172 TROOP DIARIES
We set off for France on the Friday at around 16.30 making our way from CTC to Portsmouth by coach. There was a good amount of head down time for the troop on the way there as we arrived at Pompey at about 21.30. The ferry crossing would be about 6 hours so again we managed to get some good sleep on the way with most of the lads just kipping on the floor of our ‘room of chairs’.
When we arrived in France early morning and met our tour guide ‘Smiler’. He’s an ex-Marine and a top bloke who knows his stuff about all the Normandy landings and pretty much most of the Corps’ history!! He took us to the British cemetery first where we saw all the graves of the British soldiers who took part and died in the landings. My words cannot describe what the place is exactly like but it was really quiet and quite an emotional. We laid down our Royal Marine crosses on the graves we chose and then moved onto a museum.
The museum was pretty decent as all the kit in there was from WW2 and it was interesting to see the different uniforms of all the different regiments.
I feel like I should apologise now because this trip was actually epic but because I can’t remember any of the places names or anything Im making it sound rubbish! But I can tell you it was the complete opposite!
Next up was the small village Port en Bessin that was captured and held by the Germans. This village was really important because it was one of the main sources for oil in Normandy during the war. We needed this site to help us take back France so we sent in 47 Commando to sort it out. They came in by landing craft and overtook the Germans in the village but had to scrap their way for over 12 miles before finally capturing the town!
Next bit of the tour was another film but in a 360 degree screen cinema. The room was circular and the screens went all around the room. The film itself was pretty decent except for the end bit where it basically said that the French pretty much won the war on their own and the British and USA had not a lot to do with it… obviously it was a French made film but that didn’t stop the lads from enjoying it because it was made up of a lot of real life footage!
When we got back to the hotel, the lads had a quick dhobi and then some scran and then a few of us went out to recce the area we were in. We were on strict orders not to venture too far so we decided to just walk for 10 minutes to see what we could find… we found this tiny little pub that was literally some blokes front room with a bar inside and loads of French people in it! We walked in and were greeted by the owner who didn’t speak any English as well as all the other people inside! We managed to order a beer each and then were joined by everyone else in the bar! Trying to work out what everyone was saying was hilarious and was really good fun listening to the French blokes trying to spin us some sort of dits but we had no clue what they were saying!! Another pint later, as we were on a 2 can rule, and we left the ‘pub’ and back to the hotel where we got some more good head down time.
The second day was pretty good because we got to visit Utah beach which was one of the actual landing sites. It did honestly look just like a normal beach but because we knew what had gone on there made it different. It’s hard to explain without actually going there but it was a special moment for the lads.
The next part of the tour was a visit to the American cemetery. This is where all the Americans from the landings are buried. The place itself is massive, I cant really describe what it was like with words, you have to visit it to realise what its like. The amount of headstones all perfectly aligned is incredible and the way it’s all maintained is typically American. It was a great way to end the trip and something I will never ever forget!
A good week 12 and a good weekend for 172 troop visiting Normandy. A place that everyone should visit at least once in their lives if only to honour the men who gave their lives for us.