Number Two Company WG100 Leg One – Normandy
As we left Elizabeth barracks during the early hours of 31 July 2015, we set out on the first leg of Number Two Company’s involvement in the Welsh Guards 100 celebrations. We made the short crossing from Dover to Calais before heading south west along the coast towards Normandy. The first day was spent settling into our hotel and confirming the route for the trip. We were there to commemorate what the Welsh Guards did during the liberation of Normandy as part of the Guards Armoured Division.
Leg one commemorating the fallen of Normandy
On the first morning, group one set off on the first of two marathons. Starting at the British cemetery in Bayeux, where a number of our forebears rest, they made their way north of Bayeux to the seaside town of Arromanches. On this route they were treated to wonderful view of picturesque Normandy, much of it unchanged since 1944. Once they had climbed the first hill they ran past the Liberation Museum and the Gold Beach Memorial and continued along through Juno and eventually Sword Beaches, where they finished at Lion-Sur-Mer. The memory of sacrifices made and blood spilt in the fight for freedom was the key theme that ran throughout and we tried to recognise this through our exertions.
Sgt Marsh and Gdsm Couling, Smythe, Robinson and Imarhiagbe mid-marathon
The next morning was an opportunity for those who had run the previous day to recuperate slightly, before we all headed back to Gold beach to take part in a beach buggy tour of the beaches. Moving from the beaches up along the fortified German batteries it gave a unique insight into how the enemy would have viewed the landing force coming ashore in June 1944.
The following day we returned to the Liberation Museum that we ran past on the first marathon. Here we began our battlefield study at the 360˚ Museum. This is a forty-minute sweeping and absorbing film that explains all about the liberation of Normandy. Gdsm Smythe, fresh to Number Two Company only two weeks previously, claimed it as one of the most powerful things he had ever seen. This sentiment was echoed across the leg and we made our way from there onto the beach in Arromanches. Here we undertook a battlefield study, focusing on the principles of offence and how the utter chaos and shock would have played havoc with the detailed planning conducted before the beach landings. We finished at the memorial for Brigadier Sir Alexander Stanier DSO* MC who was a Welsh Guards officer who commanded the 231st Infantry Brigade during the landings on D-Day. Here I said a few words about what he had done and we laid an officers beret on the memorial in honour of him.
Leg one at the Guards Armoured Memorial, St Charles de Percy
As the new day began, the final marathon group assembled outside the cemetery and set off south along the route of the Guards Armoured Division during Operation BLUECOAT. Moving into the region know as ‘The Bocage’, the terrain became laced with tight-knit hedgerows, winding tracks, sunken roads and far more hills. The run finished in Saint-Charles-de-Percy where the Welsh Guards played a vital role.
The next morning, we were joined by Officer Commanding Number Two Company, Major Mathieson and Company Quartermaster Sergeant Scarf. We returned to the museum of the Bocage where a play by play narrative of Operation BLUECOAT was given. Once we had all gained a strong understanding of the battle, we returned to Saint-Charles-de-Percy where we met the mayors of Montchamp and Saint-Charles-de-Percy at the Guards Armoured memorial. Here Gdsm Couling laid a wreath and we held a minute’s silence in memory. With locals and French veterans present, as well as a reporter from the local newspaper, it was an extremely humbling atmosphere and something which the locals wish to continue in the future. Our final battlefield study examined the Welsh Guards advance to Saint-Charles-de-Percy and how, despite a highly mobile and well entrenched enemy, they were able to seize the initiative and win the battle for the village.
The penultimate day took us firstly to the Battle of Normandy Museum in Bayeux, where we were able to get personal experience of a lot of the equipment that was used during the liberation. We then made our way over the road to the cemetery where we had begun both of our marathons, and I addressed everyone about sacrifice and legacy before we took some time to reflect on the week and also the large number of Welsh Guardsmen buried in Bayeux. Gdsm Jones 31 and Williams 07 read a poem in Welsh at the cross of sacrifice before Gdsm Imhiriaghbe laid a wreath.
The week was an absolutely unforgettable and phenomenal experience for all of us. We learnt a great deal about the part the Welsh Guards played in the liberation of Normandy as well as reflecting on ourselves. We returned to Pirbright; wiser, humbled and somewhat shattered!