Guns
and
Bugles
 
 
The badge of the K.S.L.I.




Written
by

Don Neal



(Pictures at the bottom, with links to larger pages.)
 
JOURNEY TO NORMANDY

 

Since my book was published in 2001, the only real ambition I had was to visit those battlefields I had been reading about during my six years research, that my Father had trod in 1944/45, and hopefully to visit the graves of the men in his regiment that were killed in action.

My original plan was to make the trip in 2004 which will be the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landing. I later realised that there was too much to see in the 2 weeks I'd allocated so I decided to visit Normandy this year. This journey took place in August this year, what better travelling companion could I have, but my brother Chris.

We travelled from the landing beach at Courselles-sur-Mer to the point where the 15th Scottish Division crossed the River Seine in august 1944.

Our first stop was Pegasus Bridge at Benouville, though the 15th div. Were not in action here, it was here that the Invasion of Normandy began at 12:15 on the night of 6th June 1944, and it was fitting that we should visit this historic site.
We then travelled to Courselles, which would be our base for the next four days.
It was hard to imagine that the beach I stood on was one of those on to which thousands of men were landed during those early days in June/August 1944. It was an ideal landing area flat, and in most places a low water line. But what amazed me was the vastness of it, almost 50 miles from Ouhistream in the West to the Cotentin Peninsula in the East, which were the landing beaches for the American forces.
My most vivid impression of the whole trip was the vastness of it all, the battlefields hundreds of square miles. Small wonder that it was possible to travel 10 miles behind enemy lines without being noticed!

As we travelled along the coast road covering Juno and Gold beaches from Graves-sur-Mer to Arrowmanches it became apparent how easy it was for the German forces to dominate the beaches as the land rose steadily. It was a miracle that the allies weren't swept back into the sea, Only the courage and determination of the allied troops drove them forward. We stopped on a German gun emplacement above Arrowmanches that had been missed by allied bombing, the guns would have had an easy time firing out to sea as the troops came in. The circular cinema on this site is a must for any visitor.

From this point we had a fantastic view of the beaches and the remnants of the 'Mulberry Harbour'which still stands testament to the ingenuity of its inventor, and the bravery of the men who landed there. Moving on into Arrowmanches itself, remnants of the casements came right up to the shoreline where it was possible to view them at close quarters.

From Courselles, we traced the Battle of the 'Scottish Corridor' over which the men of the 15th Scottish Division fought and died. Through the villages and fields recorded in history books, and whose names I was so familiar with; Cruelly ;Cheux; Gavrus; Granville ;Tourville; Mouen; Everecy, Well tended memorials at every village corner, including the magnificent monument at tourville a plaque dedicated to each of the brigades on the four sides. Across the 'bocage' country, which the Germans defended so easily, and every hedgerow fought for at high price, much of it removed now to keep pace with modern farming trends.

Amongst the most moving locations was a small village of half dozen houses and farms, this was Le Mesnil Patry from here, along the road to Norrey en Bessin just a couple of miles away was the start line for the jocks first action, the object, to secure the crossing over the River Odon. The 6th KOSB and 6th RSF crouched in this sunken lane while a tremendous barrage plastered the rising land towards Le Haut du Bosq, which rose in front of them. Some elements of 6 RSF were too close to the barrage and suffered casualties from our own guns. The men moved off through the cornfields, where corn had stood on this day. Through the smoke, bayonets fixed, as the barrage lifted. The Germans defenders cunning, and battle hardened, had placed snipers in amongst corn, the jocks made easy targets as they passed over them. The landscape was unchanged, and It was easy to imagine the carnage taking place on 25th June 1944.

Another special place for my brother and I was the small village of Brouay. This is where our Dad started his war. Here I could stand in his footsteps, among the photos is one of Brouay Church dated 1940, sent to me by Charlie Spence, who describes the field behind the Church, where the guns stood, and where the three gunners from Dads Troop were killed before going into action. This was very special, the Church was exactly the same, the same gates, the same tombstone sticking above the perimeter wall. I wondered if the young child in the 'photo still lived in the village. The three bodies were moved from the original graves just inside the wall, to the War Grave Cemetery behind the Church, where they lie next to each other, as they fell.
Sgt Arthur Gunn ; Gnr Stanley Wheaton, and Gnr Ralph Mcmorland. Like all the Cemeteries we visited, it was immaculate, manicured, and well tended, a haven of peace and tranquillity. Behind the cemetery - The field, just as Charlie described it,
Corn had been growing here just as it was all those years ago, it was amazing to think that our Dad and his mates had stood in this very field, firing their 25pounders in anger for the first time.

We moved forward in the same direction as the Division, through Cheux, best remembered for its piles of dead animals, and traffic jams, on towards the village of Gavrus, here we crossed the two bridges over the River Odon - twice! So small were they, that we thought it impossible that these tiny bridges could have been so important, but there was no doubt. Lying at the bottom of steeply wooded hills on both sides, the river cut a deep course, which would have been impassable for the armour without the bridges intact. No plaques, No Stone, No memorial here. The jocks of 227 Brigade held onto these bridges, and cheered loudly as the tanks and armour of 11th Armoured Brigade charged through.

A couple of miles on we reached the final gun position for 181field regiment, point 113 above the large village of Everecy. From here, 23 July 1944 in a secret move, the regiment were transferred to the American sector at Balleroy, to assist the US 5th Division.

On our final day we decided to follow the Divisions route as the allies chased the German Army through France. Although 15th Div weren't called into action at Falaise, we felt it fitting that we should start from here as they did, and also it was where the battle of Normandy reached its climax and upwards of 10,000 German soldiers were killed. We made our way to the River Seine along the same lanes, then strewn with burnt out trucks and tanks of all description, and on the same date as 44th Brigade, on what was known as 'Moon' route. Via Orbec and Bernay, and into Louviers, where they stopped to harbour for the night before crossing the Seine. Their journey took 3 days- ours took 3 hours. Now we wanted to find the crossing point for 181 field regiment each brigade had its own crossing over this mighty river, 44 Brigade was Port Joie, just up upstream from the bridge at St Pierre de Vauvray on which we stood, but which had been blown in 1944 by the retreating Germans. Again we stood in Dads footsteps, a rare privilege, twice in one visit.

For Chris and I it was the end of our journey, it was everything I had expected it to be, the first part of a nine year dream, which I hope we shall pick up next year, as we continue the journey to the Baltic Coast.

 
Celebrating 50 years of liberation. A photo of Brouay Church where Sgt Gunn, Gnr Wheaton and Gnr McMorland were originally buried
       
Gold / Juno Beach at Courselles

The graves of Sgt Gunn, Gnr Wheaton and Gnr McMorland

 

       
Pegasus Bridge Plaque in honour of 44th Lowland Brigade on the memorial monument at Touville, my father's artillery regiment.
       
The vital bridge over the River Odon    
       
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