65th. Anniversary of D-Day - 1944 - 2009
We arrived on the 4th. June to place poppy crosses for some of the Veterans who could not physically make it over. Although it has been 65 years the memories of the friends lost are still fresh in their minds and we were honoured to be able to pay respects on their behalf.
The War Cemetery is quiet, as always immaculately kept with a beautiful show of flowers.
On the 5th June we were treated to a Parachute Drop by members of the Parachute Regiment on DZ "N", Although they dropped from 600 feet we were informed by the jump-master they now have parachutes designed to drop from as low as 200 feet, no time for mistakes at that height … Good job lads, much enjoyed by all.
The 6th June the usual ceremony at the 13th. Battalion Memorial at the cross roads followed by the procession to the Church and the War Cemetery.
Photo of a young French lad, Corran DELMOND, he was named after Major General Corran PURDON a Commando on the St. Nazaire Raid. His parents Franck and Annette come each year to support the Veterans. Corran is pictured by the grave of Geoffery COPSON who died on 6th June 1944 (7th Battalion) when the Stirling Parachute Transport Aircraft, EJ116, was shot down close to Grangues. Geoffery's brother Garry came over each year but tragically died on the 27th November 2008, Garry was represented this year by his wife Margaret and family.
The Cemetery was full it was impossible to take photos of the service. After the service the Red Devils Display Team dropped from overhead, landing in the football field. The low level fly past by a Lancaster was a little too fast for my aging camera, I could have had my shutter closed but I am not going to admit that.
PEGASUS MEMORIAL MUSEUM
We then moved on to the museum where a party had gathered to pay respects at the statue of Brigadier HILL DSO** MC. We were treated to music from two different bands but as usual, the organisers did not notify us of events so, sorry we are not sure which bands they were!
Clem KEEBLE Veteran of the 8th. Battalion was present at 89 years of age he had only just told us that last year he did a Parachute jump for charity and the only thing he now wanted to do was a wing walk. Two minutes later while walking into the museum he tripped over the inch high step on the sliding doors and broke his nose. We are pleased to report, after a trip to hospital for stitches and despite a black eye, he now seems fit and well. Wind-ups about forgetting how to fall were treated with the contempt they deserved.
Although there were a few Veterans present there was a large contingency of re-enactors at all the ceremonies, together with serving military personnel. There were also quite a few Americans and Australians, some in period dress.
Mark JACQUINOT has now retired as director of the museum I am sure we all wish him the best for a long and happy retirement and join together to thank him for all his hard work over the years. His place as director has been taken by Beatrice BOISSEE and Mark WORTHINGTON now becomes curator. Both are well known to the "regulars" at the museum.
The service at Bréville on 5th June saw the presentation of badges to the Veterans who reciprocated with a plaque for the village.
The event finished with the Red Devils Display Team dropping into the field next to the memorial. It was nice to see a local French band playing at the vin d'honneur as it took in all ages, the young chap in the photo could have been no more than 10-12 years of age and never missed a beat.
This was a difficult one for me as my good friend Eric TRIPP of the 8th. Battalion,
Organiser of the West Country PRA died on the 13th January this year. His wife Marjorie asked me to fulfil his last wish, to be here on the 65th anniversary, and bestowed on me the honour of scattering some of his ashes, to rest with his other comrades, at the 8th Battalion Memorial.
PUTOT EN AUGE
This is the place where Fay's Dad was wounded fighting for hill 13 on the 19th. August 1944. We arrived early as Fay had crosses to place and wanted to put some houseleeks on the graves under the trees that looked rather bare due to the dry soil.
It was then the heavens opened. I did suggest we used the Church for the ceremony but it seems permission was needed. My suggestion that we should just go ahead and we could have a "whip round" to pay the Euro fine met with blank looks. As it turned out, so many people arrived there would not have been enough room but I am still trying to work out how we managed to invade Iraq but can't use a Christian Church.
The band then arrived along with a platoon of Para who stood in the rain by each grave. Umbrellas were in abundance but the Para held fast with the rain dripping from them down the soldier’s backs. They were not even phased when little wrinkly ladies started charging around through the limited space totally oblivious of the "weapon" they carried that took up two feet either side of them.
With regret, some people decided not to attend this event, they missed out but I suppose we have to respect people’s views.
The day started with a Concert of Peace, played by the German Military Band. The bandmaster began by saying "This is a concert to celebrate D-Day and to thank the Veterans", of which there were quite a few, "for their help in freeing Europe and the German people from a harsh regime". This was followed by a selection of music from around the world, an excellent repertoire, wonderfully played.
Fay and I were not sure how we would feel attending this event as Fay's uncle, Charles McILHARGEY and his comrade Robert BOX were wounded, captured by the Germans and murdered by them at Vatteville La Rue before they escaped over the River Seine. We felt it was time to move on and were not disappointed at the music or the brief discussions we had with the band afterwards.
We then had a short ceremony at the French War Memorial. Tears filled my eyes as they played "J'avais un camarade" (I had a comrade). I have this on a Foreign Legion CD, the words spoken as he says farewell to his dead comrade, a very moving piece that brought home memories of people no longer with us.
From there we paraded to the 3rd. British Infantry Division, The Goodwood Memorial by the Church, where a plaque was commemorated paying homage to all soldiers who died between 6th. June to 17th August 1944 in this part of Normandy the plaque is in French, English and German.
Sannerville was flattened in 1944 when the RAF dropped 1000 tons of bombs on the area.
BANNEVILLE LA CAMPAGNE
A group of school children worked in the rain to put a flower on each grave How wonderful that these children show such respect, yet the children in the UK know or care very little of the sacrifice made by these brave men.
The band and military then arrived with civic leaders and local residents for a short service.
My uncle, Harold WOODS MC, always has a ringside seat as he is buried in the front row.
Our pilgrimage this year finished with a warm welcome at Beuzeville, the 8th Battalion's last battle in Normandy where Charles McILHARGEY and Robert BOX were wounded. We paraded through the main street to pay respects at the French Memorial and the British graves in the communal cemetery before being treated to an excellent lunch.
Our thanks, the wine was beautiful but with members of the gendarmerie present and a long way to drive home I thought it best to only have half a glass.
We have had complaints that I seem to leave out any mention of some Battalions. We do our best but it's difficult as many of the ceremonies clash and we receive very little information on the events. I have added more photos than usual, some of Veterans so that hopefully will cover the gap.
Our sincere thanks to Yves Le CUZIAT MBE of the 3rd. Parachute Brigade Memorial Association for organising many of the events and to the Maires (Mayors) and people of the villages who have given us such a warm welcome over the years.
• MASCOT •
It seems that the powers that be at the MOD do not see a value in the Regimental mascot, Pegasus the pony. Accompanied by the Pony Major, Alex, they both do a wonderful job promoting The Parachute Regiment and are always surrounded by admirers.
Alex did have a horsebox last year but it appears this was not a good buy and leaked Not very comfortable when he had to sleep in with the pony to keep dry. This year, Alex had to borrow a horsebox from a friend to come over. Perhaps those in charge at the MOD should come over, at their own expense, and see what a great job Alex and Pegasus are doing.
Before reaching for your cheque book beware donations may be swallowed up into the "general fund". Something needs to be put in place to ensure their future. I would be pleased to hear from senior personnel that this can be done and will be happy to circulate the information.
We were at the bar in Ranville when a Para in a wheelchair came in. It seems he had been wounded in the neck in Afghanistan in 2006 and had been paralysed from the neck down. I am pleased to report he is making progress, he has movement in his hand and is just managing to move his toes He was accompanied by a very pretty, tall, slim blond girl who identified herself as his fiancée.
You can take my word for it, she was very pretty, it would have been so easy for a lesser person to walk away, but she has stuck by her man and I am sure you will all agree, inside she is truly beautiful.
Please give them and all our men a thought; they are our modern day Heroes. Words spoken in the First World War stand true and must be remembered today.
• WE WILL REMEMBER THEM •