While I was waiting in Europe to shoot the WFF Universe in June, I was fortunately able to attend the 60th Anniversary of D-Day in Normandy. It was a very special occasion. We all owe a great deal to the bravery of these men who gave their all in WWII so that we could enjoy a quality of life we take for granted today. In particular these Royal Marines Commando guys were the super fit elite of the British Army. I take my hat off to them and their deeds.
46 ROYAL MARINES COMMANDO
AT THE 60th ANNIVERSARY OF D-DAY,
Friday 11th June, Day 1
The following is my diary as I attended my first ever D-Day celebrations in Normandy, France. I had the privilege of going around with the British veterans of the 46 Royal Marines Commando, as arranged for me by my very good friend Philippe Bauduin.
We all gathered in Rots, just outside Caen, where we boarded our two buses with the 24 veterans, their wives, families and friends making a total of 97 visitors from UK. Unfortunately 4 veterans couldn’t make it to France due to ill health.
First stop was Bayeux Cemetery and the laying of wreaths. This was the only bad weather day as we stood in the rain for much of the time. Back onto the buses and on to Ranville Cemetery and laying of wreaths once again, with even heavier rain. The local army guard of honour added colour and dignity to the emotional experience for all of us.
Next we moved on to the Sallenelles Memorial and the laying of wreaths. Our banquet lunch was provided by the local town people in a large marquee in the centre of the town. First of all the welcome speech from the mayor, followed by our wonderful meal. George MacLaren showed me through the former mayor’s house next door with its small bunker and various artefacts dug up from the fields around the house. These items were on displayed in the museum room and were duly recorded on my video. This house was HQ of 46 Royal Marines Commando during the war while they were fighting in this area. Of special interest were bits from a Stuka shot down by a Spitfire. This museum room was also used as an operating theatre back in 1944. A jar of soil from Sallenelles was presented to all of the veterans along with a special Sallenelles badge.
Back onto the bus as the rain seemed to ease a little and it was on to Sannerville for their local mayor to welcome us. The welcomes in each town were always warm and generous and the whole experience was extremely moving for me. After the ceremony at the memorial, we went to their local town hall where a temporary D-Day museum had been set up displaying a wonderful exhibition of artefacts, both allied and German, that had been gathered from the local area. The display was quite extensive and I was sorry that we did not have more time to look at it all in greater detail.
Finally back to Rots in the sunshine where all the veterans and their families were billeted with the local people. We had a final wreath laying ceremony, where the names of the members of the 46 RMC who lost their lives in the area were read out. The ceremony was very special with a local French military guard of honour, plus singing by the local school children, and placement of flowers in honour of the deceased soldiers of 46 Royal Marines Commando by children from UK, USA, Canada and Germany. Then followed a street party with all of the town’s residents, with food and the famous local calvados. It had been a most wonderful day.
Saturday 12th June - Day 2
It was back to the main street of Rots and a celebration of the bravery of the 46 RMC who liberated the town 60 years ago. There was singing in the town square by the children from USA, Canada, UK and Germany, colourful standards bearers, bagpipes and a military guard of honour. Wreaths were laid on the Rots memorial, this time in brilliant sunshine.
After the street parade, I taped the excellent D-Day exhibition in the Rots Mayor’s office building. Moore speeches followed and then a special presentation of framed plaques to all of the veterans. A very special presentation was made to Philippe Bauduin making him an honorary citizen of Rots for all his work in liasing and organising things for the 46 RMC since 1974. Similarly a special award was made to Peter Gardner for his efforts over the years and his twinning of Rots and the village of Newton St Cyr in Devon, England.
We then moved across to the beautiful Rots town theatre for a magnificent banquet provided by the local people, complete with barbequed lamb and every food you could possibly think of. While we ate our meal, the local Rots school girls aged from about 12-14 entertained us with brilliant song and dance routines. It was so entertaining I actually stopped eating for a while in order to record some of their performance on video!
As a private side trip, Philippe kindly took me with 2 other English guys to see the famous Juno Beach at Bernières sur Mer where the 46 RMC actually landed. We visited the well known landmark house right on the beach seen in all the photos of the D-Day landings. The present owner of the house kindly invited us inside and told us his stories of 60 years ago. Many Canadians also landed at this spot and the house is now known as “The house of the Canadians”. This was the main beach for the Canadians landing and was a landing beach for many of the British as well.
On the way back to Rots, Philippe showed us his famous Pump House at Creully, built by Monty’s Royal Engineers 60 years ago and now preserved and restored by Philippe. It was built in 2 weeks and was used to pump water from the Seulles River on to the dusty unsealed landing strips nearby.
A fireworks display took place in Rots later that night, but I was not able to attend.
Sunday 13th June - Day 3
A tearful farewell time and thanks to the people of Rots who so generously billeted all of the veterans and the whole touring party of 97 people. Their incredible kindness and hospitality was greatly appreciated and there were many emotional moments as the veterans left their host families, maybe for the last time as part of a large official visit. With the veterans aged from 80 to 89, another 5 yearly visit will probably not be possible.
I personally thanked the mayor for his gracious friendship and hospitality shown to me as videographer/photographer for the veterans. If only I could have thanked him in French.
Back onto the buses and an hours scenic drive to Dozulé Hill 112, with a stop on the hill and the telling of the story of the fierce battle that took place there before its capture. Many 46 RMC were killed or wounded as a result of their action at this place. We then had a wreath laying ceremony at the nearby monument in Dozulé. This time I took photos of the wreath laying ceremony rather than recording it on video.
With the day slipping by, it was onto the buses to our final destination about 50 kms away at Beuzeville. The whole town had turned out for this special occasion, with bands, banners, a parade of WWII military vehicles, speeches and singing.
Wreath laying took place at British graves at the local cemetery and then at their memorial in the main street. The veterans marched between the 2 locations – quite a feat for guys in there 80s to march over ¼ mile (about 500m) in the heat and then stand for these ceremonies. I take my hat off to the determination of these men, such as Walter who did it on walking sticks, as did several others.
With the final ceremony over I did a 46 Royal Marines Commando group photo and then we all moved into the large Beuzeville Hall for a lunch that could well be described as another feast, along with the best French wines. It was sensational, with more special plaques for the veterans and a flask of local calvados. After final farewell speeches of thanks it was onto the buses for the touring party as they headed for St. Malo and the ferry back to UK. It had been an emotional, exhausting and quite incredible experience of a lifetime to be a part of this group. My sincere thanks to everyone concerned with the veterans and in particular to Philippe Bauduin who looked after me during my 11 days in Caen.
I have edited a video which records the visit of the 46 RMC and their friends and families to this very special 60th Anniversary of D-Day in Normandy, 2004. It runs for 2 hours 26 mins and includes a list of the names of all 24 veterans who attended. The video is code number A-1085DVD and sells for £20, or US$35, or A$49.
The video package will also include my CD of 276 digital photos recording all of the experiences of the veterans’ visit. The video colour cover and some photos will be posted on our web site shortly.
If you wish to read more about this special event, Ben Weider also attended, and you can read his report by clicking here.