“75th Anniversary of the D Day landings”

03.00hrs, Thursday 6th June 2019. With just about 2 and bit hours sleep each it is time to get up and drink as much strong coffee as we can manage before we head in to Ouistreham once more to park up and unload the Jeep. The major roads will be closing at 06.00 and as we don’t know the local area back roads, we cannot be late. On top of that, we have no idea if the car park will be full of other vehicles thinking the same thing…

04.15 and it is time to attach the trailer to the car and head to our car park. Let’s hope it is not busy.

On the way to Ouistreham we were trying to figure out where to be for the anniversary celebrations. I wanted to see the Veterans on the Beaches but did not know where I would be able to watch it from. I did not know if we would be able to get on to the beaches in the first place, would I be able to with my wheelchair? Would it be a ticket only event due to the significance of the anniversary? I had no idea of where to go, or what to expect due to the added security, this was something I had stupidly overlooked.

We were travelling down the ‘motorway’ and probably due to lack of sleep, I turned off on to the slip road earlier than I should have done. Not a drama, the SatNav altered the route and we cracked on. In just a few miles we were approaching a built up area, we crossed the roundabout and were confronted with a bridge…PEGASUS BRIDGE! This was an unexpected stroke of luck, we crossed the bridge and carried on our journey to the car park. I sincerely hoped that there is space for us or we would be buggered. Our leaving early had paid off, the car park was all but empty save for the trailer and car that had been there for our last visit so we quickly unloaded the Jeep, put up the Union Flag, The Rifles flag and this time the flag of ABF The Soldiers Charity of which I am an ambassador. With me in the Jeep, my wheelchair strapped in and the car and trailer parked in bays, we sat briefly still not knowing where to be for the celebrations.

I looked at my watch, 05.50 Wherever we were going to go we had to move, NOW. So stupid that I had not researched where I should go to spend the anniversary. I was really angry with myself but then that all changed, “Bloomy” and I were originally Light Infantry. In 2007 The Rifles was formed by the amalgamation of the Light Infantry(LI), The Royal Green Jackets (RGJ), The Devon and Dorsets (D&D) and the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire regiment (RGBW). It was the men of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (Ox and Bucks) that assaulted and took Pegasus Bridge 75 years ago to the day, where the bloody hell else would we go! So I made the decision, “We are going to Pegasus Bridge,!”

We arrived to see the Police on our left having officially closed the main road. Nothing would be travelling on the ‘motorways’ from now and until such time that the Prime Ministers and such like had finished using them. The exclusion zone was also live and as such, Pegasus Bridge was also out of bounds to traffic who did not have a pass. So the first task was to have a photo, in MY Jeep. ON Pegasus Bridge, ON the 6th of June.

Simon and I. In MY Jeep, On PEGASUS BRIDGE, on the 75th anniversary of D Day. I DID IT!

The Pegasus Bridge that was taken in WW2 was dismantled and moved just down the road a little to be preserved at the museum but this is an exact replica. It was just after this photo was taken that we parked up and the lads got me out and in to my chair, then I felt the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, strange. I promised I would get a picture of me with the Jeep and the flag of ABF The Soldiers Charity to send back to them so we did that next and fired up the gas burner for a brew, kind if a celebratory brew as we had accomplished what I had set out to do.

Me with the large ABF flag at Pegasus Bridge. We kept the smaller one flying from the antennae.

I really can’t say much about the day there. There was so much going on, so many people that we spoke to either in English or muddlethrough or sign language. People were wanting to have their pictures taken while standing next to my Jeep but why would they want to do that? It was a special day, a MONUMENTAL day so if you have taken the time to get to Normandy to pay respects and celebrate the sacrifice of so many brave souls and then have taken the time to come to us and ask if it is OK to have a photo then there is only one place that those people should be for the photograph…together sitting IN the Jeep. They can have pictures sitting as the driver and as passenger and in the back, we can take the pictures. I cannot describe the smiles on peoples faces when we did this for them, for me it was a simple gesture but for them it seemed to really mean something. I was so pleased that we could share the Jeep with those people, and had it not had the problems with the gears then Simon and “Bloomy” both said they would have happily taken people for a drive.

Later in the day as the celebrations continued with Pipe bands and re-enactors dressed in their uniforms walking around the place, we took a trip down the road and crossed Pegasus Bridge. There it was again, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. What is that? There are small monuments which show where three gliders of Major Howard’s men landed to take the bridge. Major Howard’s glider landed 47 yards from the bridge, 47 YARDS. The other two gliders that are marked were just a few yards away from his which was probably the key to the bridge being taken, no real warnings and no distance to cover before the objective. There were six gliders in all. As I read the plaques on the stone marker monuments I looked around and started to think about what it must have been like on the day. If they did not succeed in their mission it would be even more devastating to the landing troops on the beaches. Take this bridge and stop reinforcements getting to the beaches.

So peaceful and yet once the location of such violence.

We had finished reading the various plaques and returned to the bridge and just as we got there a moment of almost complete silence. Then sustained applause as a Veteran of the Bridge, proudly wearing his LI beret and hard earned medals was pushed in his wheelchair across Pegasus Bridge by his Daughter. Those hairs again stood up but this time it was more, my eyes welled up. “Don’t do it, don’t do it!” I kept saying in my head, I joined the applause and manoeuvred my chair just to catch a glimpse of this man. This elderly Gentleman who would have seen so much violence in his younger days. I could not help but wonder what he must have been feeling. Looking in his eyes I could not see an emotion. Inside what was going through his mind? Was he now numb to it? Did he relive it every day? I wanted so much to roll up to him and ask if I could have the honour of shaking his hand but I couldn’t. Just the thought of what he had seen, again caused me to well up. I changed the thinking to my medals and beret that I had actually taken with me but did not know if it was appropriate to wear. This was not my campaign, my Dad wasn’t even born when these men were fighting, is it disrespectful to wear them? Should I be wearing them as a sign of respect to those Brothers in arms from all those years ago? It didn’t matter now as I had chosen to leave them in the car, but somehow it did matter. For those few minutes of thinking I had seemingly got control of the emotion I had been unsuccessfully fighting but it was not enough for me to approach the elderly Gentleman, something I will doubtless regret for the rest of my life.

We left the bridge and headed to the museum a short distance away. The thought of what the Gentleman I had just seen, had witnessed again went round in my head. When we got to the museum there were some Gentlemen selling postcards and the like from tables on the grass, Simon helped me up on to the grass so I could look and whilst looking at the postcards of the pictures of the beach landings, of troops, of bombed out streets I again welled up. I spent a bloody fortune on those cards, looking through every pile while I got my shit together. I had considered that visiting Normandy would be a little moving but this was hitting me harder than I could have ever anticipated and certainly more than I feel it should.

The actual Pegasus Bridge.
Evrey man who took part in the assault is named here, each stone is a glider.

The museum was amazing. So informative, it told you the story, highlighted the importance of the mission and did a tremendous job of honouring the men who carried out the mission. I had to read every information board, had to see every exhibit, had to spend the time to learn about the Horsa gliders and what they were made of.

Whilst reading the exhibit boards there was a commotion outside, and then a humming, we all rushed outside to see many Dakota aircraft flying overhead, just like they would have been doing all those years ago, now the hairs were really stood to attention.

It was such a full on day. We decided to take the Jeep for a drive, there would be other WW2 vehicles kicking about so lets go and see what people are up to. I have no idea how many miles we travelled, where we went or even where we were going but everywhere we drove we bibbed at and waved at by those on the road. Cars, articulated lorries, other WW2 vehicles it was amazing. The atmosphere was incredible and this was just the anniversary celebrations. Imagine what it would have been like 75 years ago! Holy shit!!!

After a long day we headed back to the car park. There was a lot I wanted to see over the next couple of days so we would need to get some sleep tonight. We hitched up the trailer to the car, took the antennae off and put the Jeep back on the trailer. The gears had been bloody awful today but today was the anniversary of D Day and the Jeep had done all it was asked of for the day, which was just as well because as soon as we got it on the trailer it dumped gearbox oil all over the trailer bed! Simon and “Bloomy” looked at me, “If it had fallen in to a pile of nuts and bolts it wouldn’t matter” I said, “It has done what I bought it for, D Day”.

We got back to the apartment and again we were locked out. “Bloomy” as you can imagine, as was for the rest of us, NOT IMPRESSED. We just wanted a cuppa, a shower and bed. He went to the caretaker again who to be honest was not happy about seeing “Bloomy” and said “How do I know you have paid?” Now I can see his point here but the hotel take your card details when you book so they will get their money. I checked the on line banking app and it was saying that it was pending. If we can get him to let us in then I will see the reception in the morning. The caretaker told “Bloomy” that he was not dressed and had been in bed so what did he want him to do. Needless to say “Bloomy” told him exactly what he needed to do or he was going to sleep in his room. In the time it took to say Merci, the door was open!

It had been an incredible day. Would I have liked to have spent it on the beach with the Veterans? Well, Yes would be the answer but I would have liked to have been at both British beaches, and the cemetery at Bayeaux, and whilst there I would like to be at Pegasus Bridge so I made the choice to be at the Bridge and I was happy to have done so. Tomorrow we would be using the Galaxy and leaving the Jeep on the trailer. We will be able to cover more ground and see more places, the Jeep had earned its rest. 76 Years old it is, and although it will have been rebuilt many times I would imaging since it was retired from service, I think I can forgive it for being tired.

“D Day -1”

Although we did not get our heads down until after 01.00 on the 4th of June we were still up at a little before 06.00 in the morning. We knew it was an hour to Ouistreham and we had no idea where we would be able to park the car and the trailer and leave it for the day so getting an early start was a good thing to do. With coffee consumed we left the apartment and headed out to the car. Now to be fair, it was bloody late when we got to the Hotel and we didn’t want to wake everyone so I think how we left the car was acceptable….

Granted, it does look like it was abandoned by a drunk a driver.

We headed towards Ouistreham to the ferry port where we had come in and found a car park that was perfect. There was already a car with a trailer parked in there so we figured it was a good shout to park here as well. The lads got my wheelchair out of the boot and once I was out we set about unloading the Jeep from the trailer and then getting it ready.

We found the perfect car park just outside the ferry port at Oustreham, now it is time to unload.
Simon driving the Jeep off of the trailer…
TOUCHDOWN! The Jeep is on French ground.

We had to put the canvas bag on the bonnet which holds the sides and doors and remove the passenger seat cushion. Because I no longer have any muscle on my arse, it has left it basically skin on bone, I would therefore have to sit on a special pressure relieving cushion from my old wheelchair. We put on two sections of antennae and attached both the Union Flag and the flag of our Regiment, The Rifles. With these little preparation jobs done, we detached the trailer from the car and Simon and “Bloomy” put them both in to parking bays.

Almost ready to roll.

The lads lifted me in to the Jeep secured the wheelchair to the ‘bustle rack’ and we set off out of the car park and for a general drive round. We had no idea where we were going or where we would end up but we did want to explore so we just drove. We drove on the ‘motorway’, we drove along country lanes with beautiful flat fields on either side full of Poppies and through beautiful little villages where you could almost picture troops fighting and moving through and we found memorials along the way.

Beautiful Poppies were either side of the road.

We put in some places of interest that I wanted to see and visit. The first of which was Juno beach, the Beach that was assaulted by the Canadians. They would be the only allied unit to accomplish their mission in the expected time.

Me, in the Jeep, at Juno Beach.
The bunker that the Canadians had to assault and take after crossing the wide open beach.
A plaque on the wall of a bunker that they took. Simon kindly took the picture for me.

From here we headed toward Gold Beach, the second beach assigned to be assaulted by the British. We started to experience some problems with the Jeeps gears now but we had covered a great deal more miles than we had first anticipated doing. I was not concerned about us breaking down as I had recovery for Europe and there were so many other WW2 vehicles driving around I was certain that one of them would help recover us back to the trailer if we asked, if only for them to be able to show that their vehicle was running fine! I was however slightly worried that the Jeep may not hold up for D Day and as such, I would not have done what I wanted to do.

We drove through some beautiful villages as I have previously said and eventually we arrived. We were immediately met by a security officer who said we were welcome to drive through the the ‘car park’ but that we were NOT to take any photographs of the statue that had been built as our Prime Minister would be unveiling it tomorrow, the 6th. This would be her final official appointment before she stood down as leader of her party and eventually as Prime Minister.

Whilst we were chatting to the security officer he asked where we were looking to spend the 75th anniversary celebrations. He told us that there was a large ‘exclusion zone’ as there were the heads of states visiting and it was for security. He told us that we would need to drive to the Mayors office in Caen if we wanted to be anywhere inside in the zone and as that was the whole point in my spending all the money to buy a Jeep and get here, that was what we had to do. So we headed for Caen!

The gears were really playing havoc now. I was talking with Simon about it and something that came up in the conversation with the seller came to both of us at the same time. The guy said that “If you have to spend a couple of grand on it if it goes wrong then you still have a cheap Jeep”. Didn’t think anything of it at the time but now I was starting to wonder if he had known this was going tot happen. It may also have explained the long test drive that he took Simon on. Anyway, I shrugged my shoulders and said that it was done now and that I was not going to let it spoil my time here. I wanted a Jeep for the 75th anniversary of D Day and as long as the Jeep held up for that I would have to look at what to do when we got home, for now though, we HAD to get to Caen.

Now to say we caused mayhem in Caen would be a slight understatement. We kept losing the gears and stopping in the middle of the road or roundabouts and then we drove PAST the bloody place hahaha. Oh my days. Eventually though we did manage to park up outside and myself and “Bloomy” went inside. It was the British Army that were in charge of giving the passes out and the officer inside right away clocked us as ex services. He was really chatty and made sure that we had one for the car and one for the Jeep, even though we would not be able to display it as the windscreen was down, he told us to just keep it on us and show it if needed. As we had an early start on the following day we drove around for a little while longer and then headed back to Ouistreham. Now the journey did not go particularly well. Gears were hit and miss and we took a wrong turn and ended up driving for miles up and down motorways and major roads, none of which were heading the way we needed. “Bloomy” got on it on his mobile phone and was navigating from the back shouting over the wind, there was no way we were putting the screen up, that would be a sign of weakness! After an hour and a half or so though we eventually got right and returned to the trailer and loaded the Jeep back on. Then it was the hour back to the apartment.

“We are locked out!” said Simon when we got back. We had got take out Pizza from down the road so rather than let it go cold we ate it and then I called the reception to ask for help. She didn’t speak English so she told me so “Bloomy” went round to see if anyone was there. “Doesn’t speak English my ass!” he said when he got back. “She has reprogrammed the card so we should be ok now.” And so in we went, had coffee and a chat and more of a chat, and more of a chat and then at just past midnight, we hit the sack. Early start tomorrow!

In the Army, when you return from a patrol you write something called an ‘honesty trace’. This is where you ACTUALLY went on your patrol against what you had originally put as the intended route. If we had been on a patrol and had returned to base to do an ‘honesty trace’, ours would have been entitled “your guess is as good as ours!” We had no idea of the roads we had taken, the villages we had driven through and stopped at, or the amount of miles we had done but it didn’t matter. We had had a brilliant day