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15 October 2014
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Return to Normandy Beaches

by Civic Centre, Bedford

Contributed by 
Civic Centre, Bedford
People in story: 
Brigadier G.D. Browne, OBE
Location of story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
07 June 2004

This is a copy of a letter that was sent to Ronald Charles Ward who was part of the British Expeditionary Forces and later returned to France on D-Day +1.

It was very interesting to go over the ground again and I thought you and other members of the Division might like to know what was done there on the anniversary of D-Day. There has been a lot about Arromanches and the American beaches but none about ours.

The party consisted of Brigadier E.J. Montgomery, now 5 L of C Sub Area, who was formely A/Q of 3 Div and then Comd 101 Beach Sub Area, Padre Johns late 101 Beach Sub Area, myself and my batman and Montgomery's batman, both of whom landed with us on D-Day and are ex-members of 3 Div. We stayed that night of 5/6 June at Bayeux and arrived on Q Beach at about 10 o'clock on 6 June; a fine morning and a flat calm unlike the same day last year. The "gooseberry" is still lying off the shore and two L.C.Ts with the Div sign on their funnels are still lying high and dry in the centre of the beach. They wore two of the pre-loaded L.C.Ts (four in all) which we beached to form the initial sector stores dumps. There is also a coaster full of shells and 1000lb bombs beached and burned out, and dry at low tide.

We then went to Hermanville and visited the cemetry just east of the village. It is quite well cared for. The original wooden crosses have been placed on top of each grave after being replaced by the official metal ones. We went around the graves and saw many names of old friends. Most of those buried there are 8 Bdo, 101 Sub Area and Naval casualties. There is also a sprinking of 185 and 9 Bdos and 4 S.S. Bde ( Commando). After we had put flowers on graves of our particular friends the Padre said a few prayers and we prepared to leave.

At that moment a coy (company) of French Infantry arrived followed by the village band and practically the whole population of Hermanville in procession, headed by the priest in full regalia with a black cloth carried by children as used in funerals ( I don't know what it is called) and a very big wreath.Apparently they were about to pay a tribute to the dead. So it proved to be, and we were installed in the place of honour. The priest then began with an oration on what had been done fror France by the British. I could only understand it imperfectly but it was well done and impressive. The priest then said prayers and psalms were sung unaccompanied. Holy water and inconse used in accordance, I am told, with the R.C. burial service and some form of absolution or blessing made over the graves. After this, the bugles sounded, the troops presented arms for a minutes silence. This was followed by the sounding of 'Aux Champs' (French general salute). Then we all sang the Marseilles in French and 'God Save the King' in English (the French insisted on two verses and they knew the second verse better than we did). Finally they sang a song I have not heard before called "Mort pour las Patrie", and the wreath was layed on the centre grave in the front row.

The whole ceremony was very simple, very sincere and done entirely on the initiative of the local village mayor and priest.

We explained who we were and have arranged, I hope successfully, to get copies and if possible the negatives of photos taken during the ceremony. I expect there are many people who would like copies.

After leaving the ceremony at Hermanville, we did a tour of Gazolle, Cambes, Bijude almost in Caen then back through Lebisy to Bieville and the old Div HQ at Colleville (our hostess la Contesse was out) and on through Ouistreham to Benouville, across the pegasus bridge to Ranville and on past the factory to Courcelles to Caen and so home.

I visited the cemetry at Cambes and found a number of nine Bde graves. The cemetry is a 59 Div one but a number of our men have been re-buried there, the remainder apparantly at La Deliverande cemetry. Across the river at Ranville there is the 6 Airborne Div cemetry which has been expanded to take all others including many of ours and 27 Armoured brigade who were killed east of the river, and all of whom are being concentrated there. I did not have time to go to La Deliverande cemetry.

The other interesting place was the old Church of St. Nicholas at Caen, built about 1050 A.D. This has not been used by the R.C. church for about 100 years and was "de-consecrated". It is classified as an ancient monument and is supposed to be a perfect example of Norman architecture. While 101 Sub Area were there they got permission with approval of the Chaplin General to make a memorial chapel out of one of the side chapels. The main church was used as a garrison church all last winter. They have made it look extremely nice and have a stone alter carved by German POW expert to the design of some church architect of ours. On the alter is carved, very well, the army Gp sign. The idea is that other formation signs or memorials should be added.

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