Normandy 2012

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Normandy 2012

Post  Gina_Costina on Tue Jun 12, 2012 7:19 pm

Normandy 2012 - Part 1

Seven days in Normandy; 562 miles covered in my jeep, blisters on my feet (testimony to one of the hardest, “In the Footsteps“ marches I have ever done), a number of encounters with veterans revealing surprising co-incidences, marching at night, sleeping during the day, suffering at the hands of vengeful weather and participation in numerous ceremonies. Would I change any of it? Not on your life!

My week in Normandy began on Friday 1st June; I drove from my home to meet with Tom Sainter before we headed down to Portsmouth in my Jeep. It had taken longer than planned to load my jeep and after taking the wrong turning off the M25 it cost me time and a 20 mile detour. On the way down to Portsmouth I could hear a strange squeaking sound coming from the bustle rack, and upon inspection noticed that some welds had failed and it was virtually hanging off. Jeep disaster #1! Fortunately at Chichester we found a helpful MOT test station proprietor (Chris Daniels of Ree-Car Garage Ltd) who agreed to repair the damage. He did the work for free; this was a bonus, because his work on the rack made it better than it was before.

Jeep disaster #1 overcome!


Despite wrong turnings, detours and disasters we had prepared for such eventualities so had at least two hours to go before we need to be on the Ferry from Portsmouth to Cherbourg. We met our other Normandy Crew members just outside Portsmouth; Glen Mallen, Dave Grover, Eric “Enrico” Hudson and Jon “Fingers” Moore. Fingers joined up our jeep as he was travelling to Cherbourg with us, the rest of the crew were going to Caen via Portsmouth. On the Saturday we would also be joined by Ian “Shady” Saunders and Simon Batstone.

No time to spare as the other crew need to catch their ferry. Dave Grover’s Jeep gets loaded up at the truck-stop.


We said our goodbyes, although Dave and crew were leaving on an earlier ferry, although we would actually arrive in Cherbourg first and be at our base of operations in Hiesville, well before them.

The ferry crossing was pretty uneventful, members or the public enquired as to why we were going to Normandy in Jeeps and the uniform which gave us a chance to provide a brief education. Brittany ferries security had checked our de-acs before allowing us on the Ferry, but prior planning and obtaining relevant documentation detailing our visit ensured that there were no issues.

As we left Cherbourg we were joined by another Jeep and crew, Kev Warren who portrays a member of the “Filthy 13”. Shortly after we left Cherbourg the Jeep started making a strange rumbling noise from the exhaust which gradually got worse. After a time the tone of the engine sounded more like a Sherman tank than a jeep, similar to the one in “Hell is for heroes”. I discovered that the middle section of my exhaust had fallen off! Jeep disaster #2! With a slight loss of engine power we all made our way to Ste Mere Eglise where I met a few more British re—enactors – thanks to WW2 forum member Rob123 who gave me some items to repair the damaged exhaust.

We had something to eat and then headed down to Hiesville and met up with Laurent Olivier and the guys from the Belgian Friendly 101st. One of Laurent’s members Jean-Michel Dassy turned out to be a car mechanic and was confident that once the correct part was sourced the Jeep could be repaired. We then set up our camp. Home comforts would be few. An electric light, a bottle of Calvados and little more.



During the evening we were treated to two three flypasts by a C47 who dropped two sticks of paratroopers nearby. Shortly after Dave, Glen and Eric arrived.

It was an early start the next Day as we were participating in the Annual Carentan Liberty march. This march covers a distance of about 12 miles and one of the event co-ordinators was our friend Serge Loslever of the Belgian Friendly 101st. I wasn’t initially keen to participate in this march, but Captain Glen Mallen a month or so earlier had been his usual persuasive self and promised me that the march would be good; better Policed with little chance for people to enter who are not prepared to do their best in portraying those we pay homage to. With a month or so to prepare I had started my running again and this turned out to be a wise decision.

Arriving in Carentan we registered for the march and joined the 4 platoons participating. The actual number of people doing the march was about 150 and I have to see they standard of kit worn was to a pretty good standard, much better than I have seen on some marches. The weather was also fine and shortly after we formed up to get on our coaches we were joined by Shady and Simon Batstone.

Forming up in Carentan before the Journey to Graignes


We were transported to Graignes (our start point for the march) and formed up in our platoons, Graignes became significant during WW2 when shortly after 0200 hours on D-Day, twelve planeloads of paratroopers from the 3rd Battalion 507th PIR were scattered throughout the marshes south of Carentan. They were supposed to have been dropped eighteen miles to the northwest at drop zone “T” near Amfreville, but instead ended-up in the vicinity of the French village of Graignes. Theirs was the worst misdrop of any airborne unit on 6 June 1944.




Once a memorial service took place we headed out, at this stage it was warm but pleasant, as it was still only about 0800 or so, the heat of the day was not yet upon us.




We were making good time, and stopped on way to lay a wreath at the site of where a group of captured 507th paratroopers was forced to march four kilometers to, near the village of Le Mesnil Angot. There, the nine wounded men were forced to dig a pit by their SS captures. As soon as the pit was complete, the SS shot each one of them in the back of the head and dumped their bodies in the pit one on top of the other.


After the wreath laying we joined by another platoon led by 1st Sergeant Ian “Shady” Saunders.



We continued on our way and met some of the local population, which gave us the chance for a bit of fraternization.




Paying our respects to the 507th


We continued to make good progress, but by mid-day it was getting hotter and hotter. We got the chance to take a rest, eat some food and seem some shade from the heat.


Orders came in to move out and we hit the road again


The heat of the sun was becoming more and more unbearable and after attacking a bridge leading over a canal, we had time for quick rest again.



This part of the march provided very little shade from the sun, and there was little breeze to cool us down, whenever the opportunity came to “Take 5” - we took it!


By this time we had covered most of the march, arriving near to a marshalling area just outside Carentan, ready to form up for the final march into the town center. By this stage everybody was feeling the effects of heat and distance. I did my best to keep the platoon in good spirits, more for my own sake as well. The march despite my training was proving to be the hardest I have ever done. I was beginning to feel the effects of heatstroke despite taking on plenty of water




The march into Carentan stopped and started several times due to the cavalcade of vehicles, and other interested parties, including veterans. Most of the people present just wanted to get into Carentan for the final ceremony. The march had played havoc with peoples feet etc, some had to drop out, others persevered to the finish.

There were several veterans present in Carentan and despite the pain I was feeling at standing to attention for ½ hour or so, I knew it would be disrespectful to drop out. The ceremony over it was time for a “Victory” beer!


Once the formalities of paying our respects had concluded there was a chance to meet some of the veterans and their families, this included Dan McBride F Company 502nd PIR, 101st Airborne.



I make it a point of giving veterans a reproduction D Ration bar, they tend to be a good talking point, and don’t make me feel so bad by asking for a vets autograph. Dan recalled D Bars, he recounted a time when he saw a German child by the side of a road, and he offered the boy a D Bar who took it gladly but subsequently nearly broke his teeth due to D rations being so hard!

As the evening set in we joined out buddies from the Belgian friendly 101st for a meal where veteran of the “Filthy Thirteen” Jack Womer, was in attendance. This was Jacks first visit to France since the war had ended. This gave the chance for some of the crew to have some great in-depth conversations with the Veteran.


The day concluded with most feeling slightly worse for wear due to the conditions of the march. Most of us have participated in similar marches before, but for me my own experience has been one of doing such in winter, where one is battling cold, rain, snow and ice. All of those elements provide hardships, a gentle reminder of what most GI’s went through day in day out, and so I try to avoid griping. However I have to say the Carentan Liberty march was one of the hardest I have ever participated in. We do some of these marches to “live history” and pay homage to those that did them without choice and under the most extreme conditions. So despite my aches, pain and blisters it was a worthwhile and meaningful experience.


Part 2 to follow

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Re: Normandy 2012

Post  Tom Sainter on Tue Jun 12, 2012 8:18 pm

Nice write up Paul, I look forward to the rest. There might be several parts to this write up as you have only covered the fri and sat so far lol. Thanks for a great trip mate, I hope you have recovered.

Regards
Tom
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Re: Normandy 2012

Post  Gina_Costina on Tue Jun 12, 2012 8:34 pm

Yes- its going to take a while!! Although some aspects of our mission cannot be disclosed! Wink

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Re: Normandy 2012

Post  Camel1815 on Wed Jun 13, 2012 12:40 pm

Cracking report and pics Paul. Would have loved to have been there. Looking forward to part 2.

Richard.
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Re: Normandy 2012

Post  samharris45 on Wed Jun 13, 2012 1:17 pm

Wow Paul that was a read, but a cracking report. Very jealous you got to meet some Vets!

Looking forward to further parts of the story, keep it coming!
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Re: Normandy 2012

Post  dragoon_44 on Wed Jun 13, 2012 3:14 pm

Great pictures and report.. roll on 2014!
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Re: Normandy 2012

Post  murph on Thu Jun 14, 2012 3:41 pm

Great stuff!

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Re: Normandy 2012

Post  Guest on Thu Jun 14, 2012 4:47 pm

Looking good, Paul!

Cheers,
Ben.

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Re: Normandy 2012

Post  Dantheman on Mon Jun 18, 2012 8:02 pm

Superb stuff Paul!

Really like the piccies and sounds like you and Tom had another eventful and enjoyable trip.... Jealous??? You bet!

Can't believe that it's already been a year since we all visited as a group. Think it would be nice to already start planning a trip for 2013 (and even considering our plans for 2014 - AGM maybe?) with the 2 jeeps and living the dream - I'm in!

Another thread maybe???


Looking forward to pt2 anyway!

Dan.

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Re: Normandy 2012

Post  Les Brock on Mon Jun 18, 2012 8:56 pm

Great pics Paul and a superb write up Very Happy

Regards

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Re: Normandy 2012

Post  Gina_Costina on Sun Jun 24, 2012 6:38 pm

Thanks Les

Part 2.

On the Sunday morning we planned to head out to Brevands for a ceremony with the Belgian Friendly 101st, this was supposedly going to be a day of rest in preparation for our “jump” that night. But as with all these trips, there never really is time to truly, “Take 5” and today would prove to be no exception.
The exhaust was still blowing and sounded ever more like a Sherman. Fortunately during a lull in the day before proceedings I had visited Paratrooper vehicles, only to discover it had closed and would not apparently be open for the Sunday. However I was assured that due to the Normandy landings celebrations there was a good chance that this weekend would be different.
Early on Sunday we drove in column through the quiet back streets of Carentan, on our way to Brevands. Our column of vehicles consisted of two jeeps, and a German VW Beetle that some of the crew had “liberated”. No doubt our presence did not go unnoticed as we drove through the streets, we might have gotten used to the sound of my jeep, but I doubt anybody else did.
The assurances that paratrooper vehicles might be open proved correct; the only problem was they had no new exhausts in stock. I was offered a second hand one that would probably last until I got home, and for Twelve Euros was a cheap enough option to risk, in truth my options were few anyway. Plus, I did not fancy the thought of sewing together some coca cola cans as the alternative!

We then continued on to Brevands, where we meet several veterans and our friend Jack Womer. The ceremony was to pay tribute to the members of the Filthy Thirteen who served in the area. Tom Sainter and I would assist in crowd control, in our capacity as MP’s.



Veteran Jack Womer


As always the opportunity to give something back to veterans presented itself, a little reminder of WW2. So when I met this veteran of the 90th Infantry Division, He got a D Bar, although when he said he was a vet of the 90th and I called him a Tough Ombre he seemed more impressed.


This Veteran, Ray Tollefson (a US Army Ranger, from Michigan) also seemed pretty happy to receive my gift of a D ration, once rest assured that the chocolate was recently moulded and not 68 years old!


During the proceedings at Brevands we had time to speak to Alan & Brenda Mitchell of Vancouver, Washington State, USA. Brenda was the daughter of Doc Lage of HQ/2 502 PIR.

After the proceedings had concluded we made our way back to Hiesville to begin repairs to the Jeep. Jean Michell Dassy of the Belgian Friendly 101st offered his services as a car mechanic, to get the issue sorted out. Unfortunately we had identified a problem with the second hand exhaust; it had a small hole in that would need welding. Fortunately he knew of a local Frenchman who had some welding equipment that could be used. The French in this area have a very relaxed and friendly attitude, and with little more than a shrug of his shoulders on arrival, he invited us to have the full use of his workshop, and then assisted in brazing up the hole in the exhaust. Trade goods were offered for his services, in the form of more D Rations and candy, as he declined any form of payment. I was even more grateful when just as we were about to depart for the field to fit the exhaust, that he suggested we fit it in his workshop. This turned out to be a bit of a blessing as the job was not going to be straightforward; the replacement exhaust was narrower in diameter than my Willys one was, so required sleeving to fit into the silencer, and one of the bolts that secured it to the manifold had sheered its thread. These would have proved to be very difficult problems in the field, but with the benefits of working in a rear echelon workshop, they were quickly resolved.

With the offer of one of my Hawley repros for free, Jean Michel Dassy has a smile on his face as he gets down to the job of replacing the exhaust.




At the conclusion I had a smile on my face as I thanked all concerned for their efforts and support, we then drove back to Hiesville in a now quieter jeep!

That evening prior to our “jump” we then drove to nearby St Marie Du Mont, my favourite French Town. There we met quite a few other Living historians from the UK.



Along with the armour and other vehicles and numerous people in uniform, our attention was also drawn to a Military Police presence, and I could miss the opportunity to grab a photo.


Having taken the chance to have some food and see some of the sights around St Marie Du Mont, we headed back to Hiesville. Tonight was the start of the “misdrops” event, where some of our group were intending to retrace the route of HQ Co , 507th who were mis-dropped many miles north of the area we were staying.
As it began to get dark and prior to the briefing each person made sure they had all the kit and food necessary to enable them to survive for three days. Marching by night and sleeping by day. This was going to proof an experience for us all, and full credit to those that stayed out for the entire three days. For me, I was only going to do one night. As it got darker it also got colder, and consistent with how the troopers in WW2 would have done I also took the chance to wear a pair of wool trousers under my M42 jumpsuit as well as a wool jumper. I’ve not done this before, but then again I had not done a “night-drop” exercise before and I wasn’t going to risk taking any chances that the weather would turn better.

Whilst sorting our kit we were joined by our Friend Manny Trainor who had been given a three-day pass by Francine, his wife. After our kit was sorted out, we joined the Belgian friendly 101st for a briefing about our mission; the rules , the risks and contingency plans!

No sand tables, only maps. So all listen intently as we are given our briefing



Captain Mallen demonstrates the use of the “cricket”


Part 3 to follow.



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Re: Normandy 2012

Post  MattP on Sun Jun 24, 2012 10:00 pm

Looks Brilliant Paul,
Having just come back from Normandy got to say I'm missing it already, however having been to some places that I'd not been before was an excellent break. Anybody note out in Normandy that the Fourth truly appears now to be the forgotten division?
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Re: Normandy 2012

Post  Gina_Costina on Sun Jun 24, 2012 11:42 pm

MattP wrote:Looks Brilliant Paul,
Having just come back from Normandy got to say I'm missing it already, however having been to some places that I'd not been before was an excellent break. Anybody note out in Normandy that the Fourth truly appears now to be the forgotten division?

There are some (like us) that pay the 4th Homage. Plans are still tentatively in place to maybe do DDay to Paris as the 4th..

Part 3 will reveal more, but Im a believer that you can go off the beaten track as any unit; Leg infantry or airborne and still find a few surprises. We had similar when we portrayed 79th

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Re: Normandy 2012

Post  MattP on Mon Jun 25, 2012 12:27 am

I'd love to do that Paul.. waiting on tentahooks for part 3..
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Re: Normandy 2012

Post  Dantheman on Mon Jun 25, 2012 9:31 am

Yeah, great report mate!

Looking forward to the next instalment!!!!


Dan

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Re: Normandy 2012

Post  samharris45 on Mon Jun 25, 2012 1:16 pm

Paul loveing the write up very well done!

That pic of the MP's certainly put a smile on my face! I don't think I have seen the mix of M42's and leggings before.....
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Re: Normandy 2012

Post  Tom Sainter on Wed Jun 27, 2012 10:22 am

Great part two mate, I will get to you ASAP my write as I'm sure that will assist in doing part three.
Keep up the good work mate.

Regards
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Re: Normandy 2012

Post  Andy "Dixie" Dean on Wed Jun 27, 2012 11:17 am

Finally got through it! Good work Paul.

Dixie
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Re: Normandy 2012

Post  murph on Wed Jun 27, 2012 4:37 pm

MattP wrote:Looks Brilliant Paul,
Having just come back from Normandy got to say I'm missing it already, however having been to some places that I'd not been before was an excellent break. Anybody note out in Normandy that the Fourth truly appears now to be the forgotten division?

Always like the quote about there being more paratroopers in Normandy now than there was on D-Day! I have no issues with portraying Airborne (I love the look as much as anything else) but it is a shame so many other units get ignored, I'm sure it aggravates the Vets. of those units as well.

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Re: Normandy 2012

Post  Gina_Costina on Sat Jun 30, 2012 6:13 pm

The plan for “mis-drops” march would be that it would take place over three days and nights. Our starting point would be approximately 14 miles north of our camp at Hiesville, in the Churchyard at Hemevez. To be honest prior to undertaking this part of our Normandy trip I did not know much about the Massacre that had occurred at Hemevez in June 1944. As such it is worthwhile to recount the events that were the inspiration for our walk in the footsteps of the 82nd Airborne.

At 0244 hours June 6th 1944, 14 paratroopers of HQ Company, 1st Battalion, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division were mis-dropped in the locality of Hemevez, the 15th member of their stick stayed on board the C47; due to their reserve shoot accidentally opening.

A number of them landed near to Chateau D’Hemevez which was being used as a German headquarters. Of this number was Private Ashton J. LANDRY. Landry made a mistake that almost cost him his life. Right after landing, he climbed a hill exposing himself. He was shot in the leg by a patrolling German soldier. Quick to react, Private LANDRY eliminated him with a burst from his Tommy gun. He fixed himself up and then tried to locate his comrades. He met two of them, and then soon found the rest of the team, including 2nd Lieutenant Robert W. SHUTT. Thirteen of them regrouped. The fourteenth, Corporal Fred G. WONDELL, was badly wounded with a broken pelvis. They patched him up and hid him in a nearby shelter. He eventually recovered and returned to the States. Apparently the group positioned themselves along the road to La Ham awaiting the arrival of the enemy.

Looking for information, 1st Lieutenant SHUTT sent Private LANDRY, who spoke French, on patrol with Private First Class Charles R. WRIGHT and Private First Class Paul D. MOORE. The nearest farm was called "le CASTEL". They entered it with difficulty to find the inhabitants both happy and frightened. A German patrol usually passed by at this hour of the morning. One of the young girls led them to the stables where they remained hidden. Later Private LANDRY would recall, "Thanks to the German army for equipping their soldiers with those heavy hobnail boots!”

After leaving the barn they heard a fire fight with rifles and machineguns. This transpired to be the group of paratroopers that Landry had earlier been with. During that day a German truck came down the road, and the Americans opened fire, the truck was loaded with explosives and destroyed in the explosion, when a second truck loaded with German troops arrived a battle raged for most of the day, but in the ensuing firefight at least seven paratroopers outnumbered and ill-equipped were eventually taken captive by the German Soldiers.

Landry saw that seven of his comrades had been captured. Their hands were on their necks, they were freed of their belts. Lined up in front of a machinegun they were killed by their German Captors. LANDRY recognized two of his best friends, Private First Class Daniel B. TILLMAN and Private Robert G. WATSON, amongst those shot.

Landry and his remaining buddies moved from shelter to shelter, hiding in recent bomb craters. They were supplied by two young girls. Unfortunately, they were discovered by German soldiers and taken captive.

Locked up in a building, they joined about twenty other American prisoners. LANDRY noticed that they were guarded by only one soldier and took advantage of this. After observing the guard pattern, he escaped with two of his comrades. Having been detained for only one hour, they used the night to leave the place.

Along the way, they came across a crashed glider and dead soldiers lying around. They recovered weapons and K rations. While foraging the place, Private First Class WRIGHT was hit by enemy fire. They gave him first aid immediately and he was able to continue fleeing the area, which was still occupied by the Germans.

Six days after landing, they finally reached the lines of the 82nd Airborne, 505th PIR where Landry and his buddies were interrogated by General GAVIN at his headquarters.

A resident of the area Pierre RENAULT had also witnessed the massacre. In the afternoon, a German went to the home of the mayor’s assistant, Emile LAINÉ, to announce the presence of the bodies. Ernest MOUCHEL and Ernest ESNOUF, with assistance from Roland ROBIOLE and Jeanne LEQUERTIER, citizens of the village, buried the seven bodies in the churchyard cemetery. Three weeks later, LAINÉ assisted the American investigators as they exhumed the seven dead soldiers. They carefully examined the bodies to determine the circumstances of their executions while filming the process. This evidence was to be used in a war crimes trial later. HÉMEVEZ was liberated 17 June 1944. In 2004, the people of Hemevez erected a granite headstone to honour the seven paratroopers.

68 years after the events that had occurred at Hemevez, we made our way in the dead of night in vehicles to the small Church where the granite gravestone had been erected. All of us had tried to load out our kit to best represent that carried by paratroopers in 1944. We did not have the disadvantage of wearing T5’s, but as many other disadvantages that those troopers would have experienced would be thrown at us. I didn’t have a clue where we were going; driving in unlit dark lanes is hard enough, made worse when not familiar with the area. The drive from Hiesville seemed to take a long time, and knowing that at some point I would find myself alone in the middle of nowhere even with the absence of people intent on shooting me, was still disconcerting. This was my main thought as I drove along.

Eventually we arrived at the Church and all of us began to get our kit on. The plan was for us to board our improvised C47, which was in truth the large van that Manny Trainor had brought along, co-piloted by Francine his wife. Trying to fit 14 of us into the rear of that van wasn’t going to be easy!

Once kitted up we took the chance for some photos outside the Churchyard.


We each were given our position in the stick, I was unlucky thirteen and Jean Michell Dassy was fourteen, I tried to memorise the assigned numbers of others. This would give me an idea where others might likely land, and hopefully found by me, or vice-versa, when given the green light to “jump”.

Climbing into the back necessitated being extremely uncomfortable, being number thirteen I found myself jammed into the back. My brief had been to walk in opposite direction of our transport once I had landed, by that theory I would meet those of my “stick” who had jumped earlier. In the darkness we seemed to travel for quite a distance and eventually our stick was told to “jump!” I haven’t got a clue who was first out, and didn’t care, the less people made the journey albeit brief a bit more bearable. Eventually I found my place near the door, and I shouted “good luck!” to the remaining members of our stick inside.

I found myself landing in a narrow lane with high banks and hedgerow either side of me, my eyes were already used to the dark and the night sky was only slightly overcast, it was about midnight, or so I remember, visibility was better than I expected.

Nobody else was near me, and it was completely silent, I really was in the middle of nowhere. I began to walk as quietly as possible in the opposite direction to that of our transport. After a minute or so, I decided to stop; I was hoping to meet up with one of our stick and knew I had better chances with those that had jumped after me. Leaning into the bank and hedgerow I took cover, after a minute or so, I heard the sound of footsteps from the same direction I had just walked from. Using my cricket I whispered “Flash” and heard “Thunder”, recognising the voice of Jean Michel Dassy I whispered “Welcome”.

Whilst I realise that it is extremely difficult to recreate all the experiences of June 6th 1944, I have no doubt that the paratroopers felt a similar rush of adrenaline and elation, challenging and then recognising another allied soldier. I have to say that it felt pretty good to meet up with another friendly face.

The two of us made our way along the lane, in the darkness I was convinced that I could see the silhouette of figures some distance further down the lane, we approached tactically but some distance before we got there I heard a whispered “Flash”. Replying appropriately, it turned out to be Eric “Enrico” Hudson, my buddy from little Italy, New York. I felt a lot happier as he emerged from the undergrowth of the hedgerow; now there were three of us.

Enrico and I decided to wait for Manny Trainor- last to jump, Jean Michel went ahead and we waited for about five minutes until he made his way towards us. The three of us made our way along the lane, I was pretty confident, knowing that we would meet the group I had seen silhouetted against the skyline. That was until I realised that it wasn’t a group of paratroopers but a group of trees swaying in the night breeze a considerable distance from us. The darkness was playing tricks with my eyes!

After about ten minutes we eventually found several of our number at the end of a lane where a couple of cottages nestled. Called La Bucaille. Amongst them was Anthony Ilnicki who explained that the remainder of our stick had gone ahead to reconnoitre a village, which I discovered was Sortosville and apparently nearby. Our group made our way slowly passing through the tiny hamlet called La Roque, trying to catch up with the main group. Eventually I saw the Church spire in the village of Sortosville and met up with Captain Glen Mallen and the others. I was briefed that we would try and make our way to the same Chateau that the Germans had been at in 1944.

My squad had the task of holding the rear, whilst the main group in front were tasked to getting to the Chateau. We were finding it difficult to stay together as a group; several times I thought my squad were either in front or behind me, only to find they had disappeared a lot further ahead of me, or had gone to ground, taking cover. Progress was difficult, and many times I mistook who I was talking to, unless really close up. At one point the two groups, advance and rear, became completely separated and runners were sent to find out where each group were.

In a scene straight from band of brothers we took our bearings under faint torch light beneath a rain-coat. It helped though as it assisted in putting us on track. By this time we had been on the ground for over an hour, but I had no idea what distance we had covered.
Eventually we found ourselves at a junction and my squad were tasked to take the lead and make for the Chateau down our lane. Again as we made progress it became problematical as we had either got our bearings wrong or the Chateau had been moved. We retraced our footsteps and I believe that it was around this time that one of our number Anthony Ilnicki tripped and badly injured his leg. The words once echoed by Ian “shady” Saunders at a previous “in the footsteps” trip in December echoed in my ears “Nobodies going to come and get us; we have to make our own way out of this (situation)”. No truer words could be said of this situation, our transport had long gone and we had to make the best of our situation.

Eventually united again as one squad, we passed by several small cottages and farms, causing dogs to bark, alerting us to how easy it is, even in darkness, to become discovered. After a time somebody spotted the overhead power lines above the Cherbourg to Paris railway. This helped to give us a fix on our position and Captain Mallen informed us that once we crossed a railway bridge it would only be a short distance to the barn where we were staying- La Castel.

Four us were sent to hold the bridge crossing the rail line, as we did so, one of our number, I can’t recall who, hit his rifle against the metal of the bridge, its sound resounded throughout and I again was reminded of the fact of how difficult it must have been for the paratroopers on D-Day to remain covert.

As we held the bridge it began to rain, we had been marching for about four hours or so, and all were beginning to suffer, especially those who had participated in the Carentan march the day before. The chance to take the weight of our feet was one I was really looking forward to.

As the rain continued we eventually arrived at La Castel and the barns where Landry and his buddies had stayed in 68 years earlier. A dog in the barnyard began to bark at us and continued for some time. Fortunately at the outset it was more afraid of us than we were of it! It took some time before we actually went into the barns; I believe it was because we had to be assured that it was the correct barn. Permissions had been given by one of the owners to stay in it, but nevertheless it was necessary to ensure it was the right barn. No doubt we would be answering some difficult questions if discovered in the wrong barn, dressed as WW2 paratroopers with full kit on and weapons! The rain grew ever stronger, my feet were hurting and I was tired. The chance to sleep on some hay and get into a building was looking ever my favourable.

The plan was that Glen, Dave Grover, Enrico Hudson, Jon Moore, Manny Trainor, Tom Sainter and I would sleep in the barn; the rest of the guys had made suitable plans for vehicles to meet up with them so that they could participate in some ceremonies the next day.

The rest of us had a quick inspection of the barns, one had a cider press and hayloft, one had been rebuilt, and the other was in a real mess, however it was apparent to me that they were probably very much as they were in 1944 when Landry spent his time here. No doubt from the state they were in there might be some treasures from WW2 still to be found.

A few us had some food, I just wanted to get the load off me and go to sleep. Bales of hay were laid out and I got my head down, or tried to, which proved very difficult as the dog in the yard continued to bark at us. I drifted in and out of sleep, had some weird but brief dreams and as it began to get light with the dawn I was woken from yet another short sleep by the sounds of a woman shouting at us in French. In short she didn’t know who we were and was telling us we couldn’t stay there and would have to sleep. Fortunately Captain Mallen had access to a handi-talkie and contacted the rear echelon, speaking to Gerald our man in France. Handing her the Handi-talkie he eventually addressed her concerns, it seemed that she was a cleaner and nobody had told her that we would be sleeping in the barn. I have to admire her bravery, being prepared to challenge a dozen or so paratroopers carrying weapons, on her own!!!

The dog continued to bark at us, and not knowing what time it was I decided to get up and explore the barns. They had been left in a right state, but it was nice to see them unchanged since the war.

With the benefit of daylight, I looked at the map and the route we had travelled, In 4 hours or so we had walked less than a mile. It seemed incredible to me, as we were so tired at the end of it, and I’m guessing that other pressures of landing in an unfamiliar area played a big part in this. It transpired that the Church at Hemevez where we had parked our vehicles at the outset of the exercise was only a five minute walk from La Castel. Glen, Manny, Jon and Enrico would continue retracing the route, Dave Grover would join Tom and I as we intended to retrace the route taken by the 4th Infantry on D-Day.

I only participated in one night of the “misdrops” march and I have to say it was a really thought provoking experience. One that I would happy to be involved in again, as it caused so many emotions. The highs and lows; I’ll not forget the elation I felt when meeting up with the others, or the way I felt when losing squad members in the darkness. How easy it is to misjudge, shapes, distance and time in the dead of night. Particularly also the knowledge I had gained with regard to what had occurred so many years before in the same area. Having been involved in the Carentan march the day before, although good was probably ill-advised as we were all suffering from it. Let’s face it we are not 22 year old GI’s who have been trained to the peak of physical performance.

Home Sweet home- the rebuilt section of the barn at La Castel


Leave me alone- I want to sleep


Dave Grover puts on a brave face despite suffering from the Carentan march


Thousand yard stare- Enrico Hudson contemplates what on earth he’s got involved in


The barns at La Castel






Memorial at the field where the seven troopers were killed


Part 4 to follow







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Re: Normandy 2012

Post  MattP on Sat Jun 30, 2012 6:33 pm

Excellent write-up and pics there Paul Smile
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Re: Normandy 2012

Post  Dantheman on Sat Jun 30, 2012 10:33 pm

Brilliant story Paul!!!!

I have to say, that is something i would absolutley love to do!!!!

With a bit of planning and research, something similar for the groups Normandy 2013 trip???


Dan.

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Re: Normandy 2012

Post  Gina_Costina on Sat Jun 30, 2012 11:57 pm

Dantheman wrote:Brilliant story Paul!!!!

I have to say, that is something i would absolutley love to do!!!!

With a bit of planning and research, something similar for the groups Normandy 2013 trip???


Dan.

I know that the gang are keen to do something next year, focused more on this than doing the Carentan march.

I can only give an acount of one night; Glen, Manny, Tom, Enrico and Jon Moore probably can give a better story from their combined extra nights, sleeping by day and marching by night...the story is not over, if they want to tell it.

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Re: Normandy 2012

Post  murph on Sun Jul 01, 2012 10:52 am

Very interesting and well written, I would like to do something like this myself for a few days perhaps.

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Re: Normandy 2012

Post  Pat on Tue Jul 03, 2012 9:57 pm

Excellent write up Paul ! That's something I would have loved to do ! that is truely living history ! How did you guys get the authorisation to wander in the night with gear and weapons ? It must have scared some people to see you guys all dressed up at night.
Why not include some Germans next time Razz Razz ?

Cheers

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