Battlefield Tour 2013 - Normandy
A family 'affair'

Maj ( Ret'd ) GT Heron TD
Regular readers of The Fusilier may remember that I wrote about the Northumberland areas last visit to Normandy in 2010, for which our Newcastle branch chairman Dave Reynolds had asked me to cover off all the landing beaches and both flank airborne assaults! Thankfully that trip went off well and following our Italy and Somme interludes in 2011 and 2012 we had another full coach of members and guests for our tour this Year. The only proviso this time was that there should be no more re-runs of the film The Longest Day!

The theme in 2010 had been to show all who attended the overall strategic aims of the D Day landings, so this Year we decided to concentrate on telling the stories of two individual soldiers who illustrated perfectly the ethos and fighting spirit of the British soldier. This was, ironically, a very topical approach in these times where we are being tasked with heavily recruiting an Army Reserve, as the two chosen soldiers were from very different backgrounds, one a regular soldier from an army background and the other a civi in uniform - a Territorial soldier who was to gain the only Victoria Cross awarded on D Day.

The whole tour was made a double pleasure for this author as my father and son were both 'on board' and were joined by my sons friend and his father. I was particularly proud of the way our Fusilier 'family' welcomed them, and the other guests we had from The Green Howards, as members of the wider British Army family. Geordie Regimental humour was once again very much in evidence and made the task of this guide an easy one. Thanks must also go the team that makes these tours a success, Barrie from Travelsure, Dave, John, Norma, Doug, Les, Les, Carl, Hugh and Don - you know I appreciate the contribution you all make in your own way…

With only two days available this time for the study time the pressure was on to get the history over and again we made the most of the tour 'brochure' to tell the story reinforced by visits to key locations. No trip to Normandy is complete without a trip to Bayeux and the tapestry and this was enhanced by attending the largest cemetery in the region to pay our respects. I never cease to be moved by the way we can 'switch' between enjoying our comradeship and humour and the way we can remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice with our small but moving ceremonies. We also managed to draw crowds at Arromanches in particular where the combination of Fusilier Hackles, a Bugler (Hugh) and Piper (Don) went down well with locals and tourists of all ages. This was accompanied by an organised visit to the tremendous D Day museum where use was made of the local specialist guide to explain the story of Port Winston and the Mulberry harbours.

Relating the story of the 50th Northumbrian division en route to King beach Green sector we then picked up the story of our first individual soldier - CSM Stanley Elton Hollis VC, 6th Bn Green Howards, starting on the beach where they landed and including a reference to the Fusiliers who operated elsewhere on D Day as beach parties, we explained the story of how CSM Hollis advanced inland with his company. Space does not allow the re-telling of his story here, but all on the tour were impressed with the actions by which he was recommended for the Victoria cross and a visit was also fortuitously arranged to the apple orchard where his second action took place. Many photo's were taken of our Green Howard guests at the impressive memorial in Crepon and everybody agreed that the ceremony was enhanced by the playing of the Northumbrian pipes in this famous location.

Our Second day took us via the Pegasus museum en route through the Eastern flank of the invasion to the 6th Airborne divisions area of responsibility and in particular to the Merville Battery. It was here that we related the story of our second individual soldier - Lt Col Terence Brandram Otway DSO who in a very different way had to lead his men and make very difficult decisions on D Day. Unfortunately again, space does not allow the re-telling of Lt Col Otways battle but we took as much time as possible to enjoy the sights and sounds at the museum which was once such a fortified bunker complex.

Leaving the Merville battery we moved on to consider the battles that raged around the area of Caen and its' outskirts during the summer of 1944 where the Germans hung on and caused the delays suffered by General Montgomery and his men. We concluded our tour with a visit to Banneville Le Campagne cemetery where we again held a small ceremony with Bugle and Northumbrian Pipes accompanying the raising of standards. Poppies were laid at graves of Fusiliers and Green Howards who had fallen in the Days, Weeks and Months following the invasion and a personal tribute reminded everybody that many families were affected by what happened that summer. Not least my own as my Grandfather was killed at sea on the 13th June escorting the follow up troops on HMS Boadicea, I am sure he would have been with us had he survived.

Returning to enjoy the sights and sounds of Caen and the Citadel and churches built by William the conqueror I was reminded of the complete devastation that accompanied the sacking of this city so many centuries ago and that which was brought upon it in the fight for its' liberation. It is a great tribute to the people of Normandy that they welcome us with open hands and a warm spirit and on each occasion I have visited I have made new friends from different cultures. There were some on the trip for whom this was their first experience of a tour and I know that they will come again, I sincerely hope that they and we will continue to honour, respect and remember those who fought for the liberation of Europe.