Blog

Updates and things…

Swans swimming along…

Whilst on the face of it, everything has been a bit quiet on the website front on the research project… in fact it’s a bit like a swan swimming along – serene and  gentle on the surface and paddling madly underwater!

Work has been getting in the way & as at the moment that pays much better, I’ve had to focus on that!

So a brief update…

Gilbert Raimbault & Martha BowenGibert Raimbault

First of all some sad news.  Yves Brion has informed me that M Gilbert Raimbault (who aged 9 saw the various “Men in the Shed” as his father was the village baker & the shed their grain store) has passed away. He had been ill for a while & in hospital since December. It was an honour & pleasure to meet Gilbert & also to be able to introduce him to Martha & Sam Bowen on their visit to Normandy a couple of years ago. Martha is one of Raymond Elledge’s daughters & Gilbert described him to her. Her hubby Sam said – he’s never seen her grinning so much!

Up-dating the web-site

This main website is undergoing some work on the “back end”. At the moment, with all of the content it’s a little slow to load. I am also approaching the limit of the available space that I pay for. Also, as it was designed a few years ago, it’s not “mobile friendly”. So the plan is to use this for the annual trip reports (as usual) and details of the men & their history – so nothing different to what we currently have.

However, the big change is that the number of photographs on the site will be reduced. It’s them that take up a lot of the space especially as when I first started, I didn’t reduce the size of the photos. Moving forward, there will be enough to tell the story (& their individual stories), but the main photo storage will be on Facebook.

Yes, we have a Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/MenintheShed/). At present the idea is that this will have a Photo Album for each of the Men & that will hold all of the images that we have in relation to them.

There is also be a Facebook Group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/MenintheShed/) which will have details of our research trips to Normandy & anything else that we discover (so similar to the Blogs on the main site) but it will also host a much larger collection of photos.

Forum

Also, I’m setting up a forum which will have threads running on each of the men for people (friends, family, etc) to add information, discuss stuff, etc. In due course, we will (hopefully) integrate this into the main website; in the short term there will be a link.

Eventually, as & when funds permit, I’ll be talking to my web designers to have the site updated & made “mobile friendly”, which should also make it easier to use.

Glyn is helping me with all of this & hopefully, between us, it will all be sorted. Once we sort out between ourselves what we want! We would like to have it sorted in time for our next trip to Normandy.

GDPR and email newsletters

And finally, here in the UK we’re fast approaching the deadline for GDPR which states that anyone who sends out newsletter type emails needs to have specific (and recorded) permission to do so. As a result, moving forward, I shall do updates via Mailchimp . I use this for work & it seems to be ok, so it makes sense to use it for the Men in the Shed, too.

So, if you’d like to continue to receive emails (& hopefully you will), you’ll need to go onto this page of the website http://www.menintheshed.com/contact-me/ and complete the Newsletter Signup form. You’ll then receive an email asking you to confirm that you want to receive the newsletter (to be GDPR compliant it has to be “double opt in”). If there is someone who you think I may have missed with this email… please forward it (or let them know about the new newsletter format).

Look forward to seeing you all on the next list!!

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 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. We were to stay the night 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. 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. Taking photographs of the locations of damaged and destroyed Churchill tanks following the battle to liberate the village. Colin needed these in relation to his war gaming group, and his military history society.

 

We returned back to Tony and Jill’s for a quick beer with Tony. Then headed 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 spotted an interesting group of buildings. Both of us being Deep Purple fans, we found this amusing & wondered if it 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.  We spoke to the farmer and his wife in a mix of broken French and English. They said that the garage where the barbed wire was covering the window was used to hold prisoners by the Germans! In his manuscript, Ray mentions there was a window covered with barbed wire in the barn that they were going to. The layout of the buildings also ties in quite well with the description given in the manuscript. Certainly better than some others that we had found. We will follow this up further.

Off to Tilly sur Seulles

We were quite pleased with this result . However time had slipped away. So we then headed off to meet up with Stéphane Jacquet at the ceremony at Tilly sur Seulles, arriving about halfway through.

There we had the opportunity to meet up and chat with some veterans. This included one who’d been in the 2nd Essex Battalion. He 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 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, various locations mentioned.  One was 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. Another was the location of the building which they were taken to having been re-captured the night before they ended up in the Shed. This was 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 doesn’t appear on a 1947 aerial photograph. Therefore it could not have been there in 1944 and so we could count it out. The second place, just to the North of Villers Bocage, 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 arriving at that hidden property today, we realised that access was through a formal gateway and then up a driveway. At the end of  the driveway there was an imposing house on the right & storage barns on the left. This was exactly as described in Ray Elledge’s manuscript…

 

 

We were now reasonably confident with the location of the farm where the carriage was obtained from. The person we spoke to at the farm confirmed that Germans had been billeted there during the war but did not know the position in July 1944. He said that he knew people within his family were researching their history and the history of the house. So, hopefully, they will be able to provide confirmation.

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. It was here that John Harder had joined them.  We had estimated the distance likely to be travelled on foot given the timings mentioned.  Applying this to the maps suggested that we should focus our efforts on an area south of Aunay Sur Odon. Using aerial photographs we identified several possible “targets”. We visited the first of these promising “targets” . However, in a number of ways it did not match the description in the manuscript.

Off to St Charles de Percy

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

Following the main service there is another  small ceremony at the Guard’s Memorial in St Charles itself. This is followed by a vin d’honeur (it would be churlish not to partake).

After this had ended we went off to Beny Bocage for a meal. On returning to Tony and Jill’s  we were invited into their lounge to watch some classic TV programmes about D Day, and to sample a little cider. A pleasant end to the 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 again, this time on the top of Hill 112.

It has become a tradition for there to be a small ceremony on the Hill on the 5th  followed by an informal meal. This year the ceremony was larger than usual. I think people had been attracted by the recent changes to the monument.

The trees had been planted and the statue of the infantryman had also been moved into its final location. 112 trees have been planted as a living memorial to all that fought & died here. Whatever side they fought for.

 

Whilst on the Hill, we had the privilege to meet two other veterans that had fought there. Firstly David Mylchreest who at the time was a lieutenant with the 4th Somerset Light Infantry.

 

Secondly, Jack Woods who served in tanks with 9th Royal Tank Regiment. He would have been in a Churchill tank similar to the one featured in the memorial.  So, in addition to Albert, we now know a Gunner, Infantryman & tanker all of whom fought on the hill.

Ben Oostra had produced some promotional material for the Hill. Firstly, stickers displaying the emblems of all of the allied units involved in the fighting for the Hill. Secondly, a number of medallions. These were to be given  to people who had helped in promoting and supporting the efforts to raise funds and awareness of the memorials. Colin felt privileged to receive one of these in recognition of his support for the project.

Battle site photos.

We then spent the afternoon visiting key locations in the battle for Hill 112. This was to take the photographs that Colin had not been able to get on previous visits.  In July he would be delivering a talk on the topic to his local military history group – the Manchester Military History Society. This was to be this year’s 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.  To attend a ceremony dedicated to the Green Howards, one of the Battalions that some of The Men in the Shed were from.

We were that it would be at 10 o’clock. In fact it was to start two hours later than that. So we put the additional time to good use. By returning to the question of the route taken by Elledge, Sheppard, Willen and Gillespie.

We believe that we have identified one key Passage in Elledge’s manuscript as referring to the town of Villers-Bocage. There is a very descriptive passage which matches exactly the lie of the land there.  However we did not have time to work out where they went from this point before the arrival of the various veterans who we wanted to meet!

It 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. There 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 of the veterans. One of whom had 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. Whilst there we met veteran Albert Figg who was selling his autobiography – an excellent read. He published it last year in Engish, and this year a version in French had been published.

We had lunch at the fair. Which consisted of some of the local take on rice pudding and a small cake! Food was not always going to plan!

Colin purchased an original copy of the divisional history of the 43rd division at the fair. He asked Albert Figg to sign it as he was a gunner in that division, which he kindly did. Colin then helped with some translation for people who were buying Albert’s book. Hopefully they understood that he had been a gunner. Firing, in support of the fighting on hill 112, from Carpiquet airfield. Colin also tried to explain the fundraising that Albert had done to get the various memorials on the Hill. Including the trees being planted this year.

Tracking down 1st Bn Hampshire Regiment

We then went to north of the village of Hottot les Bagues in order to take some photographs. This was where the 1st Hampshire Battalion were located between the 1st and 12th of July 1944. This was of particular interest as the 11th of July is the date given by some of the men as the date of their capture. At the National Archives we had found an aerial photograph of the time. Upon which was marked the location of the various companies of the Battalion. We took a series of photographs of the locations shown. Obviously, over 70 years later, there is little to see on the ground. However, the lady who owns the farm, & gave us permission to go & take the photos, confirmed  that there had been very hard fighting in the area. Resulting in the destruction of her parent’s house.

The battery in my camera died just after the final photograph. So, 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

 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, to meet up with Albert Figg. Our assigned mission was to pick up some of his books and take them to the museum at Saint Martin de Besaces.

 Albert was book signing at an event at the Overlord Museum. Unfortunately, Colin typed Colleville-Montgomery rather than Colleville Sur Mer into the Satnav.  So, we drove some 70 miles out of our way. When we arrived at Colleville-Montgomery we realised our error. So, we decided to take the opportunity to go down by the beach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In due course we set off  again to meet up with Albert and Annette- bombing down the motorway (in the modern rather than wartime sense). After stopping off for a quick snack, we arrived at the Overlord museum as arranged, if a little later than advertised. This was first of what was to be three Normandy Museums that day.

As we looked around the outer tents we bumped into Gilles Osmont, the president of the Hill 112 Association. Though he denied it, he was being soundly beaten in a table top “Bolt Action” war game run by French representatives of Warlord Games.

There was also a fantastic display of dioramas featuring 12-inch high “Action Man” action figures (G.I Joe in America) in models of the relevant vehicles.

Picking up some scrap metal

Having collected the books from Albert we left the museum. We went to visit and touch base with Dominique Bidart at his home near Hill 112. Dominique showed us some of his research as well as some of  the World War II items that he has found in the area. He proved to be in a generous mood and, after our chat with him, we came away with a piece of a 4.2 inch Allied mortar shell, destined for Colin’s wargaming building, and several other small items. Dominique also offered Colin a Panzerfaust tube. Unfortunately Colin had to decline the offer of what would have been a fantastic addition to his wargaming and military history building. We could not take it through UK and French Customs, given the current heightened security levels. Especially as the propellant charge was still in the tube!

At the “Bluecoat” Normandy museum

On 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) in order to hand over Albert’s books. We were also dropping off some books for David Mabbutt. These were copies of “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!). We ended up travelling through a series of side streets with Colin getting more and more frustrated. Eventually we got back onto the motorway and made our way to St Martin. Where we met Mark Kentell, the new President of the museum.

We felt a little embarrassed about arriving much later than planned but Mark was quite relaxed about it. He told us that as he waited for us, four visitors turned up and paid the entrance fee. Normally the museum would have been closed and those fees not taken.

Having handed over the books, we went for a beer with Mark (you would expect nothing else!). We chatted about his plans for the Museum and strategies for increasing 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. On the way Colin telephoned our friend Stéphane Jacquet who told us he was in the local bar with some owners of restored military vehicles (they had a Bren Carrier and a Daimler Dingo Scout car). He said as soon as we had dumped our bags to come down for a beer – which we did (surprise!).  Following the beer, Stéphane bought everyone pizzas which we ate outside of the museum in Tilly sur Seulles (our third and final Normandy Museum that day). The Museum 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 in time to catch a train prior to that on which we were scheduled. Arriving earlier in France than planned allowed us to spend an hour walking around Cap Gris-Nez. Here we took photographs of both the wartime German installations and also the earlier fort built by Henry VIII which was apparently was never used.

A revisit for the first time

We then drove down to the town of Samer for lunch.

Last year, as we passed through, we had spotted the Le Clos des Brasseurs restaurant. We had been intrigued as it appeared to have it’s own beer – though it wasn’t clear whether it was brewed on the premises or elsewhere. Unable to investigate further at the time, we said we keep it in mind for this year. So here we where – for essential research! I can report that the food and beer were most enjoyable.

Replenished, we headed south to Rouen and the Chant du Loup Brewery where we were to stay that night. Regular readers will be aware it is one of our most frequent stops. Patrick, as usual, was an excellent host providing beer for us on our arrival.

Frustrations with a manuscript

We had picked up some bread, butter, cheese and ham which we enjoyed with Patrick’s beers. Then, using the narrative in the manuscript Elledge had written just after the war, we again tried to work out the route taken by Messrs Willen, Shepherd, Elledge and Gillespie from the Nunnery. Unfortunately, we got very frustrated in not being able to clearly identify many of the places. In the end, too tired to think further, we agreed to differ as to where the various places where and retired to bed 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 also for other people. After lunch we travelled down to Hythe for our last day in England. Unfortunately, this took us longer than planned as we were caught in heavy 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. I 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. However this took us about 3 or 4 mile away from where we really wanted to be. 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 therefore we’d not planned to go – however, our SatNav obviously knew better!

Arresting food!

A quick beer and then we carried on to our accommodation: The Swan Hotel. We then went 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 went to the Mariners’ Arms for a couple of locally brewed beers. Following which we walked back to our hotel.

 

 

When we arrived at the hotel, there were policemen there, and they in the process of 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 could find nowhere to park the car. 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 which took us to the Express Tavern at Kew Bridge which is a really unusual pub that’s been going for many years (and is of historical significance). Here 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!!