"OUR TRIP TO
NORMANDY FOR THE 65TH COMMEMORATION OF D-DAY"
This is a personal account of her visit to the Normandy sites of the 1944 D-Day Landings in June 2009 by Kate Curtis, Poppy Appeal Officer of The Royal British Legion Central Brittany Branch
|School children, wearing commemorative T-shirts, laid a flower on each grave in Banneville cemetery during the ceremony||Standards on display at the unveiling of a plaque to friendship by the German Military Attaché at the Goodwood Memorial, Sannerville on the morning of 7th June|
As we hadn’t visited Sainte Mere Eglise for over 30 years, and our colleagues had never been there, we decided to leave together a day before we needed to, on Wednesday 3rd June, to visit the central square, where we saw the model of the famous parachutist hanging from the church tower. Then we went to look at Utah Beach, where the Americans landed.
After lunch, we travelled around the estuary and missed Pointe de Hoc, but went to see the enormous cemetery at Omaha Beach, where Jimmy Rowe (Central Brittany Branch Deputy Standard Bearer) laid a cross for someone who was unable to be there. After that, we drove along the coast to Ouistreham, then along the road between the river Orne and the canal to Pegasus Bridge and to Ranville, where were staying.
The following day was free, so we did some of the things we often don’t have time to, one of which was to visit the field hospital at Le Mesnil, very close to the James Hill Square. This is on private land, in a farmyard. We met the farmer who was able to show us the operating theatre (actually the old dairy) and the operating table itself, which had a handy drain for washing down between operations. He showed us where the recovering soldiers went, as well as those who were less fortunate. We left a cross by the plaque on the wall. Then we went to Colombelles, where a Dakota was shot down, and left a cross from a veteran as requested, and two from us too. We always used to go there for a ceremony, but of latter years we haven’t, possibly because it is so close to a busy road.
We met some of our veteran friends at the local café, and sold some crosses and pins. That evening, Rodney (Curtis, Branch Chairman) and Jimmy went off to Coutances as requested, to carry a Union flag and an American flag for a ceremony before a concert. Pat Rowe (Branch Member) and I walked around the campsite, met friends and sold a wreath which had been ordered.
The next day, the 5th, started early with a parachute drop, then we went to the James Hill Square for the ceremony. As far as I know, Brigadier James Hill was the only man to have his statue unveiled in his presence by Prince Charles. It used to be in the square, but after the benches were stolen, it was decided to move the statue to the Museum at Pegasus Bridge.
After the service led by Iain Stuart-Jenkins (honorary padre to the Third Battalion Parachute Brigade), we went to the Museum for another short ceremony by the statue, again led by Iain, then some of us galloped away to meet our President Lt Col Simon Owen, and the President-to-be Major General Graham Hollands for the preliminary changeover of presidency at the Caen Memorial. Photographs were taken, and afterwards lunch.
Then it was on to a bridge near Troarn for the Captain Jukes memorial. (He was the commanding officer in charge of the blowing up of that bridge to slow the German reinforcements on D-Day.) After this there was a Church service led by Iain and the curé, where our Standard led the procession into the Church, followed by two Para’ standards, then by Air Commodore Alastair Mackie and our President, Lt Col Simon Owen, then by a number of French Standards. Afterwards the local band led the procession to the memorial by the Mairie, where a further remembrance ceremony was held. After this, we at last managed to join in a vin d’honneur in the square before our meal. (Sadly, we had missed the two previous ones, as we were too busy!)
The standard had been paraded five times that day.
|The ceremony at the 8th Battalion/Alastair Pearson Memorial on the roadside outside the village of Touffreville||M Le Maire preparing for his address at the Goodwood Memorial, Sannerville, during the afternoon ceremony on 7th June|
On the 6th, we had an early start for a service at the memorial at Ranville crossroads. Ranville was the first town to be liberated on D-Day. This was followed by a parade to the church, led by a band from The Netherlands (actually this year it was to a large chapiteau, as the Church roof is unsafe) for a service.
At this point, I always get left behind, as small children line part of the route waving their home-made flags, and saying “hello” to everyone, and some of us give them sweets. They end up with such handfuls that, a few years ago I started giving them stick-on poppies, which is very popular. This year, I had two helpers, Becky Macaulay (David Newell's granddaughter – see below) and Pat. Of course, I explain to the adults accompanying the children why we have poppies. This year a line of wartime vehicles brought up the rear of the procession, which delighted the children, who enthusiastically applauded them as well as the veterans. The band played on the green, which drowned parts of the service, but was appreciated by the people outside.
The service was followed by two short ceremonies, firstly at the French memorial on the Churchyard, then at the Belgian memorial near the gates to the Military Cemetery.
The Standards were paraded into the cemetery, which was very full. I did some ‘poppy business’. The red devils gave an impressive display after the service, then for those who wanted it, there was a short communion service at the Stone of Sacrifice, followed by a vin d’honneur in and around the chapiteau.
In the afternoon, we started the ‘Pilgrimage’. The first ceremony was at the 8th Battalion Alastair Pearson memorial at Touffreville, alongside a busy road, again led by Iain, where also the ashes of Eric Tripp, a veteran, were scattered. After this came the usual ceremony at the nearby Billington-Platt cairn that commemorates the murder of Billington and Platt on D-Day.
These two Para’ pathfinders landed early on D-Day, and were invited in by a delighted family who saw them land. They declined, saying they had work to do, but promised to return later. Sadly they never did, as they were taken prisoner, and marched through the village at gunpoint to a field, where they were shot in the back of the neck. Mr. Platt’s son John and his wife Gwenda were there, and he read his usual short touching poem.
Then we went to the churchyard in the village, where Corporal O’Sullivan is buried. The villagers found him (reputed to be the first man killed on D-Day) and later another man, and buried them both, but the family of the other man decided after the war he should be moved to the military cemetery at Ranville. Corporal O’Sullivan’s brother John and his wife June were present this year, so that made it more moving. (They had both been very ill last year, and unable to attend.)
At this ceremony, David Newell always used to play the Para’ song on his harmonica (David was a veteran, who parachuted into the Ranville area on the night of 5th /6th June 1944. He was a sniper and, at that time, was an 8th Battalion Para’). Sadly, David died this spring, so instead the song was played by taped music, and those who knew it sang. David had so wanted to be in Normandy this June, that his family brought his ashes over, and his widow carried him around for most of the ceremonies. Now, I believe he will be laid to rest in his local Churchyard. There were 22 Standards dipped over this one grave.
|Standards on display at the Royal Ulster Rifles Memorial at Longeuval; this was erected on a piece of garden donated by a French family in the village||Branch Presidential handover outside the Memorial Museum at Caen. Left to right: Simon Owen (outgoing President); Graham Hollands (current President); Sandra Wake (front); Pat Rowe; Rodney Curtis; Steve Wake (Member); Jimmy Rowe; Barbara Stacey; Roger Stacey (Member); and Kate Curtis|
Then there was a surprise for most of us. We were asked to follow the Standards elsewhere. We thought it may have been to a French memorial we sometimes attended, but were surprised when we passed it, then stopped in the middle of nowhere and there was a ribbon stretched across a track. The Maire made a speech, and asked veteran Ted Eaglen to come forward. He said that Ted had been given the freedom of Touffreville a few years ago, but now they wished to honour him in another way and had named the track, after Ted - to be known as the Rue Ted Eaglen.
The Maire explained this would soon become a road as houses would be built along both sides next year. This is an enormous honour, as normally it would not happen until after Ted had passed on to a better place. Ted tried to thank the Maire, but said he couldn’t speak French, and now he was so overwhelmed he couldn’t speak English either! On D-Day, Ted had Arthur Platt sitting on his knee in the overloaded plane, which in a way was lucky as otherwise he could have had the same fate as Arthur Platt (of Billington-Platt above). He was the last to leave the aeroplane, and landed in an apricot tree and had to join another regiment, becoming their water carrier. But that is another story.
After this, we had a vin d’honneur inside the tiny Mairie, as it had started to rain while we were in the Churchyard, then departed damply to Sannerville for a dinner dance, followed by fireworks.
That made 13 showings of the Standard.
On 7th June there was to be an excellent (we heard) concert to celebrate Franco-British-German friendship, but we had to miss this in order to attend the Royal Ulster Rifles ceremony at Longeuval. Then, unfortunately, we had to miss the vin d’honneur to rush back to Sannerville for a ceremony at the French memorial, (we made it with five minutes to spare) followed by a march led by the German band to the Goodwood Memorial for the unveiling of a plaque. During this ceremony, which was very damp, the German Military Attache gave a lovely speech in three languages, in which he thanked the British for not only liberating France, but Germany as well, from the Nazis.
This was followed by a march back to the Salles des Fêtes, where we had lunch together in a chapiteau. We passed the German band carrying their lunches in little carrier bags, rushing off elsewhere for the afternoon. There should have been a fly-past, but the weather was so bad it was cancelled. Several times during the meal we thought the chapiteau may fly away, and some people used umbrellas inside!
Then it was a march back to Goodwood, led this time by the Dutch Band of Liberation, and accompanied by two large groups of soldiers, where there was another ceremony. Then everyone marched a kilometre or two to Banneville la Campagne for another commemoration, led by Iain. The children from the village laid a flower on each grave during this service, and I laid some crosses as requested by people who were unable to be present.
The soldiers and the band led everyone back to Sannerville, but en route Rodney and Jimmy managed to overtake them, so outside the Mairie they were able to dip their Standards to the excellent band (who did an ‘eyes right’) and for the veterans who followed. This was followed by a vin d’honneur in the chapiteau, then for a meal at a nearby restaurant.
This made a total of 18 showings of the Standard.
On 8th June, we went in convoy to Beuzeville, which is not far from Le Havre. We met others outside the Mairie, and paraded to the cemetery for a short service at the graves of servicemen who were killed in a battle in the vicinity. Then we paraded back to the town Memorial for another short service. After this, we paraded back again to the Mairie for a vin d’honneur and speeches, which was followed by lunch in a local school.
This made a total of 20 times the Standard was shown, excluding the marches.
At several of the ceremonies, veterans, or their families in the sad case that they had died during the past year or were unable to be present, were presented with 65th D-Day Anniversary Badges.
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