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65th Commemoration Of D-Day - Part 1

This is a personal account of her visit to the Normandy sites of the 1944 D-Day Landings in June 2009 by Kate Curtis, Poppy Appeal Officer of The Royal British Legion Central Brittany Branch

Kate 1

School children, wearing commemorative T-shirts, laid a flower on each grave in Banneville cemetery during the ceremony

Kate 2

Standards on display at the unveiling of a plaque to friendship by the German Military Attaché at the Goodwood Memorial, Sannerville on the morning of 7th June

As we hadn’t visited Sainte Mere Eglise for over 30 years, and our colleagues had never been there, we decided to leave together a day before we needed to, on Wednesday 3rd June, to visit the central square, where we saw the model of the famous parachutist hanging from the church tower. Then we went to look at Utah Beach, where the Americans landed.

After lunch, we travelled around the estuary and missed Pointe de Hoc, but went to see the enormous cemetery at Omaha Beach, where Jimmy Rowe (Central Brittany Branch Deputy Standard Bearer) laid a cross for someone who was unable to be there. After that, we drove along the coast to Ouistreham, then along the road between the river Orne and the canal to Pegasus Bridge and to Ranville, where were staying.

The following day was free, so we did some of the things we often don’t have time to, one of which was to visit the field hospital at Le Mesnil, very close to the James Hill Square. This is on private land, in a farmyard. We met the farmer who was able to show us the operating theatre (actually the old dairy) and the operating table itself, which had a handy drain for washing down between operations. He showed us where the recovering soldiers went, as well as those who were less fortunate. We left a cross by the plaque on the wall. Then we went to Colombelles, where a Dakota was shot down, and left a cross from a veteran as requested, and two from us too. We always used to go there for a ceremony, but of latter years we haven’t, possibly because it is so close to a busy road.

We met some of our veteran friends at the local café, and sold some crosses and pins. That evening, Rodney (Curtis, Branch Chairman) and Jimmy went off to Coutances as requested, to carry a Union flag and an American flag for a ceremony before a concert. Pat Rowe (Branch Member) and I walked around the campsite, met friends and sold a wreath which had been ordered.

The next day, the 5th, started early with a parachute drop, then we went to the James Hill Square for the ceremony. As far as I know, Brigadier James Hill was the only man to have his statue unveiled in his presence by Prince Charles. It used to be in the square, but after the benches were stolen, it was decided to move the statue to the Museum at Pegasus Bridge.

After the service led by Iain Stuart-Jenkins (honorary padre to the Third Battalion Parachute Brigade), we went to the Museum for another short ceremony by the statue, again led by Iain, then some of us galloped away to meet our President Lt Col Simon Owen, and the President-to-be Major General Graham Hollands for the preliminary changeover of presidency at the Caen Memorial. Photographs were taken, and afterwards lunch.

Then it was on to a bridge near Troarn for the Captain Jukes memorial. (He was the commanding officer in charge of the blowing up of that bridge to slow the German reinforcements on D-Day.) After this there was a Church service led by Iain and the curé, where our Standard led the procession into the Church, followed by two Para’ standards, then by Air Commodore Alastair Mackie and our President, Lt Col Simon Owen, then by a number of French Standards. Afterwards the local band led the procession to the memorial by the Mairie, where a further remembrance ceremony was held. After this, we at last managed to join in a vin d’honneur in the square before our meal. (Sadly, we had missed the two previous ones, as we were too busy!)

The standard had been paraded five times that day.

Kate 3

The ceremony at the 8th Battalion/Alastair Pearson Memorial on the roadside outside the village of Touffreville

Kate 4

M Le Maire preparing for his address at the Goodwood Memorial, Sannerville, during the afternoon ceremony on 7th June

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