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LHolland82nd Free

Operation “Normandy Part Deux" was a success and now I find myself reflecting on my time in the French bocage two years on from the first amazing trip that changed the way I re-enact. It was hard initially to get to grips with how we could better the last trip, but we certainly did.  This year we decided to rough it, shunning the comforts of our gite for the damp, cold confines of the Normandy hedgerows and it certainly proved testing at times.


Our mode of transport was once again our reliable work horse ‘D-Day Doll”, at 77 years of age we were all nervous of whether this trip might be one too many for the old girl, after all we had covered around 700 miles in 2014. French port strikes and fuel shortages also threatened our pilgrimage to Normandy, running at about one pound a mile it would not of been the ideal place to run short on fuel so far from home. Alas, these worries did not arise and we arrived in good time at Cherbourg on June 4th. I found myself wondering about the the brave men and women who made this same journey 72 years ago, not knowing what fate awaited them.


We started our journey by heading south towards Carentan with a quick detour down the length of Utah beach, for the new recruits on our trip this was a splendid way to start, it’s hard to imagine these beautiful golden beaches as war torn battlegrounds. We avoided the crowds at Sainte-Marie-du-Mont and headed for Saint-Lo for our first nights camp which proved to be the coldest nights sleep I’d ever experience, leaving my modern sleeping bag at home in preference to a wartime wool one I found at my local salvage yard may have been a mistake but one that made me realise just how lucky I was that I even had it.


The rest of the week was spent touring the French coastline with stop offs at all the usual memorials and tourist destinations including Pegasus Bridge, Merville Battery, Colville Cemetery, Longues-Sur-Mer, Pointe Du Hoc, Arromanche-Les-Bains and Sainte-Mere-Eglise, to name a few. Having visited Normandy many times its fair to say I have seen a lot of change since my first visit as a 13 year old. It’s easy to see that the Anniversary of D-Day is massive financially for local tourist industry, shops, museums, restaurants and cafes really go to town for the week leading up to the 6th. Many people might have a problem with the way that some shops and and cafes make large amounts of money out of what essentially was a bloody battle in which thousands of soldiers and civilians lost their lives, personally I don't have any issue with this as long as it keeps the memory alive for that bit longer. The price of original memorabilia/artefacts has massively inflated over the years and and thats the only thing I find slightly contentious, looking at rusty pieces of metal with a price tag of five euros, what was it I was looking at? pieces of a German aircraft apparently! but we are to blame, we buy it and they supply it.


The return of the night drop was again a highlight of our trip, split into two teams we were tasked in navigating to “DZ O” (objective of the 505th Pathfinders) on D-Day morning, so once again we set off into the night, armed with blackened faces and 1940’s maps. Fortunately we found our field after roughly 45 mins, lighting our version of a Eureka beacon (candle) just after 0115 we sat and watched the flame flicker knowing that 72 years ago to the minute the Pathfinders of the 505th were deploying their Eureka sets in our exact location, this was an extremely poignant part of the trip and one that I will remember for years to come, we were tired, sweaty and wanted our cots, if only it was that easy for the men of the 505th, what an almighty undertaking.


We met one veteran on our journey, Ted Young. Ted lost his best friend after the invasion to a mortar round that left him unscathed. It was very moving to hear his story and be able to pay our respects at his grave at Bayeux. Veterans like Ted are owed a debt of gratitude that should never be forgotten, and their number is dwindling. We want to learn all the stories we can, to tell those same stories as often as we can to whoever will listen; when the last man disembarks, it'll be down to us to perpetuate the memory of these everyday heroes.


It would have been rude not to visit our French friends at the Cider farm that welcomed us into their home with open arms in 2014, this time however we were armed with treats, it was time for them to experience the delights of Cornish cider. Once again they didn't disappoint, letting us camp in their field and feeding us Grandmas famous rice pudding accompanied with calvados, it really is amazing how welcoming the french are to all re-enactors and I can imagine the soldiers of 1944 experiencing the same joyous hospitality, they really are thankful for their liberation.


Pointe du Hoc has a special place in my heart and I feel its because some of the destruction from the immense fire power is still visible. This year the battery was accompanied by an eerie mist and I chose to lay my personal remembrance cross on the bluffs of Pointe du Hoc. We had all been given remembrance crosses to lay were we saw fit. Pointe du Hoc in 2014 was an extremely poignant part of the trip, watching the fire works along the coast. What effected me then was more the sounds than the sights, explosions echoing across the cliffs gave me a tiny insight into what must have been hell on earth for the occupants of the battery.


We stayed in Normandy until the 11th of June, the days after the 6th were extremely quiet in comparison to the days before and it was nice to see Normandy out of the tourist season. It amazes me how there is always more to see in Normandy and highlights the massive scale of the invasion, from finding slit trenches on the Omaha bluffs to visiting La Batterie d'Azeville which I found particularly fascinating. 


Normandy is a “must visit” place for any historical enthusiast and i’d like to thank all the chaps that came along for the adventure this year with a special mention to Matt who did all the driving in the truck “D-Day Doll” and what a truck she is. Seventy seven years old and still going strong, we managed to burn through three fan belts, and over come two blow outs and one flat as well as a serious fuel leak and we all made it safely back home. The last working wiper blade falling off as we crossed the gangway into poole. So if you would like to join us on our next adventure into Normandy then send us an email at info@pathfindersofthe505th.com or find us on Facebook.


All the Way


Sgt. L.Holland












   


LHolland82nd Dec 14 '16 · Rate: 4 · Comments: 2 · Tags: airborne, wwii, normandy, 82nd
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