Rendsburg Revisited August 1999
In April 1946 the Eider Kaserne Barracks in Rendsburg in Schleswig Holstein Germany, the British Army, and I all parted company I was wending my way to 'Civvy Street' via the Demob Centre, where it did not take me long to become firmly ensconced as a civilian, with lots of memories some sad, some bad, but in the main lots of happy ones of my nearly seven years with first the 2/8th and then the 1st Battn Middlesex Regt.
As the years rolled by so these memories receded to the back of my mind occasionally rekindled by reunions and such.
However I was totally caught off balance in April 1999 when I received a phone call asking me if I had served in Rendsburg in 1946 I confirmed that I had and the voice then asked me if I would like to see some photographs of that era of course I said that I would, and the voice said he was in the area and would drop in on me shortly, I did detect a faint German accent in the voice but was well and truly perplexed by the whole thing.
Shortly afterward the doorbell rang and there on the step was a man with a beaming smile "Hello" he said "I'm Jimmy". I had heard of Jimmy of course via the newsletter from time to time and a dim recollection of this small cheeky German boy hanging about the dining hall in the Eider Kaserne intent on keeping body and soul together with the aid of what the lads of the battalion slipped him in the way of food.
And here was Jimmy on my doorstep! I invited him inside with his charming wife Ilse, made coffee, and I went through as I shall now call him Heinz's photographs, and he went through mine, we gradually built up a rapport, he borrowed some of mine to take to Germany and get copied which he duly returned. It was my proud boast that I could name every member of the battalion football team depicted on one of Heinz's photos.
During the time we spent talking I was very impressed with Heinz's knowledge and dedication to the 1st battalion he had with him a miniature battledress complete with shoulder flashes and rank of corporal which he had worn in the days of his adoption as battalion mascot. He told me that he had been in England several times looking up various people and seeking wartime impedia from antique fairs for a forthcoming exhibition he was going to hold in Rendsburg in August this year, and that I would be welcomed if I came, shortly afterwards they left my house to travel back to Germany.
As I have said earlier I was much impressed by the dedication shown by Heinz to the battalion, that I resolved that I would reciprocate and go to his exhibition, and renew my acquaintanceship with the town of Rendsburg after a mere fifty three years!
So it came to pass that on Sunday 8th of August I took off from Stanstead Airport bound for Hamburg where Heinz had arranged to meet me, and drive me to Rendsburg a distance of 100 kilometers.
After a comfortable fight which lasted about 90 minutes we touched down at Hamburg, and as promised there was Heinz and Ilse to meet me and to drive me to Rendsburg, although I had made this trip many times in 1946 not in the comfort of a Mercedes Elegant but behind the wheel of an Austin 3 tonner I did not recognise a single feature! How time flies and how in its flight it changes many things. We duly arrived in Rendsburg, and as we drove past the Parade Platz, and the Eider Kaserne the old memory bank gave a flicker of recall, I was on familiar territory, then on to the hotel The Convent Garden which in my day was the NAAFI right on the banks of the Kiel canal, however the old swing bridge had gone replaced by a tunnel under the canal. Very little in the actual landscape had changed however the restaurant of the hotel looked out on exactly the same view as it had been in 1946 nostalgia came flooding back especially when Heinz showed me the hall with a small stage where a German Oompha band used to serenade us as we used to sit there scoffing our drei mark meals, that hall is exactly as it was then!
I was to be a guest of the Convent Garden Hotel, and here I would like to express my gratitude to the management and staff for making my stay a very enjoyable one, and give my thanks to all concerned through the medium of the newsletter, and I am sure that if Heinz has anything to do with it they will be given.
Tuesday August 10th dawned this was the day of the official reception at the Rathaus where Heinz was holding his exhibition which was in my opinion truly remarkable and was testimony to the vast amount of hard work and research he must have undergone to produce such an exhibition of this nature, there photographs of my time and afterwards which were all captioned with accuracy not only of the 1st Middlesex but other units which occupied parts of Rendsburg. There were badges, shoulder flashes, and in two cases complete battledresses, and impedia which every serving soldier of those days was familiar with round fifty tins of cigarettes, tins containing the compo tea ration, i.e. cubes of tea, sugar, and milk, remember them? In short I would say that the entire show would leave many a Regimental Museum green with envy at the treasures amassed there. Well done Heinz you excelled yourself there, not only in finding all these treasures but in the manner which you presented them to the public and the lengths you went to explain in detail of any question which you were confronted with.
Here I have a small confession to make, I do have a blazer, and I do have a Middlesex blazer badge, but they are two separate entities, my blazer depicting my Bowls Club, and the badge languishing in a drawer, I mentioned this to Heinz who said never mind you can borrow mine, which I did and it fitted perfectly you were lucky to get it back Heinz! So began the speech by the acting Burgomeister Herr Wolkgang Majer, and by my limited knowledge of the German language I was able to understand that he welcomed me back to Rendsburg and concluded his speech by presenting me with a handsome book titled Rendsburg which I shall always value. I replied to the speech briefly and among other things I said that 53 years ago there were about eight hundred of us and today there was only me and that I was very happy to be back, I also for the benefit of you blokes who like me were something in the tearaway mould apologised for our behaviour in those days I was alluding to occasional drunken brawls, and punch ups with other units, in fact the kind of behaviour found in any garrison town in any country in the world.
One newspaper however got it wrong and quoted me as saying that I did not come here to apologise, this did stir things up somewhat, and I even received a letter from an ex German General advising me of what to write to the Editor of this newspaper which I did, and I am happy to say that this newspaper has seen the error in it's translation and has printed an apology and a correction.
After I had made by brief speech I had the pleasure of presenting to Heinz a Middlesex plaque suitably engraved on behalf of the Regimental Asscn. which had been sent to me by Major Morris prior to my departure for Rendsburg Heinz graciously accepted this plaque, and in turn then presented me with a beautifully made Regimental flag which will be handed over to the Asscn. He also presented me with a lovely painting of Rendsburg as we knew it in our day handsomely framed in a maroon and gold combination of wood and metal, this I intend to bequeath to the museum at Dover Castle when its time for me to collect my dinner pail!
All in all it was a great day for me and one which will stay with me always, and will make me eternally grateful to whatever fickle finger of fate decreed my return to Rendsburg in 1999.
In conclusion I would like to say to all members of the battalion who subscribed to the slipping of odd bits of food, and the taking part in the general education of life, and the English language albeit barrack room to the young 'Jimmy' may consider themselves amply repaid by his dedication and loyalty to the Middlesex from his childhood to the present day which finds him a respected member of the community of Rendsburg.
As for me I have gained the friendship of two very nice people in Rendsburg.
Les 'Deadly' Dyer ex 6206162
Return to Normandy 1997
After 53 years have elapsed three ex-members of the 1st.Battalion The Middlesex Regt.(Now defunct.) decided it was high time that we re-invaded Normandy, and attempt to locate the positions we held in various apple orchards, and the never to be forgotten cornfields reeking of death, and decaying flesh so prominent in the memories of many who fought there in the hot summer of 1944.
We duly embarked from Portsmouth on night crossing, this time there were no hammocks, self-heating soup, personal arms, webbing equipment, or other impedia designed to make the life of the average squaddie just outright miserable, I clearly recall that upon embarkation in 1944 I flopped into a canvas hammock, and did not stir until we reached the beaches of Normandy.
Yet in 1997 we drove the car on with minimum fuss, and were even addressed as sir! Took a lift up to the required deck and claimed our reclining seats, settled down for the night and found it impossible to sleep! All of 53 years sleeping on spring interior mattresses had completely transformed us from tough young soldiers into completely spoilt, and cosseted O.A.P.s, so much so that we were unable to sleep in those diabolical reclining seats. So while I am awake I will introduce the other members of the party. There was John Gould who was a section Sergeant in the same platoon that was, i.e 8 Platoon, B Coy. 1st Middlx. Then there was Ron Montague who served in C.Coy, and finally Dave the youngster of the party, who is in actual fact John Gould's son, who was brought along to act as navigator, co-driver, and minder, and of course because he had a very keen interest about his Dad's doings in 1944, and had read an enormous amount of books dealing with the entire European campaign, which I think entitled him to add the term Technical adviser to his C.V.Š "
The gun crew on the Vickers are members of C Coy 1st Middlesex, I am sorry I am unable to name them. The gun is actually being fired, and the presence of all the discarded belts to the right of the picture gives you an idea of the amount of ammo which had been used, each belt containing 250 rounds. The presence of the dial sight at rear of gun and the fact that number 2 (the loader) has discarded his tin hat indicates that an indirect shoot was in progress. Also the fortified position does also indicate this was so.
The cutting was taken from The Daily Mirror 1944, Les
We docked at Ouistreham at around 6 a.m., retrieved the car and headed for Caen which took about thirty minutes, which was hell of a lot quicker than it took us in 1944, we battled for this ancient old city for weeks, and in the end never got there at all, as our division diverted, and went through the Falaise gap with its attendant reek of decaying flesh, men, horses, and cows, mingling with the pungent odour of burnt out vehicles forever indelibly imprinted on the minds of all who witnessed what was left of an entire German army.
Back to the present, we by skilled navigational demonstrations by young Dave duly arrived at the Otelinn situated on the Avenue du Marechal Montgomery, so after pausing for a quick General Salute in honour of his nibs, we proceeded to get bedded down all in one room, this due to the early hour of our arrival, but rectified later, at least we managed to get abluted, and have some very welcome coffee, and croisants. The hotel was situated but a stone's throw from the Caen War Museum, which we visited, upon entering we were confronted by an actual rocket firing Typhoon, back came the memories of red smoke target indications, and the thought of how much had this particular "Tiffy" contributed to the carnage of Falaise. As veterans we were admitted to the museum free of charge, and among the many nostalgia provoking items on view there was a Cinema show showing one of the most amazing films I have ever seen, it consisted of actual newsreel footage both Allied, and German of the D_Day landings spliced to-gether to create the illusion that on the left hand side of the screen showed the Allies storming the beaches, whilst the right hand side showed the Germans resisting furiously, the soung tracks were in stereo intermingling English, and German dialogue plus full sound effects which to say the least were overpowering, and closely resembling what D-Day was really like, after this awe inspiring film three slightly bombhappy old boys, shepherded by their minder tottered back to the hotel for lunch which differed somewhat from the compo rations of 1944.
Our next port of call after lunch was the village Bretteville-sur-Odon, where in 1944 we were pulled out the Colville/Mandrainville area for a rest, and a re-fit here the highlight of our stay was by standing on our carriers we were able to get a grand stand view of the bombing of Caen by the R.A.F., so near to us that we could actually feel the blast of the bombs exploding, and we were on their side! We were actually harboured in an orchard adjoining the farm. After much brain wracking we eventually found the farm, where luckily the Farmer's daughter spoke English, which made life a lot easier. The Farmer remembered us being in the orchard at that time, but obviously did not know the unit, but he did corroborate my memory of artillery positions behind the orchard, and the seemingly endless columns of tanks cutting across the adjoining fields. To substantiate the already warm welcome he had shown us, he then invited us inside the house, and cracked open a bottle of fifteen year old Calvados. One final item of proof came to light on this occasion, and that was the ornate stone pillars of the gate to the orchard, as I was on guard during a tour stay there in 1944, and lo, and behold but who should turn up, but our old C.O Col."Fanny Walden" paying one of his old companies a surprise visit, and I distinctly remembered that gate.
"'At this stage I think it would be advisable to explain about our battalion set-up, and the weapons, and vehicles we used".' We were an Infantry Support Battalion with three companies armed with Vickers Medium Machine Guns as our main armament, and one company of 4.2" Heavy Mortars. My Company was a machine gun company, and we transported these about on converted Bren Carriers, equipped with a mounting to take the Vickers, thus having a mobile M.G. platform. The entire battalion was assigned to the 15th Scottish Division, and the usual distribution ratio was one M.G. Platoon to a Company of Scots Infantry, this of course varied dependant on demands. This meant that in the main we operated at platoon strength, virtually through the entire campaign. There were occasions when we were re-united with other patoons of the Company, such as rest and regrouping periods, but apart from the Company concentration of fire at the Siegfried Line I cannot recall any other time we all fired at the same time.
Now back to 1997, after the farm we went onto Bayeaux War Cemetery where we duly paid our respects to all our buddies who had fallen in particular Sgt. Micky Head who was our platoons first fatality. Micky was shot whilst out on patrol.
Almost opposite the cemetery was another museum, where again veterans were admitted "gratis". Here among all the impedia including British, and German tanks we were fortunate to find some actual photographs of our Companies carriers, and we were able to identify the crews by name, that was a great moment, and we all felt proud of our powers of recall."
We began with a visit to St.Manvieu War Cemetery on the old Bayeaux-Caen road, here we located the graves of Harry 'Barney' Walden, Lt.Handslip, and Sgt. Jack all of them Middlesex, Barney Walden was a particular mate of mine, and a full blown member of the ongoing Nap school which had lasted for months, we missed his calls of I'll push five. There was a particularly weird feeling in that cememtery as the majority of the graves were of Scottish troops, one could almost hear the skirl of the pipes, also there were a large number of Germand graves, and judging by the ages depicted when they died were obviously of the Hitler Youth. In 1944 the area were this cemetery is situated formed the start of what was known then as the Scottish Corridor, and we were fiercely opposed by Hitler Youth who fought fanatically, and now 53 years later we stood by their graves. So on to the village of Cheux, about 2 kilometres away. The name Cheux must be embedded in the minds of many, it was the Division's first ever action, we did not know what to expect, furthermore many of us had not got a clue as to what was happening, it was noisy, wet, and smoky, buildings were falling down all around us, as shells from warships, and divisional, and corps artillery were being fired off by crews obviously on piece work rates, apart from the sporadic German fire both artillery and mortar, coming back in our direction, it did not create a very friendly atmosphere by knowing we were the targets!, and was not at all appreciated.
In 1944 we entered Cheux by a sunken road which we eventually discovered, however it did not appear so sunken as in 1944 unless memory was playing tricks. We passed through Cheux now a sleepy Normandy village, along the lane where in 1944 we encountered a German armoured car heading straight for us, the German crew were as equally surprised as we were, although obviously not so green, as they grabbed the initiative by lobbing smoke grenades, and disappearing literally in a puff of smoke in reverse at a fair rate of knots back in the direction they had come from. Ted Harding did manage to fire of half a belt or so of .303 int the general direction of the armoured car, but the only damage he inflicted was on my pack containing blankets, and greatcoat, they were completely shredded! After this somewhat one sided skirmish we drove up the lane for a couple of kilometres, and pulled into a farm with the sinister sounding name of Le haut de Bosch, here we mounted our Vickers on a gun line in the orchard firing slightly to our rear, conditions here were not very comfortable to say the least we were being mortared quite regularily, subjected to heavy machine gun fire, which apart from having the desired effect on us to no small degree inflicted quite a lot of damage to the grainite columns at the entrance to the farm During what seemed an endless night Mick Head got killed leading a patrol.
At the crack of dawn we were ordered to withdraw from this position which was easier said than done, as tracer ammunition was being used by both sides at an alarming rate of fire, and at the entrance of the farm Red (British was going one way, and White (German) was coming back the other, quite a display of pyrotechnics, which we did not appreciate in the least. Eventually by knocking down the brick wall at the side of the farm with one of the carriers at the side of the farm we did manage to get away. Here now in 1997 we once agian drove into this farmyard, through the gateway with its still bullet scarred columns, the farm had changed very little over the years, and recognisable features sprang to light immediately. Unfortunately we disturbed the breakfast of the farmer, and his wife by our arrival, but nevertheless we were cordially invited into the house to take wine with them. The farmer had numerous photgraphs of those days as the farm was on the main route into the Scottish Corridor, and no doubt used by many units when things got more settled after our hasty departure. Over the years he had many such visits such as we made, he was however impressed by the knowledge that we were the miscreants responsible for knocking down his wall. 'After the wine the farmer showed us around the farm, and there stood the large barn where we had parked our carriers out of the rain in 1944, there was the out building used as a dressing station for the wounded, and there was another out building where in 1944 Sgt.Frank Waite had rudely interupted our uneasy slumber by kicking the soles of our feet with his size 9 large, and the words, "Gerrys' here", a patrol was hastily formed, and on this patrol Micky Head was killed. The orchard however was now just a field all the apple trees long gone, but the hedgerow remained, and John Gould was able to pinpoint the actual gun line we held, and the target another hedgerow slightly behind us, this was not so surprising, as we now know, we were forming a salient in the German positions, we were also able to pinpoint the actual spot where Micky Head had got killed. The breach in the wall has long since been repaired, but as I mentioned earlier the bullet scars are still plainly visible on the granite columns. We left this farm in 1944 in a hurry, and with a bit of panic thrown in for good measure, but also we had completed the initiation period of our apprenticeship, and were on our way to becoming veterans. We left again in 1997 with many memories re-kindled, and a sense of wonder that we had got out in one piece, and went on to survive the whole campaign in Europe, until the war's end in 1945.
We then drove through Coleville, and Mandrainville both scenes of heavy fighting by the Division, and as such the 15th Scottish Divisional memorial is situated at Mandrainville in the form of the Lion rampant of Scotland, by this time the weather had deteriorated very badly, and we paid our respects at the monument sheltering under umbrellas, it also rained here in 1944, there were no umbrellas then, so we just got wet, but at least the damp feeling we had was a normal situation we had experienced many times through our lives,and brought, some degree of reality back to the abnormality of war, very similar that one heard about the 1914/18 war, when the singing of birds during a lull in the firing brought back reality to an adverse situation.
From Mandrainville we followed the general line of advance of 1944, and found ourselves on the very windy, and wet peak of hill 112 this hill has been likened as the Verdun of Normandy, and was the scene of bitter fighting to achieve the supremacy of the high ground. Among various memorials on the peak we found a marble plaque depicting all the positions held at that time by both British, and German units, this made it comparatively simple to locate the divisional area, and from there memory had to prevail, as in 1944 I clearly remembered looking down to my left and seeing Carpiquet Airport below me the Airport is still operational, and by getting my bearings in this manner we did manage to pinpoint our firing positions of 1944 within a field or so. This time there was no stench of decaying flesh in the cornfields, just mile upon mile of green sward which later in the summer would ripen into the never be forgotten cornfields.
We left 112 via other villages including Gavrus, and Everecy where other platoons of the Company had seen heavy action. Indeed if my memory serves me correctly they won 2 or 3 Military Medals between them. We then drove on to Villers Bocage where we stopped for coffee before going back to the hotel for a hot bath, and change into dry clothing.
This was devoted to the sightseeing of the beaches from Oustreham down to the American beaches of Omaha, we saw many monuments of various units who took part in the Landings. Eventually we arrived at Sword Beach where Ron Montague informed us, with a tone of superiority in his voice, that he had actually landed on D+2 with a Reinforcement Unit, he had dug himself in beach, but the rumour that circulated that he had stayed in a fully mod con slit trench complete with colour T.V. until he was eventually overun by a party of British Duty Free shoppers, was discounted as purely malicious, as he was eventually claimed by C Company, where he went on to corner the market in Leather Bootlaces.
From Sword we went on to yet another War museum, also gratis to veterans, and then on to lunch in one in one of the numerous restuarants catering for the British palate. In the afternoon we made our way to the remains of the concrete fortifications of the Atlantic Wall, a truly impressive line of defence only surpassed by the fact that the Americans overcame these strong points, even more so when the U.S. Rangers had to scale the heights of the Point le Hoc, whilst in the vicinity of Omaha we made our way to the magnificent American Cemetery, unfortunately the heavens opened up during our visit, and restricted the amount we could see, at this time.
So back to the hotel to pack our bags for our departure the following day.
This began with our checking out of the hotel, as were due to catch the 4-30 pm sailing that day. So we decided in the few hours we had left to visit the Pegasus bridge, and the Merville battery, not in our actual operational territory but nevertheless sites of great interest.
We went into the cafe made famous on D-Day by airborne troops, and found it crammed with airborne memorabilia, some of which had lain there for years without being disturbed. Adjoining the cafe was another War Museum again free to veterans, there was much of interest here, and we lingered here for quite a time, as again it was raining cats & dogs outside. Eventually the rain eased, and we had a damp drive to the Merville Battery, and were very impressed with the fortiications of this battery, and obviously a strong key German defence point. However we were more impressed by the manner which by sheer tenacity, and courage of the British Airborne troops suceeded in disabling this mini-fortress. One of the bunkers left intact now houses another museum, this one differed from the rest, as the only veterans admitted free were those of the Airborne Brigade. And so back to the boat, sitting in the lounge and seeing the beaches of Normandy recede in the distance, each of us in silent conjecture of our individual thoughts, and memories, and whatever happened to the 53 years between visits, and how on earth had they gone so quickly?.
A FURTHER VISIT TO NORMANDY 1999
September the 1st 1999 heralded yet another visit to Normandy this time proposed by Bill Gemmel the son of a friend of mine from my Malawi days who in turn had been asked to organise a trip by a friend of his named Bob.Now Bob,s father had been killed in action in Normandy three months before Bob was born, and had no grave but his name was on a memorial, this he had been able to discover, but had never made the trip to Normandy to find out the whereabouts of this memorial, or the whereabouts of where he was killed.
So I was co-opted into a party of four the other three being much younger on account of my "veteran status", and so began another night sailing from Portsmouth, and another night in those diabolical reclining seats, which I resisted as long as possible by playing blackjack late into the night at the on board Casino I managed to win about ú30 which financed our big breakfast next morning!
The party consisted of Bill the organiser and a fluent Pidgin French speaker! Bob who as mentioned was on a mission and Mike an ex matelot who was a mine of information on all the Naval vessels moored in the harbour, but sadly his information on the finest fish and chips in Portsmouth was not so accurate we went there and got zilch! This coupled with the fact that prior to this Bill who is an ardent Tesco fan had blown out on his forecast that we would eat at the local branch meant that four very hungry pilgrims boarded the boat in the hope that we could get something hot on board-no chance the restaurant had closed! So we had to make do with rather dodgey French Pastries which were not all that removed from the famed British Rail species, I fared much better on the 1944 voyage! Hence the big breakfasts which we had just got on our plates when we were told over the ship's speakers to go to our cars panic, much bolting of food and gulping hot tea on the move we made it, and duly disembarked at Cherbourg this had all been American territory in 1944, so we took this in first starting at St Maire Eglise where an effigy of John Reed was dangling from the church steeple on the end of a parachute here we had a leisurely cup of coffee. Next we took in Utah beach and then on to Omaha beach and visited the magnificent American cemetery, our next stop was the Pont le Hoc, and then onto Arromanches where we had lunch which was very welcome.After lunch we made our way to Bayeaux and the Cemetery there opposite was a huge memorial to commemorate the dead who had no known graves, and there we found Bob's father's name this I think was a great moment for Bob, and he sat in silence regarding his Dad's name wrapped in his own thoughts and emotions, so we had achieved one part of our mission locating the memorial.
After a visit to the adjacent museum where veterans are still admitted free of charge we drove on to Caen booked in the hotel and had early nights, well two of us did!
In previous conversation with Bill I discovered Bob's Dad was in the 5th Dorsets, and my memory bank came up with the fact that this Regiment had been in the 43rd (Wessex) Division, and that they had fought on the left of my Division i.e 15th Scottish on and around Hill 112 so I thought that was the place to go and start our search for the location in which Bob's Dad had been killed in action.
We arrived at the summit of Hill 112 where there is a marble tablet depicting the battle with a lay out of all units taking part and there sure enough were the 5th and the 3rd Dorsets, and their lines of advance so illustrated. Now Bob had previously managed to obtain a page probably from a book dealing with Regimental history, and the important line was "As the advance was made from the village to las Douns the radio went dead, and as Bob's Dad was the wireless operator and no doubt carried the set on his back, the chances that they had both been destroyed by the same shell, or mortar bomb was very likely borne out by the fact that he had no grave does indicate that there was no body or remains to inter even the identity discs could have either been destroyed or blown quite a distance, and in the general confusion of battle even if they had been found it is very unlikely that they would have been associated with a fatality which ocurred elsewhere.
So began our search in the villages of Maltot, Baron, Everecy, Cournay, and Gavrus we were looking for las Douns, but nobody knew it! Our Interpreter Bill was working overtime and getting nowhere, so we adjourned to a bar called Le Sportif in the village of Baron for coffee, and further enquiries they were very helpful there they searched maps but all to no avail, they referred us to a house across the way where a former Free French Officer lived he had been employed as a memorial supervisor to all the memorials in the area, he was a mine of information on the battle, and what happened there he knew that my Division was around Gavrus and the whole Scottish corridor leading back to Cheux, but he did not know las Douns!
I think it was he who suggested we visit the Chateau at Fontaine Etoupfour which we did, we drove up a long drive and there at the other end of the driveway was the chateau it was a scene straight out of Transylvania! A deadly silence hung about the place there was huge blocks of granite stacked on one side obviously at one time part of the fašade of the building and one of these blocks had a large skull and crossbones carved on its face not exactly a balm to my deepening fears that Bela Lugosi was going to pop up at any moment. The whole chateau was surrounded by a moat and entrance gained over a drawbridge and through a portcullis I thanked my lucky stars that I had not to fight in this area in 1944, it was bad enough having to cope with an enemy who was only doing his best to kill you, without having to contend with all the ghosts and ghoulies which must have been abundant around that three hundred year old chateau, and there was always the chance that vampires could swoop down on your slit trench for a quick nip.
Anyway I digress, after a time an elderly French gentleman made an appearance via the portcullis and drawbridge and told us that the chateau was closed until after lunch, but if we came back then he would give us a guided tour of the place, I asked the question if he knew whether the Dorsets had fought there, he confirmed that both the 3rd and the 5th Dorsets had been there in the action of hill 112 in 1944. This was very interesting as obviously he was well clued up to what had happened there, so we made arrangements to return after lunch. So back to the Le Sportif, for our lunch we went. Bill and Mike direct to the bar whilst Bob and I paid the Free French Officer another visit, as he had promised to give us details on a book he had in his possession namely Hill112 the Cornerstone of the Normandy Campaign by JJ How MC, I have since managed to lay my hands on this book and can thoroughly recommend it to any old veteran of the campaign who at the time hadn't got a clue of what he was doing and why. This book is very enlightening and explicit, and in actual fact the maps accompanying this article are pinched from that book, so I am living in hopes that Major How has no objection to a fellow veteran using his material, after all I have given his book a plug!
So after lunch we returned to the chateau and were in for a very pleasant surprise on our arrival the old gentleman emerged and waved us to come in over the drawbridge and through the portcullis, making a quick sign of the cross for the benefit of the others and myself we entered a very pleasant atmosphere we were met by a very charming lady who brandished a book of tickets at us, now Bill who apart from his talents at Pidgin French is also quick on the uptake and realised that we were being asked to pay admission, mind you the lady also mentioned this in a reasonable English tongue said there were three and one veteran in the party to which Madam replied Veteran No no, Thank you Monsieur le Veteran, so as is common in Museums in Normandy I was again admitted free of charge, this information was relayed to the gentleman who it transpired was the Comte Henry du Laz but he already knew this from our pre lunch conversation, and he too was voluble in his thanks, my head was getting bigger all the time.
He then took us into a huge barn adjoining the chateau and built at the same time and in the same solid manner of that age. Inside the barn was a neat line of showcases containing a wealth of artefacts of the battle for 112, German Mg42 and, British Bren light machine guns, Schmeisser and Sten machine pistols German helmets with holes, and British helmets with holes equally as large, there was even a British Officer's mapcase complete with a chinographed map showing positions for operation Jupiter, I wondered what had become of the officer who marked it, that we will never know.
The Comte as well supplied a very interesting commentary as he was showing us around, and informed us that the Hitler Youth had used the chateau towers for observation during the battle, what a view, and no wonder their mortar bombs and shells fell so accurately, the chateau was almost at the top of the summit of 112, and this coupled with the height of the towers gave them a tremendous view of the whole terrain. He then pointed out a large grassy area outside the barn and informed us that quite a large number of the Dorsets who were killed in action were buried there, but were later moved to British cemeteries this was quite a poignant moment, and Bob walked around the area deep in thought.
Then came the question did the Comte know the whereabouts of las Douns? not only did he know but pointed out a building which he said "Used to be a farmhouse named las Douns, but had since been rebuilt as a large house". So we took our leave of that very helpful member of French nobility and drove over to the house, which was on the road to the village, this was it. It will be recalled that on the advance from the village to las Douns the radio went dead. Well Bob walked down this road slowly and back again, and on his return said that he had felt vibes strongly, this to us all was a wonderful moment, and made it well worth the trip, and I am sure made Bob a very happy man.
I will gloss over the remainder of our trip as it has already been covered in the narrative of my previous visit ,but I must say that we all boarded the return boat with a sense of having completed our mission with a sense of utter satisfaction at having achieved fullfilment of that mission. 13-10-99
Read Les Dyer's D-Day, The First 24 Hours!