The move to Normandy would be a simple three phase operation. Home to Portsmouth dock by road. Portsmouth dock to Caen by ferry. Caen to hotel by road. Simples!
My Wife woke me at 04.00 on the 4th of June so I would be ready for my friend “Bloomy” to arrive around 05.00 He had left Birmingham at 02.00 so as to miss any and all traffic and to allow for any roadworks that may be going on. We wanted to leave my place around 08.30 which would give us five hours to get to Portsmouth. Obviously we were again airing on the side of caution and allowing for catastrophes. My friend Simon was also coming and would be the third member of the three stooges. “Bloomy” is an ex Army friend of mine who I had not spent any length of time with since our tour of Kabul back in 2004. I was really looking forward to the trip itself, to have a ‘holiday’ with my mate Simon which we have NEVER done in the 40 years we have known each other and to share the D Day anniversary with Simon and “Bloomy” was going to be brilliant.
“Bloomy” arrived around 06.00 as he had stopped off to have coffee so as to not get to us too early. We had a brew and a chat and then Simon arrived around 07.00 Now it was time to load up the suitcases in to the roof box, my shower chair in to the Jeep and strap it down and a final check of paperwork, tickets, passports, spares and tools. Finally, at 08.30 we were on our way to Portsmouth.
We stopped off en route for a brew as we had left plenty of time and we missed any real traffic as it was flowing really well so it came as no real surprise when we arrived at the docks two hours before sailing. At first we spoke about leaving the dock and finding a cafe somewhere but after only ten minutes of sitting there we were told that they would be opening the check in booths in just ten minutes time. Fantastic. There were toilet facilities and the opportunity to get coffee once through the check in so we just stayed with it. I was much happier knowing that we were there already and not worrying stuck in traffic. Part one of the three phase operation was a success!
We drove through and showed the tickets and passports as required and they sticker’d up the car to show I was a wheelchair user and had to park in a specific place to enable me to exit my car and get to the lift. Then we were directed to a lane where we were the only vehicle, this obviously didn’t last too long as other vehicles that were towing joined us. Whilst sitting drinking coffee and talking, a Gentleman came over who was also towing his Jeep on a trailer and told us that as the various Presidents and Prime Ministers were going to be there in Normandy, they had tightened up on security and as such he had removed his “Pioneer tools” (axe and shovel), from the side of his Jeep for fear of them being confiscated. Not wanting to lose mine, Simon and “Bloomy” removed the tools from the side of our Jeep and placed them in the boot of the car. It was but a short time after they had done this and we finished our coffees when they started to load the ferry. Happy days!
Despite being at the front of the line, it was a good while before we were called forward. We were discussing how they work out which vehicles they need to ensure that when I load, there is room for me to get in to my chair and also so I am close to the lift. Very quickly we decided that although it must take some real organisation, we actually were not that bothered as someone gets paid to worry about that and went back to talking about other random stuff. Finally though it was our turn. Well whoever did the planning was worth their wage as we were brought to a stop right next to the door for the lift so once I was out of the car and Simon and “Bloomy” had got me over the door threshold, we got in to the lift and headed up to the deck, we would see what Naval ships were in dock and watch us leave England behind.
Whilst on the ferry, having a drink at the bar, we got talking to a US Marine Veteran. He was not a Veteran of the Normandy landings but still an interesting guy to chat with. He was on a tour and had visited Aldbourn where I had been with the Jeep for the Op Nightingale dig. He was gutted when I said that the Sergeants accommodation hut area had been excavated and exposed with some finds, it had only been covered back in a couple of weeks before he visited. As I was talking to him about it and telling what had been found he would simply reply with “No shit” after ever item, oh it did make me chuckle! We had a really good laugh with him, and spoke for at least an hour or so, he had only gone up to the bar to get his Wife a drink and as it turned out, someone else in their group got her one as he had clearly been sidetracked by talking with us. Eventually it was announced over the information speakers that we could make our way to our vehicles. People have this mad dash to get to their cars much like when the plane lands on the runway. The three of us sat there watching and commented on how every single person must be the first vehicle at the front of the boat, because if they aren’t then how do they think they will drive off? Anyone behind me could not get off the boat until i move my car so it seemed a bit pointless rushing to be fair. Anyhoooooo, we got to the car and sat ready to depart. Phase two of the operation was complete
It is about an hour drive to the hotel that I had managed to book, the light was fading but I had updated the SatNav and so with the Hotel address typed in, we made our way there. Now it was pitch black when we got to the town, we had stopped at the entrance to one Hotel but could not see the name so carried on past, we could not find the bloody Hotel for love nor money but we did find a Frenchman out walking his dog so we showed him the address and he very kindly gave the directions in sign language. I turned the car around and headed back the way we came and after no time at all we arrived….at the Hotel that we could not find the name for, typical. Anyway, as it was late, I ‘parked’ the trailer and car across a few spaces and we unloaded our stuff. To be honest, we all just wanted to get our heads down….which didn’t happen until after 01.00 by the time my room had been rearranged to make it easier for me, my shower chair had been put back together and the “We made it ok” emails were sent. I do worry about the suitability of accommodation when I go away and even more so on this trip as I would be having to ask my two friends for help which could potentially push the boundaries of friendship beyond anythng you could imagine but I was pleasantly surprised at the place, it was as close to perfect as I could have hoped for.
You won’t understand how much of a relief it was to see this in the apartment unless you have a need for the same or have someone in your family but such a huge weight lifted as soon as I entered the apartment I can’t begin to tell you. So, phase three of the operation was a success. Time for some shut eye and tomorrow, we’ll head to Ouistreham to start our exploration of Normandy.