A year that would go down in history.
A few days before D-Day, a young man who had recently joined the army at the age of 18 set off on the road, quite literally, to hell. He had joined the 12th Devonshire Regiment (fondly known as the ‘swedebashers’) and part of the 6th Airborne Division.
He landed on Sword Beach, after having never trained for beach landings, or been to sea, after being told that there were not enough gliders for everyone…. They passed through the straits on the morning of D Day, and came under fire from Cape Gris Nez. At first light they approached Sword Beach, and began to see the debris of war everywhere.
That man, now 92, is my Grandad, and it seems only fitting that I announce one of my challenges for 2018 in the most fitting way I can.
With a history lesson, no less…
From Sword Beach, the 12th Devons held the left flank of the bridgehead over the River Orne, where their orders were to seize intact the bridges over both the River and the Orne Canal, between the villages of Benoville and Ranville — and hold them at all costs until relief arrived. They were to avoid combat if possible and make for the village of Ranville as quickly as possible to relieve the 12th Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, crossing Pegasus Bridge at 1600. From here, they pushed on to the Seine.
After the Seine? Grandad returned to Bulford for training, before the division was recalled to the Ardennes, on 20th December 1944, in order to help counter the German army’s surprise offensive at the infamous Battle of the Bulge.
The third time he returned to Europe as in a glider, landing 40 miles behind enemy lines with the objective of linking up with the Russians at Wismar. The Germans were expecting them and there were vast numbers of casualties.
As part of Operation Varsity on the 24th March 1945, the 6th Airlanding Brigade was to land each of its battalions at separate drop zones around the village of Hamminkeln. The 12th Devons were ordered to land at LZ-R, to the SW of the village, and then proceed to secure the two western roads leading out of Hamminkeln, thereby cutting off the possibilities of retreat or reinforcement of the garrison, before assaulting the village itself. The Devons successfully took Hamminkeln, after blowing up a railway junction to stop troops and supplies getting through to the Germans.After this, they subsequently fought their way across Germany to the Baltic coast. As part of this journey, they came across a group of buildings and huts, surrounded by barbed wire. Not realising at the time that this was in fact Belsen, and they had been among the first allied troops into the camp.
In 2017, my Grandad was awarded the Legion D’Honneur, the highest French order of merit for military and civil merits, established in 1802 by Napoléon Bonaparte.
Ok, it’s not a huge challenge, nor a long one, but more of a meaningful journey.
Me and my mum are planning to cycle the route from Sword Beach to the Seine, taking the route the 12th Devons did, or as close to it, as we will have to do it all in a weekend, ferries and all! 🙂
(anyone with any good historical maps, please get in touch!!!)
Not only did we feel this is a fitting tribute, but it would also be nice to follow the route for interest as well.
I am very proud of my grandad, and always will be.
I will be raising money for one of the armed forces charities in doing this and we’re hoping to do it in May so keep an eye out and, like I said, if you have any accurate route maps, they would be much appreciated!