle and British Cemetery)
  • The Village on the eve of the Conflict (concerning the Population, Town Hall and Church)
  • The Ring of Memory
  • The big Necropolises and the Military Squares
  • Historic Postcards of the time

The exhibition was very well put together as a result of some excellent research work & though it was all in French, it was easy to get an impression of the impact that the First World War had had on this small village & we were pleased to have been able to visit it.

We were then invited to Gordon & Ulrike Mabbutt’s (Gordon is David Mabbutt’s cousin – regular readers will be well aware of David’s assistance with this research) for a swift beer before heading off to St Martin des Besaces

Following Guards Armoured Division… backwards!

Tom’s father had been part of a Sherman tank crew & Tom had tried to follow their route through the bocage from St Martin to St Charles & he’d confused the bridge over the River Souleuvre at Le Tourneur with that further downstream crossed by the British 11th Armoured Division on their way to Beny Bocage which afterwards was known as “Bull Bridge” after the charging bull insignia of that division, so, having left Gordon & Ulrike’s, we headed up to St Martin by following the rout taken by the Guards (though, of course, we would be going in the opposite direction).

We passed the new memorial to another Guardsman, Hugh Dormer, but didn’t spot it until we’d passed & then on the way back, we were closely followed by a line of vehicles, so no photo this year.

Once in St Martin, we decided it was time for lunch, so having called in at a boulangerie for some food, we sat under the shelter in the marketplace eating & whilst Tom tried to straighten his back as the sciatica that had plagued him all trip was, once again, playing up.

In the museum at St Martin

Regular readers of this blog will be well aware of the small museum at St Martin des Besaces that focuses on Operation BLUECOAT, the liberation of the village & the impact that war has on people & that was our next destination.

On arrival, we were met by an elegant sight… the current President of the museum – Mark Kentell – in his traditional Scottish kilt… fortunately, it wasn’t windy, so we didn’t have to worry about an unfortunate gust of wind!

Picture 2 Mark Kentell looking at diorama

The museum had been loaned a new diorama display which highlighted the difficulties that vehicles & men faced when fighting through the bocage. It was well detailed & for the uninitiated, presented a good overview of the problems encountered

Picture 3 Battling through the Bocage

However, we weren’t there just to see the museum.

Proposed Memorial on Hill 226 to 3rd Battalion Scots Guards

A while ago, I’d raised the possibility with Stéphane Jacquet that a memorial should be placed on Hill 226 to commemorate those men from 3rd Battalion, Scots Guards who had died on that first day of Operation BLUECOAT on their first day in action. You’ll recall that earlier this trip (as in the past couple of years), we’d visited the CWGC Cemetery at Hottot les Bagues to place memorial crosses on the graves of two of the men that had lost their lives on behalf of our friend, veteran Muir Findlay. It was through knowing Muir (& his son Eain) and researching their part in the operation that I’d come up with the idea. Fortunately, it wasn’t just an idea of madness as Stéphane had also thought it was worth pursuing & to that end, we’d arranged to meet him & the Founder of the museum, M. Jean Ménard another well-respected local historian.

I’d discussed with Stéphane a number of possible sites for a memorial (and he had suggested others,) & so a convoy of vehicles set off to explore them – unfortunately, I was in the lead & only got us slightly lost!

  1. Our first stop was the holiday home of M & Mme Gauthier who live on the southern slopes of Hill 226 & who Glyn & I had met a couple of years ago. Whilst they were very pleased for their property to be considered as the location of the memorial, given that access is up a narrow trackway, the practicalities outweighed the benefits of it being able to be placed without requiring “Official Permission”.
  2. We next looked at a layby near the motorway. Whilst, in many ways, this was an ideal location – there was already space to park & it was where the German Jagdpanthers had crossed to do battle with the Churchill Tanks of the Scots Guards, it was felt that it would be difficult to obtain official permission as the layby also gave access to official vehicles onto the motorway & there could be a risk that this was blocked.
  3. The next place was near the farm of Fumichon at the southern side of the hill where, having destroyed most of the Scots Guards tanks, the German JagdPanthers drove off (later to be found abandoned due to damage received). This had distinct possibilities as it was related to the battle, the hill where most of the action took place is visible, there’s space for a memorial and carparking, too
  4. Next stop was near the house Le Manoir. This had space to park, however, as this was the extended driveway of the house and it was out of sight of the main part of the battle, it was discounted
  5. Finally, we looked at a grass verge at the cross roads at the farm of Le Chêne à Rost which is where the Scots Guards Churchill tanks had driven across before deploying on the hill.

M. Ménard suggested that the memorial should be at Fumichon as this afforded a better view of the hill (unfortunately, the view at the crossroads was blocked by the farm buildings) but that an Orientation table explaining what had happened be placed at the crossroads. Everyone agreed that this made a lot of sense & so Stéphane agreed to write up a proposal to put to the local authorities.

St Charles de Percy Remembrance service

It was then back to St Charles de Percy for their Remembrance service, followed by a further short ceremony at the Irish Guards memorial & finally, a well-deserved vin d’Honneur chatting with friends.

Picture 4 Dignitaries placing wreaths

Picture 5 Guards about to place wreaths

Picture 6 2nd Lieutenant from Welsh Guards placing wreath

Picture 7 Drummer from Welsh Guards playing Last Post

Picture 8 Parade of Flags

Picture 9 L-R… Welsh Guards: Drummer, 2nd Lt, Guardsman, Irish Guards: Lieut, 2nd Lt (whilst I’m aware of their names, I was asked (for security reasons) to only refer to their ranks a request that I’m more than happy to agree to)

Picture 10 L-R M Bernard DAUPRAT, M Robert DESBOEUFS, Irish Guards Lieut & Irish Guards Lieut, M Jacques DESORMEAU

The names of the two gentlemen standing to the left of the Irish Guards Memorial were kindly provided by M Jacques DESORMEAU (Mayor of St Charles de Percy). The reason for the memorial is that the Irish Guards liberated the village & so each year, following the Solemn Ceremony at the Commonwealth Cemetery, we reassemble at the memorial for a further short ceremony.

M. Robert DESBOEUFS acts as Master of Ceremonies at the cemetery & does a great job at ensuring everything runs smoothly in spite of some of the challenges that he faces on occasions – including horizontal rain & thunder on one occasion!

I was also able to have long chat with M Letenturier’s granddaughter, Charlotte, who we’d met earlier in the day talking about the research that she’d done for the exhibition in the village hall & also the work that I’d done both in respect of the Scots Guards and, of course, the wealth of information that we have on the Men in the Shed project.

Finally, it was back to Tony & Jill’s for food & sleep!

Normandy 2018 Day 6 – Hill 112, Albert Figg RIP, Committee meetings and Marshall Amps (sort of)

Day 6 – Tuesday 5th June

Annual Hill 112 Ceremony

For many years, now, we’ve attended the small ceremony on Hill 112 to commemorate the veterans of both sides who fought & died in Operations EPSOM & JUPITER. Whilst the main commemoration is in July (on the Sunday nearest to the commencement of Operation JUPITER), there has always been a small service on the 5th June as part of the Normandy-wide commemorations of D Day.

Unfortunately, for many of us in attendance, this year was sadder than most as in 2017, we’d said “Goodbye” to veteran Albert Figg who had campaigned tirelessly & unselfishly towards the installation of a number of the memorials that are currently in place on the Hill. Last year, he saw his vision of a “Cross of Peace” with 112 trees planted in the in the shape of an open cross with the memorial of the infantryman at it’s centre come to completion. Sadly, Albert passed away just days before HRH Prince Edward (the Earl of Wessex) arrived to inaugurate the memorial group.

As a part of this year’s ceremony, Albert’s daughter, Annette, placed some of Alberts ashes at the foot of one of the trees near the statue; a fitting tribute to her father who had spent most of his latter years campaigning & fundraising to ensure that the men that fought for Hill 112 – known at the time as “The Verdun of Normandy” & Field Marshall Erwin Rommel said that “whoever controls Hill 112 controls Normandy” – were remembered.

One person that was, unusually, missing from the service was our friend Ben Oostra who was stuck in Arromanches with a broken-down jeep!

Food at Evrecy

Once again, we took over the L’Audace restaurant on the outskirts of Évrecy for a commemorative meal where we also raised some funds towards the upkeep of the memorials. Just as we arrived at the restaurant, Ben was able to join us, ‘though in a “normal” car, rather than his jeep which was still giving problems.

After the meal, there was a brief meeting of the committee of the Hill 112 Memorial Fund Association which Colin is a member of. This has been established to continue Albert’s work of Remembrance & raise the funds to complete a documentary of the battles for Hill 112. In addition, any surplus funds will be used to support the memorials currently on the Hill. At the meeting, Gilles Osmond, president of the Association Odon-Cote 112 was asked to also sit on this committee which he accepted. In passing, if you’d like to find out more about Hill 112 & Albert’s mission, then this is a great place to start

Marshall Amps… or not

Following the meal, Annette & her friend, Heather, headed off to the hairdressers & some of us headed back to Gilles’ house for tea & coffee. Whilst there, he showed us around his new “den” where he had bought what we initially thought was a new guitar amp…

To Arromanches

It was then time for us to leave – having first left Gilles with some electronic copies of the various war diaries that we had taken last year at the National Archives.

We decided to head into Arromanches for our meal & beer. As we were walking into town, we spotted Ben Oostra, again, with his party, just heading back to their campsite to (hopefully) finally sort out his jeep ready for the 6th June.

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!

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

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…

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…

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

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!

Normandy 2018 Day 4 – Tilly book fair, Hottot and photo tour

Day 4 – Sunday 3rd June

Tilly sur Seulles Salon du Livre

We tried to be up early for breakfast as we were aiming to be at the “Tilly Book Fair” run at the museum by our friend Stéphane Jacquet from the start; unfortunately, Glyn’s alarm clock was still set to UK time so whilst he thought that he had “a good half an hour” before needing to be at breakfast, I’d already finished & loaded my stuff in the car. Having said that, we actually set off not much later than planned.

Even though it was early, it was already very hot & set to get even hotter – fortunately, my car has air conditioning! Though after a while, it still seemed to be warm inside the car & it was only when we stopped at the services just outside of Caen & got outside that we realised just how hard it was working!

We had a quick check with Tom regarding where to meet as the book fair can be very busy & we set off again.

Through David Mabbutt, I’d been introduced to Ros Westwood – the widow of David Westwood, owner of the Military Library Research Service – who was needing to pass on what was left of her husband’s book collection. I’d been over to collect a large number of these that I was then selling to help raise funds to use with the Manchester Military History Society which I’m treasurer of. I’d selected a number of these which, with the agreement of Stéphane, were being sold on the Museum’s stand with them receiving some of the proceeds.

Having dropped these off, we met up with Tom & then had an enjoyable chat in the sunshine with him & M Jean Menard and his wife, Jeanette. Jean was founder of the 11th Armoured Division Museum at St Martin des Besaces. We had first been introduced to M Menard by David Mabbutt when he was curator of the museum which is now enjoying a new lease of life (having had some “ups and downs” since David left) under the curatorship of Mark Kentell.

1 Glyn, Stephane, M & Mme Menard, Tom

2 Colin, Stephane, M & Mme Menard, Tom

Whilst having our chat, where we were joined by Stéphane who helped with my translations!

At the museum, Tom was able to purchase one of the books that Stéphane has written focusing on Operation BLUECOAT, volume two of which includes a photograph of his father.

Before we got too settled, we decided that it was time to move on (and out of the heat & into the air-conditioned car!) to take advantage of the weather & get some of our photographs taken.

Hottot les Bagues CWGC Cenetery

First stop was the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery at Hottot les Bagues on behalf of a friend of ours: Peter Muir Findlay. Muir was the main gunner in SKYE tank of 8 Troop, 3rd Battalion Scots Guards who fought through the Normandy campaign and beyond. Their first day in action was at the start of Operation BLUECOAT where, on reaching their objective (Hill 226), they were attacked by a unit of German JagdPanther self-propelled guns. Most of the Scots Guards’ tanks were destroyed & 18 men killed or missing (believed killed), two more were reported missing & 19 were wounded. All of the Guardsmen who lost their lives in this action are buried together in the Hottot-Les-Bagues War Cemetery.

Unfortunately, due to ill health, Muir was unable to travel to Normandy to pay his respects, this year, so we were pleased to be able to do this & lay two “Poppy crosses” for him

Guardsman JW Harvey, 3rd Battalion Scots Guards

L/Sgt JM Louden, 3rd Battalion Scots Guards

Hottot les Bagues: “The Lone House” and a surprise

We then turned our attention to tracking down some of the units that had been involved in the fighting for Hottot – especially 1st Hampshire & 2nd Devonshire Regiments which were the units that a number of “our” chaps fought with (Bird, Brunt, Blunt, Chapman & Lawrence).

Based upon the research that I’d done before the trip, looking through the battalion war diaries which we’d photographed last year & marking up locations on our maps, the first area we needed to look for was just to the north of Hottot where Operation Maori II (the objective of which was to capture the village of Hottot) was fought over. The chaps who were captured on 11th & 12th July were lost in the fighting in this area.

Last year, Glyn & I had taken some photos near the farm of La Bruyère as we’d seen an aerial photograph with the Hampshire’s positions marked on them, but we’d not had the opportunity at that point to read the war diary in detail.

So, this year, one of the places that we were looking for at the eastern end of the village was a house known as “The Lone House” in the Devon’s war diary. We worked out a possible “candidate” for this place & so turned down a track just before the village

As we reached the end of the lane & were turning the car round, a young chap appeared. I confirmed with him where we were & asked if we could take a couple of photographs.

Whilst sorting ourselves out, his mother, father & younger brother appeared – the family Cosnefroy.

This was the start of one of those “surprise” moments…

First of all, the younger son had a t-shirt – of which he was rightly proud – covered with Normandy Veteran pin badges. Then they showed us a notebook that they had started with the signatures of the various veterans that they had met – both ones that had visited them & also who they had chatted to across Normandy… including our old friend Albert Figg who they’d met the previous year on Hill 112!!

M & Mme Cosnefroy then showed us around their property, pointing out the marks made by bullet holes in the walls of the building.

They also showed us some rusty wire cutters that they’d found in their grounds as well as a rifle bullet & the tail fin from a British 3″ mortar shell!

And then, following a quick return visit to their house, they brought out a small box & when they opened it, there was a large piece of the original inside wall of the barn that was attached to the house…

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a colour photo, but Mme Cosnefroy gave me a black & white photograph. It obviously wasn’t just “our” chaps that theft their names everywhere!

As we were leaving, Mme Cosnefroy gave Tom a bottle of very cold water as we were very hot & then she & M Cosnefroy kindly gave me the bullet & mortar tail for my collection. These are both in the cabinet at our wargaming & military history building…

231 Brigade Memorial

We then left & headed into Hottot.

But first, at the end of the lane to the “Lone House”, we stopped for a quick photo of the furthest advanced positions that 2nd Devonshire regiment reached… was this where some of “our chaps” were captured?

In the village of Hottot les Bagues, opposite the Marie, is a memorial to the units of 231 Brigade of 50th Tyne Tees Division who fought across this ground

2nd Hampshire Regiment area

We then moved round to the area where we’d been last year which was where the 2nd Hampshire Regiment had fought but with new information following our reading of the War Diary…

1: 1st Hampshire 1st “phase line”

2: Looking across the fields, the 2nd Devons would have come out of the woods on the right, across the fields

3: One of the routes that the 1st Hampshire Regiment’s tank support followed

4: Here you can see some damage to the perimeter wall of Le Cordillon caused, I believe by “Petard” mortars from 79th Armoured Division Churchill tanks in support of 1st Hampshires

The map below shows the location of each of the above photos

By this time, although there were still plenty of places that we wanted to visit to take photos, the heat was incredible – even getting out of the car briefly to take the photos was a struggle, so we decided to head back to Tilly & see how the book fair had gone.

With sales at the book fair & elsewhere later in the week, we raised enough to be able to donate €45 to each of the museums/associations that I’m involved with – the museums at Tilly sur Seulles & St Martin des Besaces & the Hill 112 Association

Back at Tilly, we had a final beer with Tom & then left him to head off in his campervan & we headed to Bayeux for something to eat.

An interesting meal

Being a Sunday evening, Bayeux, even in the height of the tourist season, was quite empty. The restaurant that we’d been to before seemed to have increased its prices dramatically, so we hunted around & found a small restaurant tucked away on one of the streets leading towards the cathedral the Creperie L’Insolite which gave us the opportunity to try some traditional French quisine… ‘though my plate seemed fuller than Glyn’s!

Whilst we were eating, a family of two adults & a teenager (it turned out to be grandparents & grandson) sat next to us & when the waitress asked them what they wanted, the grandfather leaned over, pointed to Glyn’s meal & said “I’ll have that!”.

They’d been on a battlefield tour, but hadn’t seen what they’d hoped & so asked us for advice as to some of the places that they should see whilst in the area which we were able to help them with.

Finally, Glyn & I decided to treat ourselves to pudding!!!

Mine

Glyn’s

Normandy 2018 Day 3 – Security checks, fog, missed breweries, tardis and pizza

Day 3 – Saturday 2nd June

Off on the Chunnel

As usual, we were crossing via the “Chunnel” (or Channel Tunnel to give it it’s proper name) as it’s a quick way of getting over to mainland Europe.

Possibly because we’d picked an early crossing (as our B&B didn’t provide breakfast) we were met with some (as we thought) early morning mist on our way to the terminal; there had been a bit of fog the day before & so we thought that it was the remnants of this that would soon burn off in the summer sun.

Arriving at the terminal, we had the opportunity to take an earlier crossing which was boarding so we decided to take it as we’d get some breakfast in France.

This year we, and many others, were subjected to a far more thorough security check than we had previously experienced which involved opening both bonnet & boot of the car… which turned out to be useful as I found a spanner that had been left under the bonnet by my mechanic! Which probably explained the minor rattle!!

Beyond the extra security checks – which we have no problems with – the trip to France was as uneventful as usual.

French fog is as bad as English Fog

Unfortunately, arriving on the other side of the English Channel, we appeared to have brought the fog with us as visibility was very poor. As we set out for Rouen, we remarked that the only weather that we don’t appear to have met on our journey’s in France is snow!

As there was, quite literally, nothing to see, we decided to head off towards Rouen.

After a while, we decided to stop for breakfast at the Aire Baie de Somme. We’ve called there in the past as it’s a really well-appointed service area…

… at least normally it is. Unfortunately for us, they were having a major redevelopment so all that was open was a small shop selling gifts, a coffee machine in the wall (with a huge queue) and some outdoor toilets!

So, we took the opportunity to get out the maps & head on to Rouen…

Missed breweries

As I’d mentioned before, Glyn had done some pre-research & found some breweries to visit on our way down… however, as we didn’t have the maps open, in the fog we missed some of them, so a Gallic shrug of the shoulders & off we went.

Tardis Town

Continuing on our way, we decided that, having missed breakfast, we had better have some lunch (which was why we’d stopped at the Baie de Somme), so having seen a sign for Blangy sue Bresle – a town that we’d never visited – we decided to get off the motorway & grab some lunch.

Having parked up in what appeared to be a small town, we began to walk looking for somewhere to eat & soon realised that this town was far bigger on the inside than it looked on the outside!

First stop was a bar tabac for our traditional “first beer”


Having slaked our thirst, food was next in line – baguettes with ham & salad and, of course, our first cakes in France

I went for my usual tarte fraise, Glyn opting for something far more exotic!

We then had a brief look around the large church that we were sat by which was set up for a wedding later in the day

This church had been destroyed & rebuilt on a number of occasions in the past – starting in the 100 years’ war

We find Rouen full

The nearer to Rouen that we were, the better the weather was becoming, so we decided, as we were earlier than planned, to park up in Rouen & have a walk round. However, as we were driving, it was absolutely “jam packed” with cars & despite driving around for a while, we couldn’t find anywhere to park, so we called it off & headed to our usual overnight accommodation at the Brasserie Chant du Loup, our host, Patrick & his beer.

Patrick explained that it was a special festival where shops can sell their goods at really low prices & so people come from all over to take advantage of the bargains.

Over samples of a couple of Patrick’s beers, we planned out in detail our itinerary for the next couple of days as we were meeting up with a chap named Tom Mountain. Tom had been introduced to us by David Mabbutt as his father had been a tank driver with the Irish Guards in Normandy & Tom was hoping to follow some of his travels. Unfortunately, he had been suffering with sciatica, so was less mobile than he’d hoped to be, but this didn’t stop him from looking forward to meeting us the following day at the Tilly sur Seulles book fair & joining in with our photo expedition.

So finally, we went up the road to the local pizza restaurant for some food… including a reacquaintance with their fiery chilly oil

Normandy 2018 Day 2 – Brewery, Micropubs and wartime memories with a train for good measure

Locomotive on the M25

Yes, you read that correctly!

Leaving Aylesbury following a fulfilling breakfast, we headed towards the M25 – the ring-road motorway around London. Whilst you’d expect this to be free-flowing, it rarely is… a couple of years ago on one of our trips, it came to a halt in order for a duck  & ducklings to walk across (I jest not), this year, the traffic slowed as it passed a low loader carrying the Bittern locomotive on its way to a heritage railway somewhere; unfortunately, as I was driving, I couldn’t get a photo.

Apparently, it was on it’s way from Crewe to Margate & here’s some further information https://theisleofthanetnews.com/bittern-has-arrived-in-margate/

Planning pays off

Prior to setting off this year, Glyn had done some research and found some brew pubs and other interesting places to visit (yes there can be something more than brewpubs that are interesting!). One of these was on Folkestone harbour where some containers had been set up to be used as a base for fledgling businesses one being a small brewery: the Docker brewery, where we had a beer and some bread as they make both!



Battle of Britain museum

We then went to the Battle of Britain museum on the site of the old Hawkinge airfield.

This was a very interesting museum with very large number of artefacts, including many replica aircraft (mainly Hurricanes). However, we both felt that an opportunity had been missed in that many of the artefacts were related to two or three pilots and the museum had spread these throughout the exhibits rather than pulled them together as a single series telling the story of the battle from a pilot’s perspective in a more interesting way. Unfortunately, we do not have any photographs from the museum as cameras are strictly not allowed as they had had an unfortunate theft where they believe that part of the reconnaissance for which had been done by someone taking photographs.

Leaving the museum, we drove past the memorial to pilots who lost their lives flying from Hawkinge

On to Dover

We then set off for Dover where we were staying for the night. We found this fairly quickly & easily, unfortunately, there were a lot of steps that needed climbing up to just get to the front door and even more inside. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, however, whilst visiting the museum Colin had pulled a muscle in his leg and was finding walking difficult.

Fortunately, we didn’t have to climb all the way up to the castle

So, what to do about tea? Fortunately, our pre-visit research had found that there were a number of micropubs that had been set up in Dover together with a couple of breweries’ brewery taps where you could try their beers. Micro pubs are a relatively new trend in the UK where a shop is taken over & fitted out as a mini pub… you don’t get the same facilities as you find in a “normal” pub, but they’re usually run by Real Ale enthusiasts & so of interest to Colin & Glyn!

The nearest one to our accommodation was The Lanes Micropub where we were made very welcome by owners Debbie and Keith; even though it was our first visit, we were welcomed as friends. A couple of beers there and then off for some food to a restaurant recommended by them: The Allotment, an English restaurant run by an Italian gentleman! The food was fantastic and definitely somewhere to consider a return visit. Having eaten, we then headed off to another micropub, this time The Thirsty Scarecrow which had more of a focus on cider. A swift beer, here, before catching a bus up to the brewery tap that we had decided to visit.

Brewery Tap splits opinions


This was the Breakwater Brewery Tap. Our beers here split our opinions! The first was “Cow Juice”, a Milk Stout. Colin was expecting this to be very sweet and creamy, but it wasn’t! It was the new style of milk stout coming to the fore in the UK which Glyn really enjoyed. We then had one of their bitters before once again heading back in towards Dover on the bus.

As we were walking past The Lanes we decided to pop in for a final drink and for a change, we both opted for cider as they had a number available & we thought it would get us in the mood for Normandy!

In addition to “standard” ciders & perries (ciders are made from apples, perries from pears) we had to have a quick taste of one called an “apple pie cider”… and that was exactly what you tasted: first the apples, then a hint of cinnamon coming through and then finally, (& frankly unbelievably), a taste of pastry!!

If you are ever in Dover, then The Lanes micropub run by Debbie and Keith Lane is most definitely to be recommended. The welcome that you get is wonderful whether you’re a new visitor, a returning visitor or a regular, you are equally made to feel very welcome.

So, it was then back to accommodation ready for an early start as tomorrow we go across to France

Normandy 2018 Day 1 – Deja-vu all over again

Day 1 – our customary start

Beer and brewpubs

Yes, our annual trip to Normandy started in it’s usual fashion directed by the good words of CamRA’s Good Beer Guide – though this time, it was easier to plan as we’d previously arranged to try to meet up with one of the chaps from CamRA in Aylesbury where we’d arranged to meet at the Hop Pole Brewpub – regular readers of this blog will know that pub quite well!

Unfortunately, Alexander was double booked, so we were forced to drink alone… apart from a South African chap who started talking to us & explaining that his country was worse than the Wild West… and parts even worse than that…

Then it was off to our “Purple Palace” (no sign of Lenny Henry, ‘though) for our accomodation

More research

Next to our Premier Inn, there’s the “onsite” pub, so we called in for a swift beer & then Glyn went for the coffee & Colin for the homemade lemonade & whilst there we spent a couple of hours reviewing the information that we have on some of the men – which ranges from quite full stories (Blunt & Caldwell) to others with still very little (Bird, Brunt & Chapman). Bird is intriguing in that the National Archives have digitised some of their POW records, but his is still secure until 2025… no idea why…

Rain, rain, go away

Over the past few days, in the UK, we’ve had some terrible thunderstorms with a month’s worth of rainfall in just over an hour, so as we set out to walk into town to meet up with Stuart Hadaway (again, regular readers will be aware of the support that he’s been to this site) the clouds grew dark & a gentle rain began to fall… so a detour to a bus stop & the realisation that we were protected by a number of large bushes & that a bus was due in a few minutes seemed like a good idea… especially when, two minutes after boarding the bus, the heavens opened!

Even more beer & research

Then it was to the King’s Head in the centre of town – Brewery Tap of the Chiltern Brewery – to meet up with Stuart & a discussion of the latest book that he’s working on as well as a general historical chat… which, on more than one occasion dissolved into laughter.

Stuart then offered us a lift back to the hotel & on the way to his car pointed out the statue that the people of Aylesbury erected to commemorate the coronation of King George V – this is of John Hampden who has two key points of fame… first he was one of the 5 Parliamentarians that helped (with Charles I)  kick off the English Civil War (great idea for a statue for a new king’s coronation!) and secondly the Handley Page Hampden bomber was named after him (as are a number of American towns, apparently).

 

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