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….
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 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.
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.
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.
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