A World War 2 Historical Site

Living History Group

2nd Armored in Europe  

“Back to the Bocage”

Operation Cobra Liberation Tour

22nd to 30th July 2006  

‘C’ Company 82nd Armored Reconnaissance Battalion  


2nd Armored Division alias - “Hell on Wheels” struck awe into the very hearts of the Axis forces that came into contact with it in WWII.  Its reputation in North Africa and Sicily preceded it in France and when the Germans became aware that 2nd was again “in town” - “down town” Normandy, there must have been a veritable shockwave that went straight to the heart of the German high command. Carentan and the battles surrounding this feat of arms certainly “let the wild cat loose” and the Germans were then aware that they were in for difficult times ahead. Not only had the landings been established, but the build up was commencing in earnest. Their old foes “Hell on Wheels” were there on serious “business!”

The above of course is now history, but what of the memory of those that gave their lives for our freedom today? How should such a remarkable division be remembered? Well then, how about bringing together a group of re-enactors such as the world has never seen in “action” before in Normandy in France – where it all actually happened? Deep into the Bocage region or “hedgerow country” where 2nd slug it out in 1944 and again proved that they were a force to be respected and feared.  

At the head of 2nd Armored came the 82nd Reconnaissance Battalion in 4 combat platoons; namely A, B, C & D. The track record of which is now firmly written in the annals of history.


  France has seen a lot of vehicle groups in the past  and in more  recent years re-enactors taking part in events have become common place, but never has it ever  had an event such as that which  took place in July of 2006 which was  organized and executed by 2nd Armored in Europe - 82nd Recon. ‘C’ Company.  

The end result of some 18 months of research,  logistical planning, approaches to the French authorities, negotiations with some 112 communes, the preparation of some 52 vehicles both from Europe and the USA,  their owners which included  some 145 men and women, from the UK, USA, Holland, Belgian, Luxembourg, Germany and  the Czech Republic all made up the “crew”.  

During the early part of 2006, the semblance of a strategic plan came to fruition. This was only accomplished after the whole of the convoy route was covered by car, detailed notes being taken of likely troublesome areas and indeed the state of the roads and of course likely traffic jam hot spots. Every commune implicated was consulted and their concerns over the fact that we were coming (tanks as well!), had to be met and discussions sometimes took place at odd hours, due to the fact that many of the mayors were in small villages and were in fact part time mayors, many of which were already hard working farmers deep in the Bocage. It is these farmer-mayors that were the most receptive and showed such enthusiasm that sometimes it was difficult to pry oneself away from meetings with them. They were oozing enthusiasm and wanted their own village to show how much it appreciated the sacrifices made by this famous armored division.  

Past experience dictated that not only was it important to get the initial planning correct, but that it was also vital to get the publicity of the venture underway as soon as possible. The French “civilians” however, were used to working two weeks ahead of their publicity schedule which put a considerable strain on the French co-ordinating part of the equation. In France some three weeks before the event was due to kick off, it was a constant “battle” to ensure that newspapers, local press, radio stations and indeed several television stations had not forgotten and that they were going to attend.  

In the UK, the logistical planning department was up to its eyes in it.  Vehicles were still being prepared and most of the members of 2nd Armored were still preparing their uniforms, equipment, spare parts and a myriad of other prerequisites. In the USA, the 14th Armored group had been involved for some months preparing to ship out 3 M5 Stuarts to France only to suffer the loss of the 3rd tank on the day before it was due to be loaded for trans-shipment. Finally, 14th shipped out 2 containers consisting of 2 M5 Stuarts and 2 rather new looking Jeeps. Having personally witnessed the e mails flying back and forth between the shipping agents and the shipping company at 02:00hrs in the morning on one night, I was suddenly aware that some 18 months of work was coming to fruition. Sleep was not on the agenda that night (or many other nights for that matter)! Additional problems that ensued would require the intervention of the American Embassy in Paris as the US State Department was reluctant to allow the “tanks” to be shipped out!  Subsequent e mails and phone calls to the Assistant Military Attaché at the Embassy were made by mobile phone whilst he was in Normandy planning for the 6th June. Endless problems like this were a constant factor in trying to put together the event to satisfy criteria laid down by the French Government and indeed complying with US regulations pertaining to armored vehicles and arms. There was a constant stream of e mails between France, the UK and many other countries for that matter and certainly the US end contributed considerably to this (by what was now becoming) a “river like” flow of communication.  

This of course may be somewhat daunting to the untrained eye, but having been through the “mill” during the past 26 years on many occasions it was all in “a days work,” which was additionally aggravated by the current climate pertaining to terrorism (which was a serious factor) which needed to be addressed. Emergency procedures were drawn up and circulated to the French authorities which they adopted without question. This was the level of co-operation for this remarkable act of remembrance which 2nd Armored in Europe was embarking upon.  

Such was the “status” of 2nd Armored in Europe after having had no problems with its previous large event in 2004 in France and Belgium, the Ministry of the Interior, French Customs and indeed the Departmental Prefects were very helpful and indeed the Regional Prefect for Normandy was a staunch supporter who clearly lead the way by stating; “I want nothing to go wrong with this one, see to it!” After having left this particular meeting, I was slightly “shell shocked,” but there were provisos, one of which was that every single commune had to agree to the proposal!  

This was back in July of 2005 after having already been in touch with most of the towns and villages before, as I knew what was coming! Things were now quite clearly able to progress so the work now started in earnest.  

Politics alas are all part and parcel of these type of events and it was absolutely essential that I followed the rules to the letter otherwise 2nd Armored would be having a firing squad with yours truly as the target! These were interesting days and I was able to draw on past experiences which helped us through some difficult political times. It was not plain sailing by any means.  

Knowing how to manoeuvre in “mine fields” was a prerequisite, but it should be remembered that whilst all of this was going on in France, 2nd Armored persé, was preparing in earnest for its pending arrival in “la Belle France”.  

In the UK there were many lamps burning “midnight oil”. The Americans themselves had their own yahoo group in action on the net  and on occasions the “flak” coming from that was considerable. E mails going back and forward, have you forgotten this or that, don’t forget we are meeting on … at… and so it went on night and day! Some of these e mails had hilarious contents!  

The enthusiasm from the Americans was remarkable and suffices it to say, we were all looking forward to seeing old friends and new faces together with us all in France on what was to become a remarkable event.   

If you have never seen 2nd Armored in Europe on the road or in “action” then you have missed the ultimate in living history! This was a difficult thing to explain to the French authorities until they were actually able to see photographs from previous events. The Military Command in Paris knew only full well of the potential value of this remarkable event and gave its moral support and encouragement which undoubtedly opened doors that would otherwise of been left firmly closed.  

By the time the American participants had arrived in the UK, the tanks from the USA were sitting on a French Military base (thanks to the French Army) and  the final faxes were going out to the 115 communes now involved in the routing.  

The evening before things were due to “kick off”, I can remember standing at the top of Omaha beach before 2nds arrival by ferry at Ouistreham and having some sort of “eerie experience”.  Was this nerves or something that was now part of the fabric of the area and coming to us as vibrations from the past in one of the places on God’s Earth that could be described as a one time “Hell on Earth,” alias “Bloody Omaha!”  

The advance parties from various places in Europe had already beaten us to it and were already in “occupation” in Normandy, on the campsite stencilling their vehicles, putting tents up and all manner of last minute touches.  

By this time, Capt Nick Heighes and his convoy were now at the docks being loaded ready for shipment to Ouistreham in Lower Normandy for their fast approaching start to an exciting adventure.   

An evening of discussion prevailed for us in France and our “experience” of the day with some customs officers in my Department of Ile et Vilaine in France was the basis of this “wine- fired” lively debate   The result of this encounter was somewhat amusing, during which I suggested that the chief of the customs patrol (some 16 officers in all) would be best advised (with the greatest of respect of course) to phone Paris to verify our paperwork. He politely declined the offer and we were subsequently wished a “have a nice day” and left to continue on our journey into Normandy.  

During the day whilst driving up into the beachhead area , I had the car radio tuned into radio Manche, it became apparent that the “battle” for publicity had paid off, during the journey every 30 minutes there was a report on the convoy, its intended routing, number of vehicles involved and  the number of personnel. In fact I can remember feeling embarrassed about the whole thing at the time, but reminded myself that without the publicity, there would be no spectators!  

The next day was an early start as the ferry was due to dock at 07:30hrs.Which meant us leaving at about 06:00hrs to ensure our arrival in time to clear customs and lead the convoy back to Omaha on the pre-authorized route. Problems from the start, mine was a German car! Obviously nervous about the impending arrival! Still we got there only to see the vehicles already proceeding into the customs compound.   

The Convoy had appeared from the ferry like something from a Cinderella Pantomime and was dressed to go to the ball!   It was clear that 2nd Armoured in Europe had arrived; there was no mistaking this convoy! Together with its vehicles which had millions of hours of restoration bestowed upon them – the sight was an historian’s dream! A real living convoy! As though it had slipped through time! The entire company dressed for the part and authentic in everyway.  The visual effect was absolutely stunning. Something never seen in Normandy since the war and unlikely ever to be seen again. A once in a lifetime experience.  

I was challenged upon entry into the compound and I showed the paperwork from Paris, everything was ok; a few vehicles were looked at more by interest than by the “real interest” of a customs officer.  I saw one young customs officer - man handling a 50 calibre, he had obviously handled one or two in his military training, and it was like he was handling an “old friend” it was clear that he knew what he was doing! He then went off in enthusiastic pursuit of another interesting piece of armor and was last seen headed in the direction of an impressive looking M8.  

Customs officers with a smile on their faces is a rare sight, this was one of those rare days! We were in good hands. As always the Douanes at Ouistreham had been their usual helpful selves and the “entente cordiale” was very much appreciated. Assembly of convoy was delayed for 45 minutes whilst one vehicle looked for fuel. Incidentally, we know who you are! The convoy finally leaving at 09:15hrs.  

The route was both a pleasant one in the early morning and yet was very interesting to see the narrow streets as we passed through the villages with buildings that did in places show scars from that earlier landing in 1944. Very few people around, but on occasions people were seen to stop in their tracks and look back at the unbelievable life like “ghost convoy” from the past.  For miles we headed in the direction of the spires of Bayeux Cathedral which towered skywards in the distance and yet got closer and closer until our arrival at the circular road and then we moved away from this remarkable edifice.  We had one problem en route resulting in a 10 minute  stop along the side of the road and then the eventual arrival at Vierville-sur-Mer (after having passed Mosles where 2nd Armored had de-watered in 1944) where the locals were awaiting our arrival with bated breathe. All things considered our timing was surprisingly spot-on according to our movement timings.  

An encouraging start.  Camp was established and the group now went about its organization, pitching tents, the kitchen was set up in the Château de Vierville-sur-Mer courtyard. The first consignment of baguettes and fresh eggs arrived, which was  followed by the cut wood logs for the field kitchen.  

During the afternoon, a delegation was sent to the military base at Carpiquet to collect the two M5 tanks and the two jeeps with the 2 low loaders that had arrived with the main party. Once security checks had been made, all of the party were taken onto the base, I removed my padlocks from the containers (having been there previously to accept delivery of the containers) and then we departed in our Jeep to collect our General for the tour who had arrived that very morning at Charles de Gaulle airport direct from the USA and was awaiting collection at Caen railway station. It was none other than Art Pope, alias General Patton II.  This was a “restricted” operation and the arrival of the jeep at the railway station was viewed with some suspicion. The way having been smoothed with the security services previously. Art’s luggage was bundled in and we drove off doing battle with the town’s trams and taxis, using restricted lanes to advantage.  

So, the arrival of the convoy was complete and so it set about its business.  

On the way back to the camp at Vierville-sur -Mer, I had repeated phone calls from French television stations en route and was unable to address any of their requests for information at this late stage. I had incidentally started with all of the French television stations some 7 months earlier! All of a sudden they were awake; they had heard reports of a large convoy arriving at the docks in the morning! Now everybody wanted to know. I can remember thinking to myself, “plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose!”  

General Patton upon arrival did a quick change in a stable at the Château and appeared as if by magic on the campsite which suddenly gave the whole “back drop” a very “real” feeling.  

The day sped away and before we knew it we were at the evening briefing at 19:00hrs and the do’s and don’ts, safety procedures, how things were going to work and who was responsible for what etc., etc., etc. The whole thing being preceded by introductions, so that any new faces would know who to kick “should”, things go wrong. One of the main concerns being the current weather and the heat, together with the problems of melting tarmac and tanks. That night the infantry went on patrol, and we could see further south an electrical storm, some of the lightning was spectacular. The day had been a busy one but yet the enthusiasm kept everybody up late into the night.  

Thankfully we were to be blessed with rain early in the morning which cooled the whole situation down and made the movement with the tanks possible.  I didn’t relish the possibility of saying “sorry guys” no tanks today due to circumstances beyond our control.  Which was a real possibility given the heat and the country roads which were not built for heavy weight traffic. The prospect of the firing squad was ever present in my mind!  

The day started with the kitchen in the Château courtyard where the egg & bacon with baguette ration was served to the company; this very tasty breakfast was a favourite with a lot of people and was a welcome start to the day. The General himself was seen to do battle with a baguette amidst his fellow “countrymen”. Amongst some 150 people it is easy to loose someone and that morning I hadn’t seen the First Sergeant - Iain  Saunders, he was being his usual self, darting here -darting there, nose under the hood of this and that and generally getting people motivated, woe betide anybody remaining in their “pit”  after time when he was about.  Not even I relished the verbal lashing that would ensue after such an offence!

First stop down the hill to Omaha beach to start the “adventure” in the paths of many good men that had lost their lives for our freedom.  

A very impressive line up of vehicles, so many spectators, most of whom, were taking photographs.

When I stood on the beach and looked back at the convoy together with the M5s and their “snorkels” I new that it was the first time for many years that such a remarkable sight would had been seen on this otherwise sombre beach - “Bloody Omaha”  

The public were there, except that they didn’t appear to be excited-more enthusiastic, possibly this is the effect that Omaha beach has on people when they see such a realistic sight at this location!  

 The convoy moved off after having spent some 30 minutes at the beach side, up the hill and across the Vierville-sur-Mer crossroad in the direction of Trevières and our first problem for the day.  Radios didn’t work, well at least in HQ13 Jeep, no joy, what sort of a command was this? The name “Titantic” came to mind, we were now reduced to signals with hands and the like.  

A certain scene from Kelly’s Heroes came to mind. This was it, the convoy was in the start of the Bocage and we had our first problem together with our first breakdown, one track down with core plug problems and an M5! 11:31hrs convoy stopped on the roadside between Trevières and Rubercy on the D96. 11:37hrs engines stopped. Save fuel.  

Finally moved off at 12:00hrs, the M5 and the track would have to catch up, the latter was awaiting core plugs to be brought up.  

12:35hrs convoy arrived in le Molay Littry, parked up in the town and invaded several bars etc to await the arrival of the other two vehicles.

14:05hrs moved out from Le Molay Littry en route for Neuilly-la-Forêt after having received a telephone call to say that the vehicles that had problems were now running again and would join us en route.  

A number of phone calls en route asking where we were, had we changed the route, there were people waiting to see us and when could we be expected to be in their village? Such is the modern cell phone! I had contemplated throwing it into the nearest ditch or under an M5 except that from the head of the convoy that was clearly not on the list of possibilities. Besides which, it had suddenly become a vital means of communication.  

Grey overcast skies threatening to precipitate at any minute yet there was little traffic and we looked like a real-time convoy with a meaningful mission!  At last we were back on the road and the vehicles that had broken down would be joining us soon. Cell phones were being useful after all! 14:19hrs Bernescq, crowds of people waiving at the side of the road. It was this crowd assisted by their anxious Mayor that had been phoning constantly, I did look to see if anyone had a guilty look on their face, but no, nothing obvious, in fact they were decidedly pleased to see us, nothing much happens in theses “parts”. 14:26 arrived in Colombières on the D5; we turned the corner to see some jeeps and an M5 and other vehicles. A GI  poked his head into the back of HQ13 where I was sat with all of the papers, “The tank has hit a house!”, Instant flashback to Kelly’s  Hero’s  again - Sherman driving through a wall and then crushing a car before driving off sound familiar?!  My immediate reaction was -its some sort of infantile joke! NO! It was true, having been prepared for such an eventuality of a vehicle hitting a property over the past 26 years I had never actually used the procedure on a tank and a house before! There was no mistake now as to who was going to have to sort this one out! Fortunately the “damage” was negligible and nobody was reported as being injured.  

The convoy pulled up on the side of the road, The Gendarmes turned up, needless to say! I grabbed the “black file” which contained the convoy emergency log procedure. Convoy was stopped at 14:27.  

Before I could reach the house on foot, the mayor of the town turned up, he then accompanied me towards the house in question. We met the lady of the house on the side of the street and we were invited inside. We were offered a drink; I accepted a coffee (black) and started to go through what had happened. Tank driver being no where in sight, obviously hiding under a hedge somewhere or inside his tank with the hatches closed – “buttoned up”! Apparently the lady had given the driver a bottle of local cider to calm him down! She or at least her house was the victim of the latest “débarquement” but was not unduly perturbed by the experience except that all agreed that we were all fortunate in that nobody thankfully, was injured. Possibly this was an “exciting” event in the village, which was otherwise a remote settlement and had certainly not seen any “action” since the war.  

The paperwork was started whereupon, it was agreed that a “retreat” to the town hall would be in order as a photocopier was needed and all manner of modern day office equipment could be “got at” if need be. During the ensuing paperwork, I discovered that in fact the Mayor was in fact an ex French Army Colonel and had used M5 tanks in North Africa! He knew them inside out.  He was only too aware of the problems of moving such a vehicle on wet tarmac roads and he suggested to the Gendarmes (who were looking over my shoulder the whole time) that everything was in order and that we didn’t want to detain them further. In fact the officer and the female officer were very nice and were more interested in my experiences than making life difficult.  The driver of Delta 2 (tank in question) was summoned to produce his paperwork for photocopying and he subsequently disappeared as quickly as he had arrived. Possibly back to “button up”status!  

The formalities were soon over and everybody shook hands and I stepped out into the fresh air, the first sight to greet me was the whole of the convoy stretched out on the road outside the town hall with the whole crew in their vehicles with some mustering around their respective pieces of armor. This was something that 2nd Armored does very well; create visual “impact” – no pun intended! The Mayor was also seen to be stood looking at the impressive column. I could only imagine what was going through his mind.  

We may have been in the middle of Bocage country, but here news travels fast, already villages ahead knew there was a problem and yet, despite the delay they were alongside the road as we passed. We were nevertheless getting through our schedule on our first day’s convoy.   

Approximately 1 km from the camp at Neuilly-la-Forêt our own HQ13 jeep was to cough and splutter and finally give up the ghost. Fuel starvation! The rest of the convoy carried on and we were some 30 minutes later, delivered under tow, to the camp which was rapidly appearing out of the field.  

A rather large field with an incredible view across the valley of the Vire. The locals had already set up their barbecue and drinks stand to cater for the mass of visitors expected to come and visit the camp. Indeed they came, amidst which we were getting things organized, fuel payments were being made, the field  kitchen was being set up and indeed one  M5 that had been brought in on low loader and was being  worked on. Finally it fired up amidst a great cheer from those nearby. Meanwhile a very excited Mayor had arrived and was eagerly asking questions about the tanks and the armored vehicles. This was no ordinary mayor, a producer of local cider and Calvados! He was also passionate about the history of his commune. It was this commune that housed the local resistance hq and was the scene of a very secret operation.  During the night of 9th July in 1944 a John Beresford Hayes (codename Eric), was parachuted   into a field near Fougerolles-du-Plessis some 90kms South from Neuilly-la-Forêt. He spoke French fluently, even the local patois to perfection and was also fluent in German, he was a first class SOE operative. The mission was called “Operation Helmsman” and was a vital TOP SECRET mission to coordinate the French resistance into providing diversionary tactics and intelligence to ensure the speedy and effective launch of Operation Cobra.  This then was the outline of the operation for what was to become one of the most vital parts of the breakout in Normandy in 1944.  “Eric” was moved up with the help of the resistance group from St. Hilaire de Harcouet and they collected details of German troop movements, details of their positions and strength etc.  

Upon the arrival of “Eric” at Neuilly-la-Forêt, he was subsequently “interrogated” by a Colonel Runkle from G2 for hours at a time. He was the Colonel attached to 1st Army intelligence and during his questioning he was also visited by General Bradley himself. A subsequent visitor was non-other than General Patton himself who spoke French fluently and wanted to assure himself that “Eric” was indeed the person whom he declared himself to be (remembering of course that General Patton’s “séjournement” in France at that time at Néhou camp was ultra top secret). Such a great deal was “riding” on this individual that G2 had to be assured that this was not a “plant”.  

The commune of course was occupied by the Germans before this advent and “Eric” was being guided by the resistance group from Saint-Hilaire-de-Harcouet gathering intelligence of German troops and their movements on the way up to the beach head and recruiting at the same time for the HQ to be set up in Neuilly-la-Forêt.  This was also to become a training centre and the FFI from the south of the Bocage region were also to be implicated.  This then was the operation intended to enlighten G2 with the task that lay ahead of them and that famous “Operation Cobra” which is now in the annals of history.  

In trying to cut a long story short, the mission was as you will now realise a complete success and the amazing thing is that the small settlement that was chosen for the HQ was to become a vast storage area for 3,750 tanks for General Patton and the temporary operating air field for the US 474th Fighter group which were to fly in support of 2nd Armored Division and its operations.   

Also at the time of the German occupation the nearby farm to our campsite were a unit of Russian Cossacks. They were known by the Germans to be virtually uncontrollable and were frequently seen using the nearby rail line to move back and forth on their horses whilst on patrols.  

The evening was to be quite a hectic one as the convoy was now installed on the camp, vehicles needed to be attended to (as usual), there were ceremonies due to be held, the days ration of “baguettes” and eggs had to be collected from nearby Isigny-sur-Mer.  Such was our “lot”.  

The ceremonies went off without a hitch and the Dutch firing party were superb. Speeches were made and there were some VIPs from Regional government there incognito. Pigeons were released from their baskets and all enjoyed local cider and “other” refreshments. During the “drinkies” I met a local (and there weren’t many of them who were there during the war that were left), he would have been about 12 in 1944 and “served” as a messenger for his father (resistance). He was “employed” to take written messages to the resistance HQ at la ferme de BAGOT (La Mancellière), under the strict instructions from his father that if he was stopped by a German that he was to eat the piece of paper with the message upon it without  any delay. It wasn’t until after the war that his father explained to him what had been going on!  

This then was the “village” of Neuilly-la-Forêt and its war time piece in the jigsaw.  This commune being in the valley of the Vire had its bridge “blown” when the Germans left and when the Americans arrived they needed to cross the Vire,  the locals showed them the two old fords that they were able to use.  

We had hoped to use them, but the banks of the Vire had subsequently been raised by some 2.5 metres and getting down to the ford level was not practical, besides which we had left the Brockway 666 at home! So we settled for the new bridge which was incidentally replaced as late as 1985 and was formerly a Bailey bridge.  

After the evening remembrance ceremonies, the Mayor and numerous village people were taken back via the 474th fighter group memorial where another wreathe was laid. Upon arrival at the campsite, we settled down for the night, maintenance and planning for the next mornings “cross country” route. We went off with the Mayor in the jeep to see where the tracks led to and then returned to the camp after having been satisfied that all was possible. The Mayor kindly brought us 6 bottles of his own cider and the rest is history as they say!  

A reasonably quiet night was spent; those that had the “need” went out into the country to see what was to be had in the way of locations for photographs. The kitchen staff managed (as they did on numerous occasions to prepare us a meal) despite all of them having numerous jobs into the bargain. They were to be stars on the trip battling against all odds to keep our bodies and souls together. At times, some even provided a cabaret as well, but that’s another story.  

The farm owners were superb; I think that they were proud to think that we were in their field! The historic significance of the site I cannot go into here as it will take another 4 pages at least, but suffice it to say that it had connections as far back as William the Conqueror and his brother. In the middle ages the Bishops of Bayeux had a palace there and had their own hunting forest which is the last remaining Bishops hunting forest left in France intact and was just up the hill from our camp.   

The morning came around all too soon and with it came the threat of rain.  I could quite happily of stayed in that field for a week, there was so much to discover in the area and possibly a good base for future “operations”.  

The jeep decided it was not going to run.  Finally giving way to having its carburettor and fuel filter forcibly removed by expert American hands! Those same hands also managed to lose something in the grass, and it wasn’t the jeep! However, crisis finally overcome only to find the convoy had moved off and the lead vehicle had decided to go in completely the wrong direction. After some 40 minutes the jeep was running I had joined the convoy in a track and we were now on the farm track in the right direction this time surrounded by Bocage and it started to rain. Well it had to didn’t it? Numerous photographs were being taken and there was no hurrying that process.  The Mayor of a nearby town kept phoning me repeatedly, when could we be expected to turn up, were the tanks going to damage his road, what was the hold up, why weren’t we there?  

In the end, the lead vehicle, failed to make the turn off the bridge on the pre authorized route to take us cross country into a village that was waiting for us, the route was changed and that was that. No turning back with some 54 vehicles including tanks and their attached “Culin hedge cutters” in a small lane with hedges on either side. No option, no choice, move on!  

We finally hit the N174 and proceeded directly for le Dézert further south trying to make up some lost time as the public were out in force expecting our arrival for a ceremony to remember Col Paddy Flint. Our arrival at Le Dézert was at 12:05hrs, a  relay of information was going back and forth by civilian car on our progress, thanks to the local “resistance” possibly re-enacting their role in 1944! Meanwhile whilst we stopped on the N174 the tanks had turned back to be “lifted” to our final destination for the day at Canisy by low loader.  

The vehicles were parked up and then the troops were formed up in the car park outside the town hall where was located the memorial plaque to Col Paddy Flint who died in this town in July 1944 due to injuries sustained whilst he was leading his men from the front. 

General George Patton . (with whom he was a great friend) once commented upon Col. Flint in the following manner: "Paddy Flint is clearly nuts, but he fights well."

 It was in fact General Patton himself who decorated Col Flint on the eve of his death in this very town. Just next to the plaque was the German PAK anti tank gun which was a remnant of more difficult times in this remarkable town, situated just off the N174 which was Liberty Highway and which was often subjected to German sniper fire which is what happened to Col. Flint.

Col flint was a great believer in leading his men from the front, although he was a Calvary trained man he was in command of the 39th Infantry Division. It was Col. Flint who gave the regiment its Triple-A Bar Nothing slogan: "Anything, Anywhere, Anytime - Bar Nothing." The regiment took great pride in the AAA-O slogan, displaying it on their helmets and vehicles, even in combat. When questioned about the soundness of the practice, Col. Flint confidently declared, "The enemy who sees our regiment in combat, if they live through the battle, will know to run the next time they see us coming."

Stenciling this slogan on his soldiers' helmets was against regulations, but it paid off in helping turn the 39th Regiment from a lackluster unit into something of a legend.

The ceremony  took place, wreathes were laid, the volley fire forced  a gasp from the mouths of the public present, suddenly making them aware of the realities of war and its sacrifices, for freedom is not free-as was said in many speeches during that week! The Mayor gave his speech and we were then ushered into the rooms above the town hall where a toast was given to the memory of Paddy Flint and the soldiers that died in the liberation of the town. In fact there was a photograph of Col Flint being decorated by General Patton in the corridor; such was the belief of the commune that this episode in history would not be forgotten.  This was one of those ceremonies that really brought home how much the villagers believed in their duty to remember. Our time in this village was all but spent; we all filed out and then back to our respective vehicles and to get ready to move off to our next rendezvous.  

Convoy moved off at  13:25hrs and was now on the road in the direction of  Pont-Hébert and then Hébécrevon and then onto Canisy, where upon arrival the tanks were rolling across the road from the car park opposite the Châteaux  de Canisy being ably assisted by the Town Police. This was an excellent manoeuvre on the tankers part which was what we were to become accustomed to, such was their professional attitude. They then moved to one side inside the Châteaux grounds to then let the convoy pass and take their respective position in the convoy so that when we entered the courtyard (and some courtyard) they were in their correct position. We arrived at 14:21hrs. Well at least we had arrived and all was well. Well at least we were all relieved to be there. The most amazing thing was to see the look on the faces of the members of the convoy as they dismounted after having parked up in a straight line along the entire length of the courtyard.  

I had of course been there before, but nothing could of prepared the group for a sight such as this, as the real-time convoy sat there in the courtyard of this historic Châteaux.  The presence of this convoy in the courtyard of the Château owner; M. le Comte de Kergorlay  was only made more realistic by the comment from himself that in fact General Bradley had stayed there with his staff, for one month in the summer of 1944.  Perhaps this was re-enacting gone mad!  

It was, but what a sight!  There was even a vin d’honneur set out for us on tented trestle tables ably served by the Châteaux’s staff. The people from the village and the Press were by this time filtering into the grounds. Then came the ultimate.  

The troops were lined up at the rear of the vehicles facing the Châteaux and our own General Patton addressed the troops from an elevated walkway alongside the Chateaux.  As this was going on, I glanced at Denis de Kergorlay’s face and he was staring at the spectacle in front of him completely enthralled (he had arrived by train from Paris especially to see this convoy, only to have to leave again in the evening to get back to Paris).  This quite extraordinary convoy assembled in his courtyard-this was living history as only 2nd Armored in Europe could provide!  

Then General Patton now having gotten a “feel” for his new HQ, then asked the troops if they had any questions?  What a remarkable stage, the questions were unbelievable and the answers came right off the cuff, just like a well rehearsed script from a film, this was re-enacting beyond my wildest dreams. This one hour in this Châteaux courtyard made all of the work and problems suddenly disappear into insignificance. The members of the press were like children with new toys, they had never seen anything like it! It was evident however, that everybody was very tired. I moved around taking “stock of the situation” There in the replica of the Grange Cavern in Liverpool in the Châteaux’s lower floor were some of 2nds crew asleep in the comfortable arm chairs. All was well given the fact that we had done battle with the weather, 2nd was in relatively good shape and the professional attitude of the group was such that everything was in its place and in order. It was nearing time to establish camp and so we rounded everybody up and the convoy then moved out of the courtyard and around the northern side of the Châteaux to its farm complex where our camp was to be for the next two nights.  

The whole of the farm complex was utilised, which included the barns for repairs, tank parking, accommodation, showers and indeed cooking under the arches brought a whole new meaning to cuisine. This camp would not have been out of place in a WWII photo journal.  The lush grassed areas that were allocated were used to full advantage for pitching tents and concealment against potential air attack. Some of the contingent even had their own early morning view of the Chateaux from their own tents. However, on this night much partying was to take place and a certain number of bottles of calvados came our way.  I say a certain number for even today I cannot still be certain as to how many were emptied. All I can say is that it was a good 15 year old calvados with a unique kick of its own!  

The next morning was not to be an easy start as after the night before some of us were decidedly feeling very “numb”.  

After having tried to get everything ready, the convoy finally moved out of the Chateau grounds at 10:31hrs in the direction of St. Gilles. All things considered, this was nothing short of miraculous considering the night before. Our main destination for the morning was Marigny where we arrived safely. Here the whole convoy assembled in the town square and then the wreathe laying took place at the memorial and the firing party and honor guard performed their usual volley which the locals appreciated very much. This always gave an air of authenticity to the proceedings and was quite impressive.  This was followed by a vin d’honneur in the town reception room where the contents of the official speech from the commune made it very clear that Marigny was virtually flattened due to the carpet bombing that pre-empted the start of Operation Cobra. Needless to say our very presence there on this day was a stark reminder to the locals of the suffering that they endured during the war. When we finally left Marigny, we continued on our way for the destination of Coutances and then returned back towards the direction of Quibo, where our afternoon ceremony in memory of 2nd Armored was to take place. The sun shone violently all day. The heat was exhausting but fortunately there were no hold ups due to breakdowns. The convoy arrived on time and the town council were awaiting us, we were introduced to Madame le Maire who was a staunch supporter of military remembrance and was still in contact with relatives of some of those mentioned on the 2nd Armored plaque on the town memorial.  The Press were already there, the town council had set up some refreshing drinks for us and then the tanks arrived from the opposite direction which created a remarkable sight. The road through the village was now blocked and once again, 2nd Armored held another small memorial service in this remarkable village. The wreathe was laid and then the refreshments were served much to the delight of those that had been seeking the shade of some of the buildings from the sun. The result of the “pincer” movement on this village was quite remarkable for as members of the town were watching the main section of the convoy arrive on their left, the M5s arrived from the right almost at the same time, thus creating the illusion that the village had been surrounded. After some 55 minutes, the convoy then assembled and moved off in the direction of the Châteaux at Cansiy where we were fortunate to have another night. However, this was not the end of the days proceedings, there was another welcome organized for us all in the form of a Bocage Cider tasting at the regional government office in St Lo, which had very kindly been authorized by the President of the Conseil Regionale Monsieur Jean-Francois LEGRAND who was also a French Senator, it was he that had supported the aims of  2nd Armored from the outset. This was an opportunity to visit the post war buildings of the regional government that the locals called “Mini Versailles”.  The whole of the buildings were in white stone and although the appearance from the outside was more traditional, the interior was pure, clean modern functionality at its best. This building sat on the hill south of St Lo as it was this town that suffered a considerable aerial bombardment.  

The cider that was served was both refreshing and typical of the region and was a welcome respite from the heat of the sun outside.  The site of the arrival of the vehicle crews marching into the courtyard was impressive. We were very close to the Château at Canisy and we needed to return to base as some wished to go into town for the evening.  

This had been a busy day, everybody had made a good effort and it seemed that the stamina was never ending. Some dressed in A class uniforms and then climbed aboard GMCs for the short run into town. The remainder of us sat in the camp and prepared for the next day and oh yes, consumed the remnants of the calvados and generally had a good time in talking about past events and not worrying too much about what was to come. The tank crews were undertaking maintenance again as they were usually occupied in this way at every possible moment of “down time”.  

Once again it was late to bed, some of the younger members of the camp had “captured” some prowlers in the camp in their guise of 17 and 18 year old girls. An interrogation ensued as to who they were, what they were “doing” and did their parents know where they were. It transpired that all was well, but I had my doubts, but the troopers were nevertheless given strict instructions and left to their own devices. There have to this day been no complaints so one must assume that the “entente cordiale” is still alive and well. This was again another late night and so it was going on. Tomorrow was another day and so we left the camp in the Chateau grounds to its own devices.  

The next morning, the whole convoy had made a considerable effort and it was ready to move off on time. 09:30 hrs, convoy leading down the road way surrounding the Chateaux of Cansiy and onto the main road passing through the town of Canisy en route for its destination of St. Denis le Gast. Our next stop was due to be Moyon which was in the heart of the Bocage. The roads which were bounded by high hedgerows were evident and the column wound its way through these narrow lanes with little or no traffic meeting it whilst en route. Upon arrival in Moyon, we were greeted by a crowd of locals who had all turned out for our arrival.  The Mayor himself was delighted to see us and during the planning he had made it clear in no uncertain terms that he gave us his total support and indeed had asked us how to best go about organizing our arrival. We had purely indicated to him that in fact he had little to do except to authorize our passage and we would do the rest. In reality, the Mayor had undertaken quite a lot, he was determined that his commune at least would remember our passing! Upon our arrival, drinks were laid on for us and the parking arrangements were already in place – the village centre was filled with vehicles and then closed off! We were at this point minus the M5 tanks as they were on their way to a rendezvous some 5 kms from our final destination of the day at St Denis le Gast. Our scheduled stop at Moyon soon sped by and we were then back into the country lanes of Bocage country, driving through remote quiet areas that rarely saw any traffic and certainly would not of seen a convoy such as ours since the war.   

Our arrival at Tessy sur Vire came and went and we were now on the main road which stretched out in front of us for mile after mile going over hill and dale in the sure knowledge that we would very soon be back in touch with our M5 tanks.  

There were anxious moments when we could see nothing in the distance and finally at 11:58hrs after coming over the brow of a hill some 5 kms from St Denis le Gast were the tanks, their V8 Caddilacs were already running and as we passed them they were already running on the road and building up speed, not that an M5 needs much of an area to build up speed! The convoy was now complete and the M5 crews seemed to be in a busy mode as they were now back in the “fold”. The run from hereon in was some 10 minutes not a long one, but the sight of all of the vehicles stretching back for some 2 kms including all of that armor was a sight to behold. Not a civilian car in sight, the authenticity was something to be seen to be believed. When the convoy arrived, there were very few people in the streets but within seconds of the convoy turning left on the cross road opposite the church people were appearing from the houses.  

The run for the day was thankfully without incident and the convoy was now lining up to get onto the field that was “earmarked” for the camp for two nights.  This was going to be an important camp for 2nd. This village was at the heart of the struggle that took place in July 1944 between 2nd Armored (and indeed 82nd Recon) and a number of German elements trying to flee the area due to aerial bombardments that were earmarked as a prelude to the start of Operation Cobra. The reality of course was that 2nd Armored and in particular its 82nd Recon Battalions were being used as a “cutting edge” to punch through enemy lines and became so successful that they were often  running off the maps that were being used by GHQ for operational planning. General Bradley himself had noticed this, but was fully aware of the value of their progress and encouraged them further. It is easy some 65 years on to analyse these spectacular movements during which brave men lost their lives, but we should never forget the remarkable achievements made by these units and what they had to go through.  

As a French General from Paris remarked “ We are aware that possibly today, younger generation have lost “sight” of these actions and 2nd Armored’s considerable efforts to bring this period in history alive will recreate a living re-enactment that will enable younger generations to imagine in a more concrete way what actually took place”.  

So here we were; on day 5 in St. Denis le Gast, fine, hot weather and the camp was opening to the public for the afternoon. In fact it didn’t stop at the end of the day, they kept coming from far and wide and well into the night!  This was a nice cross road town, in it were facilities!  

One bakery, a small shop and a restaurant-bar/hotel all in close proximity. On the crossroads itself, there was a Panzer 4 which was knocked out in 1944 and a local civilian was shot in an unfortunate accident of friendly fire. Not to mention actions that took place adjacent to the Hotel and the nearby “land of the dead”. This was an area that earned its name during the 100 years war between France and England in the middle ages  and virtually on the same spot in 1944 history repeated itself. This time endorsing the name that would remain with the area for evermore – The Land of the Dead!  

At St Denis le Gast we were joined by Patric Fissot and John Torchio who were both historians of the area in their own right. Their intimate knowledge of the battles and skirmishes that took place was outstanding and they took great delight in taking out parties to various areas to visit places which are now mentioned in the annals of history. This for many was a remarkable experience. M5 tanks were seen to park on the very spots in wartime photographs so that a modern day equivalent photograph could be taken. This was something that really made passers by think; this was a literal remembrance, the like of which had never been undertaken before.  

Our first night in St Denis le Gast was spent by and large between the camp and the two bars, the latter two of course took a hammering as due to the heat of the day, everybody had a thirst that was not about to be quenched easily. The road side bar on the main road stayed open until the early morning and the owner showed the eager drinkers some of the relics which he had acquired over the years which were a welcome diversion to the bottom of a drinking glass. The First Sergeant was seen doing his “rounds” checking on all and sundry and indeed had one or two words of advice for the officers as well. Nobody was precluded from his authority that was clear. Even at this time of the morning he was still on the go and sometimes we wondered how it was that this “stalwart” kept “his battery” charged. He was more often than not found at the rear of the convoy dealing with breakdowns or minor vehicular problems, this was a man that kept the very fabric together and often was not seen near the head of the convoy at all until the end of the day.  

So 2nd Armored settled into its first night in St Denis le Gast and finally the gates of the camp were closed for the night, the stragglers getting back to the camp only to find that they had to sign themselves in. This in itself was a sight to behold, as some were clearly not capable of navigating - even with a pencil!  

Dawn finally appeared and so the promise of another fine day –or so we thought, surprises were in store! The convoy was assembled and ready to move out at 09:29hrs, our route was to take us through La Voltolaine, La Pompe, St Martin de Cenilly, La Pinetriere Notre Dame de Cenilly and then on to Roncey where we were due to stop for refreshments. The car park adjacent to the church was empty as promised by the town hall and the impressive convoy pulled in and sought out the nearest bar which was forthwith requisitioned as the Officers PX.  

Roncey was a strange place, after having been virtually razed to the ground after the bombing by the US Air Force in 1944 it subsequently grew up out of the rubble to become a vibrant yet quiet village in the heart of the Bocage. When we approached the town hall for permission to pass through and indeed pause there, they were curious as to why we should want to visit such an uninteresting place such as theirs? Obviously the war came into the equation and of course the sheer devastation that took place there and it was only until they were shown photographs of the vehicles and those of their town in waste that they understood what we were about! Needless to say our lunchtime visit in the middle of the week was not ideal for the locals, but as much of the route for the tour it did mean that we would be able to move around uninhibited.  

The local butcher had set up his barbecue on the pavement outside his shop and was selling grilled sausages in baguettes which was a popular fare with our group. The price of which depended on what you looked like (or so we thought)!  

The bar/café was used to capacity and time was taken to refer to photographs of the village after the US Air force had attacked the 2,500 armored German vehicles that we were in and around the village at the time of the attack. The result of this attack basically ensued panic within the German ranks, The Germans then making off in every conceivable direction southwards to avoid the onslaught that was obviously on its way. What they hadn’t bargained for was the close proximity of 2nd Armored Division and its Recon units who were already behind enemy lines in places.  The D38 being covered in its entirety by 2nd Armored Division expecting action at any moment, this D38 was designated by the Germans as a main route of escape from the “Roncey Cauldron” as the Germans had named it. The actions undertaken both by individuals and 2nd as a whole in my view has been understated in historical documents, what took place was a heroic struggle to stem the flow of fleeing Axis troops which essentially was fired by selfless actions by individuals who at times went up and beyond the call of duty!  

The D38 of course became a no go area and every conceivable roadway, track and indeed field was therefore in use by the German units trying to escape. Our departure from Roncey was to follow one of these escape routes which was to bring another dimension to our now well publicised presence in the area.  

We left at 13:14hrs in the direction of Grismenil utilising some very narrow Bocage lanes. As we approached the cross road on the D49 we turned right which was the road of “la Landes des Morts”, “The land of the dead”. We arrived at the memorial of the land of the dead and parked the convoy along the side of the road; the atmosphere in this area is decidedly eerie. We were then joined by the three M5s that then took up their respective place in the convoy and the whole complement of troops stood in one long line in the middle of the road adjacent to their respective vehicles. This was an impressive sight that will never be forgotten by those that witnessed it.  

The honor guard was then formed up and the 2nd Armored wreathe was laid at the memorial which was followed by the firing of a volley. This was a moving event that a number of locals turned out for. Certainly we got the distinct impression that this was very much appreciated.  After this Patric Fissot had on display photographs which were taken just after the battle in 1944.  

It was distinctly very close weather and the roads were worrying in that the slightest movement on them resulted in marks on the new surface however, we were in the middle of the countryside and had no option but to carry on. The convoy then finally moved off towards Les Hauts Vents this being the area where the Americans had first seen the fleeing Axis vehicles moving. We then carried on through Trelly where the Germans had their command post and at the time, as elements of the US Army moved through the village, certain German Officers were seen running “for it” across fields as the US vehicles had passed adjacent to the roadside windows of the command post.  We then carried on around the loop of the roads behind Trelly and came past the area where the German Commander Tychsen had been buried later on at the side of the road. We carried on warily looking at the skies which by this time were becoming decidedly black and somewhat menacing.  

14:59hrs the heavens opened and it rained. Not only did it start to rain, but it started to throw it down with a vengeance. Every vehicle had its canvas off! Then came the lightening and thunder. Thunder bolts came down vertically and struck each side of the road simultaneously around us in the lead jeep. This was like being on the receiving end of an artillery barrage.  

The water level in the jeep was rising and we were now in a no win situation. Soaked to the skin trying to keep the paperwork off the floor of the jeep on my boots in a canvas satchel to now avoid the increasing lake which was now rapidly rising within the floor well of the GPW  (TITANIC and bilge pumps came to mind). The first Sergeant took the decision to stop the convoy and pulled it off the road as driving was becoming suicidal in the prevailing conditions. We ahead in the lead jeep got out of the 4x4 to put the canvas hood up.  

We had no choice, we had to try and keep our paperwork dry, despite the fact that we now had the appearance of drowned water rats, the two of us burst into a paralysing bout of laughter which made our sides ache, it seemed that the slightest remark would render us completely immobile which would only aggravate the pain that was now evident in our sides. Possibly this was the “pressure valves” going off but it is something I shall never forget-looking back to see the convoy moving through “monsoon” like rain and lightning strikes on either side of the road, oh for a camera at that precise moment.  

Finally after some 20 minutes the convoy finally arrived in St Denis le Gast ready to undertake our wreathe laying ceremonies. All of the vehicles by this time now having the appearance of having been through a “car wash”.  

Whilst not everybody had been out with us that afternoon, our arrival at the campsite revealed a well organized guard who had taken the precaution of diverting some of the ensuing running water which had been running along the surface of the entrance to the field.  

There was no electricity in the town, due to the lightning, ceremonies were imminent and with wet uniforms on, it was not going to be a picnic, but at least it would look realistic!  

The town was beginning to fill up rapidly. People were coming from far and wide and the press were there in force. The sun was peeking through and the nasty black clouds had gone but nobody was holding their breath!  

The convoy was assembled together with the now sizeable honor guard which due to the proximity of the camp to the ceremony location, now involved a large part of the convoy crew members. This particular memorial service in town was to involve the three M5s and a few of the armored vehicles for effect; it was essentially a procession such as the village had not seen since 1944. The most memorable aspect being that numerous members of 2nd Armored were now wearing their spotted camouflage uniforms that were briefly issued in 1944 and then withdrawn shortly afterwards as from a distance they could be mistaken as German camouflaged uniforms.  

This very “realistic” procession was now marching; proceeded by the three M5s in line up to the first stop at the house of Madame Guenier. During the liberation of the town, American infantry were on foot patrol and whilst passing her house they saw a shadow moving in the room, thinking that it was a German sniper a trooper fired fortunately missing the lady in question, but unfortunately falling glass from the window cut a vital artery and Madame Guenier died some time later. At the time of the accident, the Americans had expressed their deep sorrow and condolences, but the family and relatives in no way held the Americans to blame for the incident.  

A copy of the original funeral poster was placed on the window of the house and a wreathe was laid by our General, the Marseilleaise was played followed by a three shot volley fire then the Mayor addressed the commune and the many visitors who were crowding around the ceremony area.  

 Adjacent to us, were the living relatives of Madame Guenier who thanked us for our efforts in her memory. A translation speech of the Mayor’s address was delivered and then we prepared to move off for the Sgt Douglas Tanner memorial.  

The by now crowd was becoming very talkative and were most enthusiastic. What we did notice was that as soon as an official started to speak there was a deadly hush. This is something that is not always so in France but given an emotional subject like the liberation of St Denis le Gast then those that were present were willing participants.  

The “column” led off preceded by the members of ONAC (the local veterans association Standard bearers) the Three M5s and then the marching troops; such a sight as had not been seen in a long while in those parts.   

The arrival at the Calvary cross where Sergeant Tanner was hit still showed bullet marks in the granite work alongside its base. It was here that his Stuart tank had made a stand against the retreating German forces - his selfless actions cost him his life; he subsequently died on the pavement outside the nearby hotel named Hotel Saint Evremond which we had come to know during our brief stay in this town of St Denis le Gast.  

One of the M5s was parked in the position as it would have been during the action and the honor guard was formed up facing the Calvary memorial. The whole of this parade being surrounded by onlookers that had come into town especially.  

The wreathe laying was undertaken following which the laying party retired. The honor guard then fired a three shot volley fire in salute and then the Mayor addressed the assembly. This was followed by the English translation.  One could hear the sound of cameras clicking all around. This was obviously something that was close to the hearts of the locals and it showed!  

In retrospect, after the tour, this seemed to me to be the most memorable event of the whole tour.  One could hear the remarks from the French like; “The vehicles smell just like I remember”, “They are and look like the real thing”, “I had no idea there was a film unit in town”, “Look at the detail on the vehicles and look at their uniforms its just like 1944”  

The Mayor was visibly aware of the comments and  I think he was a little overcome with emotion as he darted off ahead to the impending cider soirée that been organized  for us adjacent to the camp.  

On a sadder note we were honoured with the presence of Major Ken Dungey (retired) whose very own wife of long standing (who was French born) passed away a few weeks before the event took place. This was a great blow to everyone that knew her. It was largely thanks to her and her continuous efforts that the memorials for 2nd Armored were established. She was a driving force whom a great number of people had a great deal of respect for. I had the privilege of knowing her albeit briefly, but she was from a rare breed of dependable people and it was she that was so looking forward to seeing 2nd Armored in town and finally not to have her there in person on the day was something that I thought about a great deal. Nevertheless, I did feel that she was there in spirit.  

After the ceremony at La Calvaire, the parade proceeded back to the campsite followed by the general public to view the wartime encampment. Numerous people brought gifts of bottles of this and that and the Cider evening in the adjacent hall was an opportunity to meet  some of the locals on a more relaxed basis,  Ron Swonger and his brother Lon were there as they had been at the ceremonies that very evening, having travelled from the USA especially for  the event. Ron and Lon`s father Howard was ex 82nd Recon Company A and it was he together with Madame Dungey that were largely responsible for the construction of several of the 2nd Armored memorials in the region. The evening passed away very quickly and some of the “crew” went up the road to the roadside bars and a number were seen in the nearby restaurant which was full to capacity.  

As tomorrow was another day and French television FR3 was to spend the day with us I decided to turn in at about midnight, which was early in comparison to other evenings!  

The following morning the convoy was ready to move out at 09:08 which was only some 8 minutes behind schedule, as we pulled out of  St Denis le Gast, it was with reluctance that I looked back to see the convoy coming up behind. St Denis had been good and we would have some fond memories of this commune and their hospitality. Our arrival in Gavray coincided with the start of their Liberty Bridge week end which was something that had become a special festival to celebrate liberation and freedom, which we happened to be in complete “keeping” with. Some of us, who visited the town, had a coffee with the Mayor and Conseil General who was very pleased to see us.  

The convoy was obliged then to leave Gavray as time was ticking on (as ever) and we had an appointment in the commune of Le Chefresne. Convoy moved out at 10:14hrs and then after having disappeared from the main road entered back into Bocage country. We were very lucky that to date we had encountered very little problems with oncoming traffic in these lanes.  

The convoy arrived at the cemetery at Le Chefresne at 10:12hrs. Upon arrival (a one time military cemetery, which happened to be one of the temporary war time cemeteries that had its ‘compliment’ transferred to Omaha cemetery upon completion) we were greeted by the locals. This site had been preserved by the commune which really was something that the locals were keen on as it was the last known temporary cemetery in existence.  Here the commune was in numbers, together with a tent, refreshments and canapés. Finally the whole convoy was assembled and the procession on foot was brought together and the wreathes were prepared for laying. It was at this point that I noticed that FR3 television had turned up and were getting to grips with their task in hand in earnest. Interviews left right and centre, asking questions about vehicles and even filming discussion between NCOs and small problems that were being discussed.  

At the memorial (which was located on the roadside), two wreathes were laid the first by a lady of some 92 years who had been deported by the Germans during the war who survived her ordeal and then returned to her native commune of Le Chefresne. One felt somewhat humbled to be in her presence yet she was adamant that she was going to lay the wreathe as she was not that “nimble” on her feet given her age. Our General lay the wreathe on behalf of 2nd Armored and suddenly I became aware that the eyes of the whole commune and indeed the French camera crew were upon us. This to Le Chefresne was a very serious business. The reality of the whole ceremony being highlighted by the honor guard firing their volley of three shots. There was a “brief” eerie silence after the last shot rang out echoing across the valley. A moving ceremony which I believe will not be forgotten for a long time to come.   

The convoy finally moved out at 12:44hrs which was a reluctant departure as I think we would have all liked to of spent more time in this commune and reminisce with some of the residents but time as ever was pressing. Our subsequent route was to take us past the 13th Century Abbey of Hambye which was something to be seen, the ruins themselves looked impressive as we passed and crew members gasped as they saw this remarkable edifice tucked away in the countryside as it was. Message passed to the lead vehicle Charlie 12 was down. Back up was in attendance we would carry on.  From here we were taking the back lane into Percy and all of the problems associated with lanes (that were in fact two way) but were actually filled by us alone. The Harleys were sent ahead to keep the road clear and get all traffic pulled off the road to facilitate our passage. As we came into Percy, we crossed over the Liberty Highway and then on into more lanes towards St Sever Calvados.   

As we moved along our route into deep countryside and indeed Bocage region, people were standing at the side of the roads in the middle of nowhere, in fact on one occasion the lead jeep was stopped by a civilian bearing a bottle of home made calvados which we accepted with gratitude. Timing now being important to us and the ever existing potential problem of oncoming traffic this being something that occupied my mind a lot in these narrow lanes that rose and dived down into valley after valley. Finally nearing St Sever Calavdos, we were coming through the southern edge of the Bocage region and the terrain was becoming more open. Shortly before we got to St Sever Calvados Charlie 12 went down again near Sept-Freres, this time only to be stuck for some hours. Although I do believe that a local farmer did oblige by towing them into his farm yard. These country people were very obliging and certainly appreciated 2nd Armored’s efforts very much indeed.  

The convoy arrived in St Sever Calvados at 13:44hrs, but with all of the difficulties and the unknown quantities this was a good result for a difficult morning on the road. Upon arrival we were greeted by a large number of locals and then the whole convoy formed up in front of the town hall en masse. What a sight to behold. The town hall building itself having the traces of machine gun bullets rising up one side of the granite. Refreshments were laid on for us and with the heat of the day this was very welcome.  

Time as ever was ticking on and FR3 television had come with us on the run from Le Chefresne and we had to establish camp. The commune had reserved a field for us a stone throw away from the town centre and so the convoy departed to occupy this; the latest stage of the “Back to the Bocage” tour. Unfortunately for me, there was an inordinate amount of foot work to do and a German BMW R75 sidecar was “requisitioned” and I spent some of the afternoon being ferried to and fro. After having received some very worrying looks, I decided to foot it as the “firing squad” was ever present in my mind.  

The first Sergeant at this time of course was beginning to worry about the track and its crew as he didn’t want them  walking into St Sever, as the risk of becoming dehydrated was considerable  - such was the heat. An Mp was despatched on Harley to assess the situation and report back.  

Meanwhile, the question of showers arose again, in fact if showers weren’t forthcoming; I had the feeling that the question of the firing squad would soon rear its ugly head yet again! So I took another hike to the Town Hall and was sent off in the direction of the nearby football ground.  

 This was a modern facility which fortunately was within commuting distance from the camp and relatively easy to find. Time was as ever moving on and the evening wreathe laying ceremony was due to be broadcast live by FR3 television and preparations needed to be made.  

2nd Lt Oliver took over this aspect of the days programme and had organized    some skirmish troops to come into the town very close to the war memorial and a jeep with General Patton arriving to inspect the troops. This coupled with the arrival of tanks and armor into the car park in front of the Mairie was deemed to be “exciting” footage by the camera crew. This was undertaken and the whole thing passed without hitch with St Sever Calvados going out live on the evening news report. The ceremony at the war memorial for 2nd Armored Division was very well received by the locals who were out in force. ONAC (French veterans association) were present as were the local fire brigade that took part with their ceremonial axes. After the dramatic entry of the tanks and armor, which sped into the car park, General Patton and the officers of 2nd Armored who had taken part in the wreathe laying crossed the road to listen to General Patton address the troops this time from the top of the steps of the Town Hall. Meanwhile as the address to the troops was taking place, I was interviewed by the reporter for FR3 who was asking numerous questions about 2nd Armoured in Europe, its members, its aims and so it went on. The live aspect of the broadcast wasn’t long, but the footage from the convoy during the day had also been attached to the report and this was to give the group the publicity for the one event that it wanted to undertake very much – the laying of a wreathe and the fixing of a brass plaque to the memorial for 82nd Recon at St. George de Rouelley.  

However, the day was by no means over, the camp was open to the public, many visitors came in and a constant stream meant that the gates had to be manned constantly (as they were throughout the whole tour). There was also a vin d’honneur at the Town Hall which was not well attended as with the run to St. Georges de Rouelley the next day, there was a lot to do. There was a lot of equipment on display, people were out with their vehicles taking comparison photographs and the camp kitchen was also in the process of providing the evening meal.  The track that went down during the day was also recovered and the crew were alive and well and had some story to tell!  

The tankers were still at it with their maintenance they had a problem and needed to drain oil therefore containers were required to hold the used oil, the local fire brigade or (Sapeur Pompiers) provided the containers very quickly without any argument. Such was the cooperation that we enjoyed; everybody did what they could to help no matter what. This was the “entente cordiale” at its best.  

Night was beginning to fall when some of us finally managed to “skive off” into town for a glass or two.

It was good to see the guys and girls enjoying themselves as they had had a gruelling day, which as it happened, was all in a days work with 2nd Armoured in Europe.  

What a day, what a convoy and what a team! That night as my head hit the sack as I didn’t have a pillow! I was out like the proverbial light, I imagine that for everybody else it was the same.  

The departure of the convoy the next day was on time at 09:30hours. From the outset as soon as we “hit” the country lanes people could be seen standing at the sides waiting for us to pass and to get their chance to see this authentic wartime convoy on its route. As we passed through villages people stopped, turned and stood at the side of the roads in awe of the sight unfolding in front of their eyes. This was 2nd Armored in Europe recreating the scene wherever it went. The run actually was without incident and everything was now running smoothly, there were one or two mechanical problems en route and one M8 had an ignition problem but as this was very close to our destination, it was left in the very capable hands of the First Sergeant. The head of the convoy arrived at destination at 11:31hrs, One minute late! Or was it my watch??  

I don’t think that things could have gone any better except that when we arrived I was greeted by some 5 Gendarmes who were not in the best of humour! Apparently one of the towns we had passed through had understood that were going to stop there, but as we hadn’t, and the Gendarmerie Nationale had organised additional manning some sort of explanation was required.  The Mayor of St George de Rouelley defused the situation and took us all into his office for a glass of “entente cordiale”. All was fine!  

Meanwhile the convoy was installing itself on the camp which was in an apple orchard which was a fantastic location which also meant that the kitchen could utilise the barn adjacent to the orchard. We had also collected a guest on the way with the convoy, non other than Peter Gray. For those who weren’t aware of the significance of this visit, Peter was responsible for the military vehicle movement in Europe kicking off all those years ago. He was a pioneer in his own right and went through some difficult times in establishing his MVCG group which eventually became the MVT.  Peter himself being an honorary member of 2nd Armored Association.  

All have their own views on the MVT which I won’t go into here, but to each their own. Basically from Peter Gray’s efforts virtually all of the groups in Europe can find its roots. To see Peter sat amidst a “sea” of olive drab gave me a great deal of pleasure, it was nice to think that 2nd Armored in Europe had the time to  give him the respect that he justly deserved.  After all it was he who had literally started it all in Europe. He being a staunch supporter of the importance of remembrance.  

So time moved on (as always) and there was the all important ceremony set for the 82nd Recon memorial at 17:35hrs. This ceremony turned out to be a little more popular that originally anticipated.  Most of the day hitherto was taken up with the establishment of the camp and the crews of the respective vehicles were occupied with their own kit, tents, bashers, weapons, fuel and a whole myriad of other things that these crews were usually found doing whilst on camp. The question of showers arose again and a nearby football field shower block was found and the keys suitably requisitioned. It was not ideal but in those immortal words from “Fawlty Towers” “it could be used in an emergency”.  

Meanwhile a quick visit over the road to the restaurant where the evening entertainment was due to be held.  This was a small square off the main road set in a quadrangle of period village buildings. Here the restaurateur had set up tables and benches and provided a dance platform together with CD players, amps. and speakers. Additionally, festoon lighting was already up and his speciality of paella was already on the go! Around the corner from this square, white smoke could be seen wafting its way around the buildings. It was one of the crew taking photographs. I had wondered, as for one moment I had thought that something was on fire, but no, it was the “artistic flair” of one of the crews in action!  

One never knew with 2nd Armored in Europe, all sorts of things could happen, back at Neuilly-la-Forêt a Roman Centurion appeared! No it wasn’t a ghost, but the more “adventurous artistic flair” of Trooper McNally in full flight. I still don’t know to this day what the First Sergeant had to say, but a photograph of this “altercation” does exist. One can only surmise that the Centurion was indeed “lost” and needed direction. No doubt the First Sergeant gave him that direction as the Centurion never appeared again!  

Time moved on and the time of the ceremony approached, Ron and Lon Swonger and Major Dungey were to be at the ceremony together with a number of local politicians and indeed one Senator who lived in the area. Needless to say the town folk were there in number and the crowd control was non existent until we arrived. The location of the memorial on the main road side meant that one lane of the road had to be closed off and a temporary traffic light system installed for the duration of the ceremony. Already in place was a tented drinks table and the car parking was to be alongside in the apple orchard. At this locality during August 1944 one M8 from A command of 82nd Recon was hit by an 88mm round. The resultant explosion killed instantly all of the members of the crew bar one who was walking to one side of the vehicle at the time of the action. The survivor of the M8 crew Howard Swonger had always felt a great sense of loss after this event and had vowed that one day he would provide a memorial in memory of those that fell at that point so that for all time they would never be forgotten. This task was finally accomplished after some years and both he and Madame Dungey were able to locate some remains of the M8 in the fields adjacent to where the action had taken place.  These pieces were then placed in the base of the new memorial when it was built.  One can only imagine what was going through Howard Swonger’s mind at the time when the pieces of the M8 were found!  

This then was 82nd Recon’s own memorial and this proposed ceremony was for 2nd Armored in Europe  - a must! The Mayor of the town of St George de Rouelley was a man that was passionate about this memorial for he can remember the action as he was a small boy at the time and it was his mother that had ventured into the fields to give the US infantry fresh milk to drink, taking no heed for the need to “keep her head down”. For her the most important thing on her mind was to ensure that the “liberators” had something to drink.

  So the people came to honour the memory of the crew of the M8 and indeed those that gave their lives for the liberation of their area. The Mayor was concerned that things should go ahead according to plan. I reassured him and told him to leave things to us, he had done everything that he could and now it was down to us.  Our friend from the Gendarmerie was there we bid each other good day and he asked me what it was that we would like him to do?

  I asked him to ensure that his plan for the traffic control was implicated and supervised in such a way that it would not preclude our vehicles from being delayed. This was duly undertaken and within minutes, the M8s arrived, the barriers were pulled aside and they took up their place in the car parking in the apple orchard. As they passed, the whole of the spectators became silent. The M8s had obviously brought the whole thing alive in their minds and then to see 2nd Armored in Europe infantry marching, it brought a lump to the throat. Senior French politicians who were present were seen to nod their head in quiet approval.

  When all was ready the honor guard took up its position to one side of the memorial. The ceremony started with the national anthems and taps to finish, then the young children of the village all came to lay their individual bunch of flowers. The official wreathes were then laid, the Mayor officiating for the town and our General Patton and Ron Howard together with his brother Lon  and Major Ken Dungey.  Then came the volley fire and the two minute silence. After this, the Mayor gave an eloquent speech as to the importance of why we should remember. This was followed by Art Pope (portraying General Patton) who thanked the locals for their continuing support in the remembrance of those Americans who gave their lives for our freedom. As he remarked on this and on numerous other occasions “freedom is not free”, how true this statement is!  

Before the vin d’honneur, a salute was fired above and across the road by the three M8s that were there to salute the crew of the M8 involved in the fatal action at St Georges de Rouelley. The ceremony as a whole was a moving experience and I found it hard to concentrate as the reality of the “event in 1944” was ever present in my mind. The stories which I had heard when researching the route and the people whom I had met all flashed before me as I stood with the others before the memorial. I wondered at the time, whilst looking around, what things were going through the minds of those that were there for the very reason that they were in the town during the war.  It was difficult to take in.  We had already been through some moving experiences on this tour, but somehow St Georges de Rouelley was something extra, something more alive, and something very real and close to the hearts of the locals. In St Georges de Rouelley I had found a commune that was prepared to bend over backwards and the Mayor was a forceful person whom himself had had a heart transplant some 18 months earlier, yet he was there doing what he could for those that gave their lives for us and despite all of our groans and moans that we had had on the tour, this was a Mayor more than anybody else that knew the meaning of sacrifice, duty and honour. It was being in the presence of people like this Mayor that I felt humbled, the meeting of Madame Dungey before her untimely demise was also similar, except that she was a person who didn’t know the meaning of “no” and its “impossible”.  In this town, 2nd Armored in Europe had found soul mates. It gave me great pleasure to see 2nd in action at this memorable event and to realise that perhaps more than any other commune St Georges de Rouelley were prepared to stand up and remember in their own special way.  

The vin d’honneur was an opportunity for us all to mingle with the locals and I managed a glass with the Chief of Police, possibly we had both been humbled by the days experience and I think that really our own personal agendas paled into insignificance alongside the importance of what the event was all about. The French Senator that appeared “incognito” was visibly moved by the ceremony, he left after the event in a pensive mood and again I wondered what was going through his mind. The Mayor had a tear in his eye and I knowingly shook the hand of a man who more than anybody else there knew how very important the event was for the young of the commune.

  Then it was back to camp, evening meal from the field kitchen for some, others crossing the road to the “square” where the evenings get together was to be.

  I visited the Mayor at his nearby house and had the opportunity to meet again with the Swonger brothers and of course Major Dungey who had been so moved by the day’s events as it was his late wife of some weeks that had been a great influence on the various Mayors in the region. Whenever there was doubt, she pushed and pushed hard. She will never be forgotten.

  After having spent an hour or so at the mayor’s house we finally arrived at the soirée which by this time was in full swing.   We ordered our meals and then sat down, our paramedic Nick Perry appeared.

“We have a problem, we need to get somebody to hospital”, he said.

“You’re joking”, I said.

No there was no joke, Dan Knight had stepped onto a metal tent peg in the dark and it had gone into his foot, fortunately Anthony Ardissone one of our medics  had cleaned the wound, but urgent Hospital attention was required.  Fortunately, we had some English visitors in the camp that lived nearby and were only too pleased to give their evening to ensure that Dan was looked after. We can never thank them enough for their support.  This was something that I was dreading, I was at least hoping to get through the tour without any injuries. We remain to be grateful to the French hospital concerned as they made no charge and not even the need to exchange social security details were asked for. Thankfully Dan was returned to us in one piece albeit with some 5 stitches in his foot.

  Meanwhile, the party went on and most of the troopers were in full party mode. There was even a small property that was for sale in the square with an outside staircase. Some enterprising GIs used the stairway for group photos and even a mock “house search” which the Mayor showed some concern about, but after he was reassured that we weren’t actually going to use any explosives or bullets he smiled. Well, that is what I understood!

  Food was available for a small charge on a ticket basis obtained from the bar and all went well, period music was played and even singing broke out, some being more akin to a wailing Harley siren, but on the whole a reasonably good attempt of the last night of the Proms.

  The dance floor was used to full advantage by a lot of people, including our General Patton who had clearly boogied once or twice before! He was going for it.  I believe that finally one of the young Americans had found his dance which he had been asking for since the beginning of the tour. He had managed to find a nice young lady who was well versed in the art of foot work. An excellent evening was had by all, but alas, it unfortunately came to an end and the stark reality of the morning was looming and the journey back towards the docks and dare I mention it; home!

  The unmentionable was upon us and the convoy was ready to depart our St George de Rouelley at 09:57hrs. This ‘leaving’ from St Georges de Rouelley was definitely tinged with sadness and I personally looked back to see the convoy pulling out of the town, there is something about a line of M8s on the road which cannot be described in words, but given the additional vehicles, the convoy was something else. This was now a well oiled machine and running well. Isn’t it a pity that once things start to go well, you have to pack up and go home? That’s life!  The same happened in 2004 upon arrival in Genk, but we had more pressing things than to indulge in memories. We still had a convoy to run and Argentan and the Department of Orne was beckoning.

  The run to Argentan was a good road and here we managed to run a faster than usual convoy as the tanks were being transported directly to Argentan to await our arrival there.

  At 12:05hrs we parked the convoy up at Ecouché  where we managed to persuade a bar owner to stay open for us, after all, its not every day you get 2nd  Armoured in Europe and over 130 people turning up on your door step and with what amounted to be an army on manoeuvres.

  We managed, well at least some of us did, a sandwich and a glass of something or other.

  13:15hrs convoy was formed up ready to move out for Argentan. At 13:47 hours the convoy moved off arriving at Argentan outskirts at 14:00hrs. Police and tank transporters were awaiting our arrival. The transporters were then off loaded and the convoy was formed up for the parade through Argentan and to what was to become our last night in France together.

  A WWII German vehicle appeared from nowhere which wanted to join in, the driver and vehicle was duly despatched to go “elsewhere”. We had had two US vehicles which had tagged along the route periodically, but being friends of high ranking politicians we were more or less obliged to turn a blind eye, provided they stay at the back of the convoy, which was an arrangement that was accepted.

  When you have a convoy of this size, 15 minutes is a very short time indeed. During this time however, low loaders were off loaded, tanks put into place and the convoy was assembled in the correct procession order and the infantry demounted ready to “take the town”. So at 14:15 hrs the procession commenced, it was very hot, brilliant sunshine and no wind, the infantry had nearly  three quarters of a kilometre  to cover and frankly the lack of public concerned me a little.  I do however know that the commune had advertised the parade and there was no reason for there being so little interest except that it was Saturday and people had things and shopping to do for the week end, as they do in France.

  The parade finally arrived at its destination after the infantry had literally “taken” every shop doorway and building en route. We were greeted at the square outside the town hall with a cordoned area taped off with red and white plastic tape which was our reserved parking area for the night as we were going to use the functions hall to both eat and sleep in which would at least negate the hassle of pitching tents on the last night and frankly, there was enough to do as it was. Security as always ‘in mind’, a guard rota system was effected immediately. Fortunately for us we managed to get everything within the square and the vehicles were a very impressive sight.

  The official wreathe laying ceremony was commenced at 15:45 hours; the cortege was led by the town police when everything was in place. The national anthems followed by Taps was played after the laying of the wreathes, the honor guard then fired a three shot volley and then the two minutes silence came. After which we processed back to the Town Hall. Here there was a vin d’honneur and the usual speeches, a superb elevated view of the convoy parked up could be had from the balcony of which a number of people took advantage.

  The speech from the Mayor was semi political, but nevertheless his account of the virtual levelling of the town by aerial bombardment was brought to mind. Here was a town that had really suffered as it was by and large an important crossroad town. The floor was then left open for a reply which I took up. I talked briefly about 2nd Armored in Europe its “raison d’etre” and who had come from where. Finally after having thanked the commune for their hospitality I asked them not to forget our passing on that day, not to forget those that gave their lives for our freedom as this commodity was not free and finally, not to forget our duty to remember. The speech ended to a round of applause and the serious business of a glass or three was “undertaken”. The officials were left behind shortly after as we had yet still more to do!

We had to then move into the functions hall, time was pressing and a buffet meal for the entire company was due to be delivered. In addition there were the speeches, the T shirts to hand out and all manner of things.

  The tables and chairs had firstly to be arranged and this was undertaken by some of the convoy crew who were by this time exhausted just like everybody else.  The problem of the vehicles being in the town therefore precluded us from all being together for the “last supper” but security for the vehicles and equipment was of paramount importance and so a shift system was implemented.

  The buffet had arrived, there was so much to eat that we could probably of fed twice the amount of people.  The quality was excellent but far too much for us.

  Then came the usual address; the First Sergeant although given a microphone decided he was going to use his lungs and managed in his usual fashion to project his voice to the back of the hall. His message came through loud and clear, there were various pieces of outstanding V mail to be delivered to the respective troopers and myself being one of them. The girls had been very busy in preparing these which were much appreciated as they contributed greatly to the authenticity of the tour. 

  Captain Heighes was next during which time an update was given and numerous certificates were handed out and then the tour T shirt (which I personally never got) I was too busy elsewhere to worry about that.

  After the official part of the evening was over, a number of die-hards went into the nearby town for a beer or two. In typical French fashion, everything was closed! However, we managed to find one that had remained open adjacent to the war memorial, so here was one enterprising bar owner who actually paid for a round of drinks on top of it.  A good time was had by those that were there, and there was a little time to reflect and muse over what had happened during the tour.

  I think that at this stage of the tour, everybody was very tired and it showed, yet we had to get through the evening as best we could, it would be clear that although we had no need to erect tents etc everybody was eager to hit the “sac” reasonably early.

  As soon as the bar closed everybody went back to the functions hall where we were based and the hall was the scene of some strange bundles in the form of sleeping bags and some of these were snoring in various tones in a sort of “melodic harmony”. I decided that I would stay up and went out to the “Argentan Siege” to see if there was any life.

  Indeed there was and I spent most of the night talking and walking around the 2006 equivalent of “Custer’s last stand”.  As the night wore on I decided that I too would try out the floor of the hall and managed some 2 hours in all.

  At about 07:30 hours it started to rain!  Everybody was up at this point getting ready to prepare to move out. Sunday 30th July, no movement allowed on a Sunday for the transporters, I had to issue permits and ensure that the drivers had the necessary paperwork and then attend to the jeep which needed the canvas putting up, on board we had all of our dress uniforms and it didn’t look as if it was going to be a dry day. What luck!

  Phone calls to the police in Caen to ensure that the escorts were all arranged which was absolutely essential as we had a full programme for the day and it was essential that everything ran on time.

  At 08:45 hours the town Police arrived to escort us out of town after which we would be on our own until we reached Falaise. At 09:14 we moved out under escort.  I was clock watching all the way, the rain had eased slightly, but it was uncomfortable.

  Our ETA was 09:45 and we arrived just in time to see our two Gendarmerie Nationale motorcyclists. We met up with our tanks adjacent to the Châteaux where William the Conqueror was born and then proceeded to do a tour or two of the ancient town of Falaise pausing momentarily to lay a wreathe  at the war memorial.

  We finally left Falaise at 10:53hrs, it was now raining and we were becoming concerned about the arrival time in Caen. Everything was fine until at 11:10hrs Charlie 29 broke down and Charlie 1 was struggling. The First Sergeant was there, they were in good hands, and the rest of the convoy had no option but to carry on.

  The Gendarmerie Nationale took us directly into the centre of Caen  upon arrival  at 13:00 at our form up point for the parade the Police Nationale turned up and so did the Town Police, words were exchanged between myself and them and nobody was really sure whose jurisdiction ended where! Well at least I didn’t and it wasn’t very clear who did! However, no harm, we were all working together for one aim.

  The transporters were then escorted to their park up point for the collection of the tanks for the end of the parade and upon the return of the Police a short briefing was held between us so that we could just recap exactly what was happening and at what time.

  Taxis had to be arranged, the military base had to be contacted and there was no reply. The town Police got hold of them so that they would be expecting the American tanks at the end of the parade. At this point a number of the vehicle crews went off in search of a sandwich and found a shop that was open fairly close by.

  13:10 hours a small honor guard (thanks to the Dutch) went to the resistance memorial in three vehicles to place a wreathe. This was accomplished and then the vehicles returned to the parade start point. Additionally one track had to go to the town Police car park where it was to remain until being collected the following day for its return to Belgium. Meanwhile the First Sergeant had phoned and wanted to know exactly where we were in Caen. For those who are not familiar with Caen, it is not easy to describe how to get there, but all was well.

  The parade started at 14:00hrs exactly and the one way system nearby was changed to allow the convoy to move through to its route. Once on the route, the streets were virtually deserted! Some did question why we bothered, but in answer to this, I would just say that it was worthwhile as virtually no military vehicle group has officially paraded through this capital of Normandy  and that as a result we now have a positive rapport with the authorities which is important for the future of 2nd Armored.

  The troops found it hard going but finally we neared the end of the parade point and immediately the tanks reached the transporters, they were driven straight onboard.  The convoy then organized itself ready for the Gendarmerie Nationale escort to the docks. This operation was executed with military precision and was accomplished in a timely manner.

  The American tanks were then taken to the military base by escort at high speed crashing all of the red lights en route to the great enjoyment of the spectators who happened to be in the street at the time.

  The convoy left Caen on time and arrived at the docks on time at 15:45hrs as the tickets booths were opening to take the vehicles on board.  The Gendarmes left and we were left to say our good byes in a hurried fashion. Those that had to remain in France were saddened to see our fellow adventurers depart, but we knew that it would be difficult as it has been on countless other occasions and so we all went about our business of getting home.

  The French authorities were delighted with the result and we should be aware that a number of individuals made an unprecedented effort to get this convoy on the road. Further than that, the tour was a remarkable “festival of remembrance” which 2nd Armored in Europe should be justly proud of its team and its achievement. It is of course only right that events like this should be encouraged to further remind people of the sacrifices made so that we might be free today. I for one will be ready to stand up and be counted on the next one, and there will be another!  I am of the firm belief that we cannot learn by forgetting and certainly should not forget  those that gave their lives to enable us to be here today.

  In this respect the group is now planning a potential tour to Magdeburg in Germany.  We are now in the process of looking for sponsors and indeed we would welcome some assistance by any veteran to help us by giving us town names where the Recon Battalions passed through on their way to Magdeburg and any pertinent information that they may feel might be of interest.  In this respect we would be very pleased to hear from anybody that might have an intimate knowledge of localities associated with this feat of arms. If you are able to help please contact route planning at libtaskforcehq@aol.com

  Gerald Przenislawski

January 2007  

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