(2370miles) Firstly, Important News Alert! Yesterday morning I became a Grandfather for the second time. Baby James and Mum are doing well and we are extremely proud of our new grandson and his parents. What a lovely little lad.
No lets have a quick look at the route so far, today, Day 23 (The Regiment)……….
We had a great couple of days alongside the marina at Montagne Sur Gironde. Really hot weather which allowed me to improve on my sun-burn, so that I’ve moved a degree closer to deep burn! and as a bertie bonus “frittes” for tea both nights! We spent most of the time at the port watching all the other van owners, and I’m pleased to report we can now pronounce Bon-jour like a local #fact. Anything beyond that and things get sticky (see below!).
On the Tuesday(Day 20) we departed early in the morning and headed further north to a tidy little village called Mervent, where I made an absolute tit of myself in a packed local shop trying to ask for a token in pidgin French for the aire we were parked on! In the end the exasperated shopkeeper ejected me from the shop and frog-marched me across the square to the tourism office, where a nice lady very calmly in perfect english explained that camper van parking was free!….Ewwwwww!!
The village is located above the River Vendee which cuts through the Vouvant Forest that surrounds the area. The aire was pretty much just a car park with some bins, but it suited our needs for 24hrs. We took the opportunity to get a few kms under the belt, walking through the huge swathe of forest that covers this area.
Wednesday. Again up early and on the road, today we were on a mission to visit St Nazaire, the atlantic port that was used by the Germans as a submarine base during WW2. It was also fitted with a huge dry-dock that allowed the repair of warships. With access directly into the Atlantic, this was major headache in this early stage of the war. The sub base had 12 U-Boat pens, concrete reinforced, a really impressive piece of engineering and almost impossible for the allies to destroy.
This all changed on the 28th March 1942 when a party of 611 commandos and navy personnel using a mixture of craft and a disguised British destroyer HMS Campbeltown loaded with time-delayed explosives struck at 0130hrs in the morning. They rammed the Normandie Dry Dock gate with HMS Campbeltown, shot up the enemy garrison and once the ships explosives detonated made the dry dock unusable for the remainder of the war.
The statistics speak for themselves:
- 169 Men Killed.
- 215 Captured.
- 89 decorations for bravery.
- 5 Victoria Crosses awarded.
- 228 men made it away from the raid and back to the UK.
- Over 300 enemy killed.
At least two of the men, both commando’s, came from my own regiment. Ernie Chappell, from Newport, S.Wales was captured and spent the remainder of the war in captivity. An audio account of his service with the Commandos is held by the IWM. Another Commando & Royal Welchman; LCpl George Stokes, aged 22 was aboard HMS Campbeltown when it rammed the dock gates. He was part of a demolition party and was later killed in the town during fierce fighting with the enemy. He is buried at a lovely little cemetery called ” Escoublac-la-Baule” which is about 13kms west of St Nazaire. So of course we also made the visit to see his grave and pay our respects to him and all the other men buried within.
Here’s an interesting piece from the Commonwealth Graves Commission site about the origins of the cemetery.
“The cemetery was begun with the burial of 17 British soldiers killed in the area during 1940, 21 others who died in local hospitals, and a number of British servicemen whose bodies were washed ashore after the sinking of the troopship “Lancastria” in the Bay of Biscay on 17 June 1940. Subsequent burials include men killed in the St. Nazaire raid in 1942, and airmen shot down in the area.
The cemetery now contains 325 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War, 74 of which are unidentified. Three Polish servicemen are also buried here and one man of the Merchant Navy whose death was not due to war service.
Throughout the German occupation, Louise Jaouen, a resident of La Baule, dedicated all her time and energy to maintaining the graves. With money collected secretly from the generous local people she provided a cross for every grave and a small monument, had hedges planted, and employed a permanent gardener to tend the cemetery. Her devotion to this work was later honoured by the award of the King’s Medal for Service in the Cause of Freedom.”
By any stretch of the imagination, this was a brilliantly planned and executed raid by these men. I’m filled with admiration for them and I really enjoyed the visit.
Since the visit to St Nazaire, we’ve been slowly tracking north east towards Calais, we had a couple of days in the Loire Valley, which was only dampened by the weather, which is noticably cooler and wet. Like a true brit, I still gamely wear shorts every day, just to remind myself I’m on my hols! Last night we stayed in the town of Blois. The main focus being access to a vet this morning for Mutt’s obligatory worming dose, prior to the British customs palava early next week. We used Clinique Veterinaire du Pont Gabrial, which were excellent. So now Mutts is sorted, tensions are eased slightly and we are parked up on a little campsite at a small town called Courville Sur Eure, which is twinned with Alveston near Bristol. We know that fact, because all the shop windows are full of Union Jacks, which is not like the French. Apparently they are celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the Twinning….Good on em!
At the rag-end of the trip….It’s only just over a fortnight since I was whinging about the heatwave, now I’m moaning about the chill in the air and discussing if shorts are appropriate wear for the run home?
The image below sums up the desolation and emptiness we feel as our adventure draws to a close!
No? Too artie for you? Ok then, here’s a snap entitled:
“Solitary Deckchair and Van somewhere in France”
That is All!