Remembrance Trip to the Normandy Beaches
On Friday 10th November 2006, 44 Explorer Scouts and leaders from Apollo and Kipling units met at Hopehill, the district scout camp site in Gravesend Kent, at 7.30am, for the start of our remembrance trip to the Normandy beaches. It was cold as we stood expecting the normal scout trip bone shaker with no radio and no heating. We were pleasantly surprised when into the site pulled a brand new executive coach with all the modcons, DVD player with plasma screens, tea/coffee machine and air conditioning. We set off for the channel tunnel. It was a good job the coach had rear wheel steering as it was a squeeze to get big coaches on board the shuttle.
On the way down to Bernieres we watched the film the "Longest Day" to help put us in the mood for what was to come. It was a long drive down through France and it was not until about 8.30pm that we finally arrived at our youth hostel. Thankfully our evening meal was ready and waiting for us. Every meal was a 3 coarse spread. The best thing was no cooking or washing up!
On Saturday morning we all walked down to Juno beach. On the way down we could see some bullet holes left in the buildings. On the beach we took our shoes off and waded out into the sea. We then turned round to look back at the gun in placements that the troops would have faced so many years ago. Finally we went and looked around the gun in placements where a French Canadian veteran came and spoke to us.
We returned to our youth hostel to get ready for the church service and parade with the mayor only to find out that the vicar was sick and the church service was cancelled. So off to the beach again, in uniform this time, to have our own impromptu Scouts Own by the beach memorial and lower our flag for the 2 minute silence. We then took part in Bernieres’ wreath laying ceremony back at the church before going to the mayorie for drinks and nibbles and exchanging gifts and having lots of photographs taken with the mayor and the soldier cadets.
After lunch we were off again, this time to Gold Beach to see the gun in placements overlooking what was Mulberry Harbour. Here we meet some more veterans who took the time to talk to us. From here we went on to the Omaha Beach and cemetery where there are over 9500 American soldiers buried. On our way back to the youth hostel we watched "Saving Private Ryan" which really started to make things more real. In the evening we went to see a local scout group in Carn. They seemed a little overwhelmed to see so many of us but made us very welcome.
On Sunday morning we went to Sword Beach where Lord Lovett commandos came ashore on their way to relieve the troops that had landed at Pegasus Bridge. At Pegasus Bridge we walked around the glider landing site and were astonished at how close they landed to the bridges. We walked across the bridge to the famous cafe and met Madame Gondree who was only 6 years old at the time of the landings. She invited us all into her café and talked to us about what it was like under German occupation and what is was like to be liberated. We then had a guided tour of the Pegasus Bridge museum to see and hear more about the operation.
Finally we drove up the road to the British cemetery at Ranvell where there are over 2500 British troops buried. Here we looked for a grave of a soldier with our own surname to leave our poppies on. This was extremely moving as some of us found graves of soldiers with the same initials and the same age. Those that could not find their own name looked for a relative’s name or the grave of and unknown soldier. Everybody left there with a tear in their eye and so many memories that will never be forgotten.
Special thanks go to:
Derek and his team at Euroculture who helped plan and organise the trip, Andy from Buzz Line coaches for driving us round France and introducing us to Madam Gondree who took us into her home and then took time to talk to us all.
Andrew Martin ESL Apollo