Well, I guess that was it. 10 days of excessive heat, rain storms and lightning. Apart from that I had a great time in Normandy
We arrived on Thursday afternoon and met up with the other Dutch guys at Vierville-Sur-Mer (That’s Omaha Beach to you Historians). We had a late lunch and set up our tents on a field behind the Museum there. The next day our British and American friends arrived while we went out for a little sight-seeing at Battery de Longues and American Cemetery at Coleville-sur-Mer.
There was a great shaking of hands between the folks that we met in 2004 and with some fresh folks who were with us for the first time. We set up a field kitchen behind the Chateau which provided us with an English breakfast the morning of friday the 21st.
After breakfast we prepared to move to our new location at Isigny -Sur-Mer. But first we did a small parade down the boulevard at Omaha beach.
Our little convoy had little trouble getting to Isigny, though someone hit a house with one of the M5 Stuarts. The neighboring house had been destroyed during the war, but house had gone through the D-Day landings without so much as a scratch. 62 Years later the 2nd Armored corrected the inconsistency. This would be the first of a small number of note-worthy mishaps.
At Isigny we provided a small honor guard for the memorial ceremony that evening.
The field in which we slept didn’t have the necessary facilities, good thing we only stayed there for a night.
Next morning a rumour of another accident spread though the camp. A civilian car had swerved into a ditch to avoid hitting a Jeep. We helped the poor frenchman back on the road. Luckily there wasn’t much damage.
We moved from Isigny-sur-mer up to Canisy. The convoy went through some nice bocage country. With plenty of Hedgerows before ending up at the Chateau de Canisy. The Baron welcomed us to his Chateau where we lined up the vehicles in the courtyard and we were provided with a small party. The Baron had graciously allowed us to stay on the grounds behind the chateau. The area contained the Guesthouse where we could wash ourselves decently.
The next day we toured through the country-side, visiting some historical locations and displaying our vehicles and uniforms to the public.
That evening we enjoyed a nice little soiree in the camp, though some went out to find their pleasure elsewere. We entertained 4 young ladies into the wee hours of the night.
Our next stop on the list was St Denis-Le-Gast. The location of the horrendous night battle between elements of the 2nd Armored and the German forces trying to escape from the Rouncey pocket. It was oppressingly hot in the field there, but the town’s little bar gave us plenty of refreshing beverages.
On the second day again we went out to visit historical locations and to provide honor guards at ceremonies held at various monuments. A heavy rain storm with lightning and my co-driver losing the ignition key to the jeep for a few minutescaused some consternation. . Towards the evening we went out to do a few Then-and-now photos and later on we ended up in the bar again. Singing rousing songs and chatting with eachother and the locals.
The day after we went up to St. Sever de Calvados were we spent an hour baking in the sun on a parking lot before moving to our campground. Nice and green it was, no cowpats either.
French Television wanted to cover the Americans liberating the town so we set up a few scenes with infantry running up a street, followed by two M8s that ended up on the square with their guns facing outwards. Then General Patton would drive up and deliver a speech to the men from the stairs of the council hall. It looked very impressive from my point of view. I hope the French enjoyed seeing it as well.
As the sun faded from the sky we put on our best clogs and marched into town. It wasn’t anywhere near as good as 80 GIs marching into Peronne in 2004, but it was impressive never the less. I was asked to initiate the cadence song so I led the men in with “Oh Soldier” on their lips.
The owner of the Snackbar’s eyes grew wide with dollar-signs as a 140 men crammed into his little place and ordered fries and omelette. We ended up at a cafe having a few beers and talking to the land lady who was of Irish origin.
Leaving St.Sever behind we moved through some of the most trying country side these vehicles had to face for a while. Getting up steep sloped hills was rather tough and the Jimmy’s had a rough time at it.
It was along these small roads that a distracted French lady accidently rammed an M8 (which had right of way anyway) Though here little Clio was totalled she and her passenger escaped unhurt.
Some time around noon we got to St. George de Rouelley were we camped down in an apple orchard. This gave us plenty of shade from the sunlight. We had a few hours to kill before the ceremony at the monument of an M8 crew that was killed by an 88, so we explored the town. I took care of some baguettes for the field kitchen before joining others in a small square in town where the villagers had set up an area for a 1940s liberation party.
The Americans had been playing baseball in the afternoon and one stepped on a tentpeg, He required a few stitches.
That evening there was music and dancing with plenty of food and drink. I was starting to feel the effects of the previous days and so went to bed somewhat early.
Coming into the final stretches off the tour, we left St. George behind and headed for Argentan. Our entrance into this city wasn’t as pleasant for some as hoped. The infantry had to double time it in front of the overheating vehicles to the camp ground. The camp ground itself was a parking lot in front of an hotel. It required MPs to guard it while others slept with their vehicles or in a theater to the side. There was however a very good meal to be had, and the town center was dotted with little clubs and bars, unfortunately these close after 1am. I had a semi-comfortable sleep in my Jeep while my co-driver slept on the tarmac under his shelterhalf stretched between two vehicles.
The morning wasn’t so bad until it started raining and it got worse on our way to Falaise and Caen. After the Ceremony everyone dashed off for their Ferry, Boat, Plane or Train. I didn’t get the time to shake hands and say farewell to many of participants which made me feel kind of sad.
So after helping load the low-loaders the Dutchies and Belgians set off for home. I arrived in Mierlo around 11pm and got home at about midnight.
So ends the story of the 2nd Armored Back to the Bocage tour. I hope you enjoy the pictures as I post them over the week.