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