Battlefield Tour of Normandy 2014

We travelled to Normandy in June 2014 to commemorate the D-Day landings seventy years before in 1944. We were due to meet up with Muir Findlay (veteran of “S” Squadron, 3rd Tank Battalion) and his son Eain in Normandy – unfortunately due to illness Muir and Eain were unable to travel but they kindly arranged for their friend and military historian, Colin Foster, to give us a tour of some of the locations where my Father would have been.

We first met Colin and his friend, Glyn, at Villers Bocage, a location where elements of 7th Armoured Division (aka “the Desert Rats” from their time spent in North Africa) were ambushed by Tiger Tanks led by the infamous German tank ace Michael Wittman, 1st SS Panzer Division (see link below). The town was quite modern in appearance as it was virtually erased by RAF Lancaster and Mosquito bombers subsequently attempting to eradicate the German Panzer Divisions in its vicinity.

 

One of the first locations of interest was in a remote corner of Lutain Wood. Here is a solitary grave of Lt.Marshall Cornwall, a tank commander with 4th Battalion, Grenadier Guards. He is buried where he fell. As he dismounted his tank to direct German prisoners to the rear of the British lines he was shot by a sniper. His family purchased the plot of land from the French landowner and the plot is maintained to the same high standards as all war cemeteries by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Colin identified this location from old military maps as a route taken by 3rd Scots Guards on route to Caumont through apple orchards. The terraine around Normandy consisted mainly of bocage – narrow lanes bounded by high hedgerows and was frought with danger for tank crews !

“Septum Juncta In Uno”

We attended a wreath laying ceremony at St.Charles de Percy War Cemetery and I proudly placed a wreath on behalf of Muir Findlay and my Father in honour of the fallen of 6th Guards Tank Brigade. Several guards units (both from 6th GTB and Guards Armoured Division) were engaged in heavy fighting in this location against the German SS “Hohenstaufen” Division. The gentleman seated (Major Tony Brady who has since sadly passed away) was a sniper in the Irish Guards and to his right was a former Coldstream Guardsman Tom Twite.

In attendance were two serving members of Welsh Guards. That evening we had the pleasure of their company at a buffet provided by the residents of nearby Montchamp in recognition of the liberation of their village by the Guards.

On 31st July 1944 “S” Squadron, 3rd Scots Guards were ambushed by three Jagdpanthers, resulting in much carnage. The location of this attack was known as Hill 226. As we were looking out over the open expanse and pondering those events, poignantly, we were treated to our very own fly past by the Battle of Britain Flight of Lancaster and Spitfire and a Dakota troop plane destined for the Normandy beaches. We also laid a wreath in commemoration of the event at the Church in Les Loges, the nearest village. It is hoped that a permanent memorial to the casualties will be erected at the site of the attack in the near future.

The next morning we visited the site of a major battle which resulted in many casualties, both Allied and Axis forces but which was strategically very important to each army. This was known as Hill 112 and was situated near Maltot (see link below for more information). Although the Guards were not involved in fighting at this location a well preserved Churchill tank, similar to those used by 6th Guards Brigade, has been placed on the hill.

Lunchtime was spent in the market square at St Martin des Besaces which saw fierce fighting in 1944. Securing this location was an important gain for the Guards and for 11th Armoured Division on their flanks.

That afternoon we visited Hottot-les-Bagues War Cemetery. The Cemetery was immaculately maintained and would no doubt have received the seal of approval of every guardsman buried within it. Here was the final resting place of the majority of officers and guardsmen who were the casualties of the attack on 30th July 1944 at Les Loges.

Amongst the graves was Muir Findlay’s fellow tank crew member, John Harvey, who sadly didn’t manage to escape their burning tank. Muir had asked us to place a small cross beside his grave on his behalf which of course we did.

Visiting this cemetery was a humbling and emotional experience !  A more accurately placed anti-tank shell or machine gun bullet could have resulted in my own Father lying alongside these brave souls, denying me of my very existence !