Tuesday, 26 May 2009
I promised I'd post a few more pictures of my short break to Normandy, but rather than just show the album, I wanted to add a few personal thoughts as I flashed the snaps. This link is to an article, headed by a photograph taken on June 6th 1944. It is of an American "Higgins Boat" landing craft and it has just delivered the soldiers who can be seen wading into a living hell. In the background is Omaha Beach, Normandy. The high ground in the far background is a heavily defended German position. Before the day closes over 2,500 of the troops will be casualties. This theme is very relevant at this time, as we will be commemorating the 65th anniversary of the start of the liberation of Europe in just over a week. The photograph at the bottom of this post is a section of that same beach, taken on May 12th 2009. There remains the same high ground in the background, except today that high ground is an American cemetary containing over 9,000 graves from the Normandy campaign and beyond. The top and left pictures I lifted from Google Earth. They are of that American Cemetary. If anyone needs a reminder of the combined beauty and beast that is humanity, they should visit that place. Please click on the pictures to see where heroes lay. If our military had to tackle the same task today, Omaha Beach would still be a right bastard. It occurred to me, as I stared up at the heights from that tranquil beach, that given all the knowledge we now have at our disposal as well as the modern tactical and strategic weaponry, we probably wouldn't tackle Omaha Beach by frontal assault as it would just be too costly - a regular `Charge of the Light Brigade`. Which leads me nicely into the picture 2nd row on the right; Arromanches. (I airbrushed myself out of the picture). Arromanches is just up the coast from Omaha Beach and is at the edge of Gold Beach, part of the British and Canadian beaches. The village is quite small, but for the duration of the Normandy campaign it was to become the busiest port in the world. Hard to believe when you see it now, but there was no natural harbour in Allied hands that was big enough to support and re-supply the invasion and so Churchill decreed that we would build our own and tow it across the channel behind the main force. Arromanches was the chosen site and "Mulberry" was the name of the harbour, an idea of simple genius. Those dark objects in the sea, near the horizon, are some of the remaining 24 breakwaters out of an original 120 or so that formed what became known as "Port Winston". The largest one weighs around 7000 tons. In order not to have to deal with the chaos and damage of a frontal assault, Arromanches was taken by flanking manouevers, because of the top secret use to which it would be put. "Mulberry" is, even 65 years on, a truly remarkable concept, brilliantly designed, constructed and deployed, the latter during the height of the biggest military invasion of all time. Ever the optimist, I hope that, somehow, my generation can leave a legacy that doesn't have to emerge from the point of a gun, from the weak being subjugated by the bully and from mankinds inhumanity to it's fellow human beings trying to share the space on this fragile planet of ours. Right then, I'm off on me bike. More pics of Normandy later.
Sunday, 24 May 2009
A nice afternoon at a `traditional` travellers horse fair in an English country village. Policing costs? In the £££thousands. Disruption to the local community? Considerable, over several days. Value added to British Country Heritage? Debatable. Would it be missed? Not by me it wouldn't.
Saturday, 23 May 2009
When I transferred from Metrolopis City to Home County city in the mid 70`s, I became a driver of general purpose police cars, then nicknamed `Panda's. They were Mini's. I stand 6` 3" tall. Fortunately my Divisional Commander had a solution. I simply had to submit a short report stating my height and plight and he would authorise me to drive the Mini without having to wear my flat cap. Brilliant leadership! I carried the report inside the flat cap so I could produce it to any supervisory officer who asked me why I wasn't correctly dressed in my police car and I would `get out of jail, free`. It was great being tall in that force.
Wednesday, 20 May 2009
This shows the spot where the first Allied troops landed in France on D-Day, June 6th 1944. It was just after Midnight. They were part of `The Airborne`, always first, always surrounded, they were the men of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry under the command of Major John Howard who, before the war, was a police officer. They were a corps elite. Their job was to capture this bridge on the Caen Canal and 2 other bridges over the Orne River and to hold them intact in advance of other British and Canadian paratroopers who were already in the air, waiting to hear the result of this mission, before dropping into that area of occupied France. Their job was to prevent German tanks from counter-attacking the troops that would land by sea 5 hours later. For those "Band of Brothers" fans, this was a similar strategic objective to that of the American 82nd and 101st Airborne at the far western end of the invasion beaches, over 50 miles away. The `Ox and Bucks` Light Infantry was the spearhead of the Eastern flank. Their mission was the classic example of a `Coup De Main`. They arrived, barely 100 of them, in 3 wooden "Horsa" gliders with controls that you could be forgiven for thinking would be used in a childs home made go-cart. There was an airspeed indicator a compass a stopwatch and precious little else. It was dark and the land below was under a blackout order, so there were no lights on the ground. They were towed across the channel and then released many miles from the target and flew a pre-planned, circuitous route in order to mask their intended target. The young pilots had trained hard but the time spent learning their skills could still only be measured in weeks. They navigated by a compass, a stopwatch and their trusty Mark 1 eyeballs to identify significant shapes of rivers and other landmarks. No Garmin, no Tom-Tom, no radar, no ground control. I reiterate, they were gliders, so no going round again, no second chances. All three gliders landed merely yards apart. If you'd been there at the time, stood at the spot where I took the lower left photograph, you would have seen all three of them, just the other side of the far towpath. The first one came to rest a mere 45 yards from the bridge. This was simply remarkable. The German defenders were totally surprised but resisted and after a fierce, head-on firefight the bridge was captured and the German demolition charges neutralised. The first man to be killed by enemy fire on D-Day, was Lt. Den Brotheridge who ran across the bridge, leading an attack on a gun position. He was shot in the neck, very close to where I stood to take this picture. He was 26. The rest, as they say, is history. This mission is, to this day, remarkable in its audacity, daring and execution. It is a humbling experience to stand there. The bridge at Benouville, Normandy, was renamed as a result and will forevermore be known as "Pegasus Bridge" - Up the Ox and Bucks!