- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Private Ronald Ritson, Major E.R. Hargreaves, Colonel Wood, General Whistler, Arlette Gondrée-Pritchett
- Location of story:
- Pegasus Bridge, Bénouville, Caen Canal, River Orne, Plumetot, Normandy, France
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 12 February 2005
Replica 'Pegasus Bridge' sign next to the Gondrée café and Caen Canal, 23 July 2004, almost sixty years to the day after 'Operation Mosquito'. In 2004 the owner was Madame Arlette Gondrée-Pritchett, daughter of the owners in 1944.
By 19 July 1944, the Allies had liberated the whole of Caen and by the completion of ‘Operation Goodwood’ on 24 July the Caen Plain had been liberated up to 7 kilometres to the south and west of the city. The next phase in the Battle of Normandy was to eliminate the enemy from the rest of Normandy and achieve a breakout that would lead to final victory.
On the morning of 25 July 1944, the Allies commenced ‘Operation Cobra’ . This was intended to achieve the breakout and began by ‘Carpet Bombing’ of the German positions. For their part, the German defenders responded by bombing the Allied positions with whatever resources they could muster. The ‘Pegasus Bridge’ area of Bénouville, to the north-east of Caen and next to the Caen Canal and River Orne, had been held by the Allies since the night of the 5 / 6 June following a successful airborne raid by the 6th British Airborne Division.
During June and July 1944, Private Ronald Ritson, RAMC, was camped with his Unit, 26 Field Hygiene Section at Plumetot, to the north of Caen. This camp was in the same village as the temporary Allied aerodrome ‘B10’ , so there was a lot of activity at the adjacent RCAF camp. At 14.30h on 25 July 1944 Major Hargreaves, the CO of 26 FHS, received an order to report to the ADMS (Assistant Director of Medical Services) which was then based some kilometres away near Pegasus Bridge.
This account of what I have called ‘Operation Mosquito’ is based on the testimony of Private Ronald Ritson and Major Hargreaves . They agreed I could write about their memoirs for a university project and that it could be shared with others. I would like to acknowledge my thanks to them for sharing their memories with me, which this account forms only a small part.
As batman to Major Hargreaves, Ronald chauffeured the CO in an army truck eastwards from Plumetot towards the ADMS office where Colonel Wood and General Whistler were waiting. Initially, all went well but before they could get close to the Pegasus Bridge area, two things held them up. Firstly, the road was blocked with troops, trucks and tanks attempting to make their way between the landing beaches and the front. Secondly, the Germans were shelling this area as it was still relatively close to the front line.
After waiting in a dugout for a short while, Ronald and Major Hargreaves changed direction, following the road down to the next bridge over the Caen canal just inside the city. This would have added about 15 kilometres on to the journey. Nevertheless, they eventually made it to the Colonel’s HQ.
Ronald was able to have a nice cup of tea while Major Hargreaves went to see Colonel Wood. By this point in the Battle of Normandy the Gondrée café was apparently quite a welcoming venue for British troops. Major Hargreaves received the order that as of the following evening, mosquitoes and wasps ‘would cease to exist’ in the Pegasus Bridge area. As there was a stagnant canal, a river, marshy ground and lots of people, these were favourable conditions for mosquitoes and wasps. Headquarters, and in particular General Whistler, were being overrun by insects.
‘Operation Mosquito’ to clear the canal and Orne river area of troublesome insects commenced at 08.00h on Wednesday 26 July 1944. Stage 1 involved hedgers and ditchers to clear some of the ground.
26 Field Hygiene Section then put into action Stage 2. This involved spraying the hedges and ditches with various chemicals and oils and putting up warning notices. General Whistler was apparently most impressed! Whether the mosquitoes and wasps were defeated is another matter. However, 26 FHS apparently had an enjoyable day out near what would become after the war one of the most famous battle sites of the Battle of Normandy.
Inevitably, and justly so, the liberation of the Caen canal and Orne River bridges on 5 / 6 June 1944 has been well documented. It was one of the most daring and successful operations of the European land war. Obviously, ‘Operation Mosquito’ by 26 Field Hygiene Section was really only a very minor event of the Battle of Normandy.
Nevertheless, this account has been submitted to show that war is not just about great battles involving bombers, tanks and infantry. Even in a successful war campaign there are small, often forgotten inconveniences and problems that can have an influence on what is happening. It is also an amusing ‘bijou’ tale about the Battle of Normandy that can perhaps offset the rather grim reality of most of what was happening during the months of June and July 1944.
One further point should be made about this memory of World War Two. Almost sixty years to the day after ‘Operation Mosquito’ , on Friday 23 July 2004, I visited the Pegasus Bridge area to view the ‘Prologue’ of a yacht race commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the Normandy Landings.
On that day I spoke with Madame Arlette Gondrée-Pritchett, the present café and shop owner whose parents were the café proprietors in 1944. I was then able to sit at one of the Gondrée café’s outside tables overlooking the bridge and the Caen canal to enjoy a refreshing pot of tea, a bite to eat and watch the yachts sail past. Sixty years after the Battle of Normandy it was a most pleasant location. I then received a mosquito bite on my arm! Evidently, the efforts of 26 FHS in 1944 had not permanently destroyed the mosquito population of Pegasus Bridge!
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