D-Day 75 Years On. Remembering Heroes.

Five years ago I published this post. Much has happened since then and for various reasons, not least the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, I have decided to re-post it in a slightly edited form. I do hope that you enjoy it and spare a moment to remember those who gave so much for freedom.

When Harley and I visited Normandy earlier this year we were privileged to be able to visit some of the famous D-Day beaches and contemplate the events of 70 years ago when the liberation of Europe from Nazi dictatorship began. Much is said about the actual landings on the beaches, but I mentioned then about the contribution that airborne troops also made to the operation. Sometimes I feel that this vital contribution is not given the full focus that it deserves, because without it the whole operation would not have been the success that it was. I am not decrying what happened on the beaches, merely drawing attention to the oft forgotten massive contribution by the airborne operation

In the hours leading up to D-Day itself, 6th June 1944, 13,000 allied airborne troops either parachuted into occupied Normandy or arrived by glider under cover of darkness. They had set out from fifteen airfields across southern England and crossed over the English Channel in a massive stream of 220 aircraft that was described as being nine aircraft wide and five hours long! Soldiers from all of the allied nations were involved, but the majority were British and American. Let me tell you a little about one of those American soldiers.

Daniel L. Reiling was a classic Mid-Western American kid, he didn’t have the easiest of starts in life, he never knew his father and at times life was a little tough. Determined to get on in life he joined the U.S Army as a career soldier. He progressed well through the ranks and married a good-looking girl from Chicago, named Florine, whose father owned restaurants and whose mother came from Britain. By the time that the war in Europe was raging Daniel was a Sergeant in the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment. Soon he found himself and his men crossing the Atlantic to Britain on a troop-ship which constantly zig-zagged to dodge the deadly threat of Nazi U-boats. On arrival in the U.K. the troops were posted to various locations for more training and preparations. Some lucky ones managed to get leave, which Daniel did and took the opportunity to visit his wife’s family, though by all accounts the poor chap was suffering from influenza and spent a fair bit of his leave in bed being looked after by his wife’s uncle, my Grandfather William. You see now that there is a big family connection here!

Following his leave, Daniel returned to his unit and began the final preparations for the Liberation of Europe. His regiment was allocated to two airbases, RAF Membury and RAF Greenham Common. Unfortunately, we have not been able to ascertain yet exactly which one Daniel’s platoon was at. On the evening of 5th June 1944 the various airfields involved swung into action. At Greenham Common, General Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, dropped in to encourage the troops. IMG_0343Men and equipment were prepared and loaded onto the C-47 transport aircraft which at the assigned time taxied to the runways and began to take off. Sergeant Daniel L. Reiling and his men would have been dressed in full combat kit armed with a variety of weapons, they sat in total darkness inside the noisy vibrating fuselage of the C-47 as it took off and turned South towards Normandy.IMG_0342Once over the French coast the pilots took the aircraft down to the jumping altitude of 500 feet  The green jump light came on at 00:48 and Daniel threw himself out into the Normandy night, landing in a field near to Saint Martin de Varreville and set about making life difficult for the occupying German force.

By 06:30 St Martin had been captured and shortly after the German garrison at Mésières was taken as well. Five days later the town of Carentan was liberated after fierce fighting that included a bayonet charge. The 502nd then moved to assist in the capture of Cherbourg before stepping down for regrouping and rest, before rejoining the war and fighting their way across Europe, finally capturing Hitler’s private residence and many senior Nazis at Berchtesgaden in May 1945.

By the end of the conflict Daniel had been promoted to Master Sergeant and shortly after was promoted to Sergeant Major, one of the youngest in the Army. Later he was to see action in Korea and became an officer, finally rising to the rank of Major.

During WWII and the Korean War, Daniel was in a total of 13 major campaigns. In all that fighting he was wounded in the leg during the Ardennes offensive near Bastogne, but never received the Purple Heart. He won two Bronze and one Silver Star plus several other wartime decorations. Sadly, he died young in January 1969. I guess you could say he lived a full life, a real American hero, a John Wayne kind of guy. In our family we are all incredibly proud of him; none more so than my cousins, Peter and Marianne.

Over the last few weeks I have been able to visit the remains of both RAF Membury and Greenham Common. There’s not much left at either place to recall events of 70 years ago. There is however, another old base about 60 miles away from Dookes H.Q. that also played a prominent role in that airborne assault, RAF Upottery, here there is still quite a lot to see. Last evening I took the opportunity to make a pilgrimage with Harley and my little brother Greg to the old airfield and remember the events that unfolded on that fateful night.

It was a super evening to be on a motorcycle and riding through the beautiful Devon countryside I pondered if it was like this all those years ago?

The old airbase was quiet and still and much has reverted to farmland, though the runways, control tower and a few other buildings remain. P1010774Just by luck we met the local farmer who gave us permission to go on the site. It was with some awe that I turned Harley onto the main runway, the strip of concrete and tarmac from which 81 C-47’s took off, this was hallowed ground indeed! It seemed fitting that an American motorcycle was visiting the place where so many young American soldiers took off, some never to return.

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In some places the grass is beginning to win.

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After spending some time soaking up the atmosphere, we decided to leave the ghosts of the past to enjoy the sunset. As we rode off the airfield we were aware of other people who were gathering to pay their respects as well. DSCF3394

Stopping to chat with one guy he observed that we have much to be thankful for, we have indeed; like a super ride home west into a crimsoning sky on a growling Harley Davidson! I’d like to think that those young paratroopers would have approved!

Dookes

 

The battle patch of the 502nd, I think that this will look good on my leathers!

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Dedicated to all those who came by air in 1944.

And in loving memory of Greg, Paul and Florrine.

 

 

 

 

 

Playing on the Tracks

It’s a chilly late October afternoon, the temperature has struggled up to 9° Celsius and the sun refuses to burn through the grey covering cloud. Black feathered Rooks are calling from the high trees around the old railway station. The air is still.

This is Autumn in Brittany.

Jean-Claude and his mates are playing Breton Bowls on the ground where the old railway lines once lay. They gather here most Fridays to play their game share a meal in a local café and generally enjoy each other’s company. The cackle of their laughter competes with the cries of the black birds above them, whilst the clunk of stone bowling balls punctuates their conversation.

Boules Bretagne on the old railway.

Boules Bretagne on the old railway.

“Hey, Gallois come and have a go!” Jean-Caude implores. “Leave the ghosts of the old railway alone.”

The old station fascinates me.
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Mur de Bretagne saw its last train steam out towards Carhaix nearly fifty years ago when the metre gauge Réseau Breton railway system closed down. I only wish I could have enjoyed it before it vanished forever. The network linked many rural communities and it’s closure pushed many small towns into a kind of time warp that they only really came out of after the turn of the 2000’s. Today around Brittany most of the old station buildings remain, the French can’t see the point of demolishing perfectly good structures when alternative uses can be found.

Mur de Bretagne Station in 1910.

Mur de Bretagne Station in 1910.

At Mur the station now serves a local cycling club, the fire brigade and of course the Breton Bowling club, talk about diversification!

I smile.
“Un petit moment, Jean-Claude, je besoin explorer le vielle station.” – “In a minute Jean-Claude, I must explore the old station.”

My friend shrugs his shoulders, he understands my interest in the history of the old railway, but to him it’s just that, history.

He can remember the station when it was open and he stood here the day that the last train departed. To him it’s gone and no end of interest from me will ever bring it back… The bowling is what matters now.

I get it, but my curiosity and passion for old railways wins out.

The station is a wonderful mix of good repair and partial decrepitude. On the side where trains once ran the building is in good repair and well-tended, whilst at the rear there is evidence of slightly less love being endowed on it and that makes it more interesting. It’s just crying out for some monochrome photography.p1070925

In my mind’s eye I can see the busy bustle of the place when it was still served by the Réseau Breton. At least it still lives on serving the local community in other ways. p1070924

I marvel that the old enamel name board still proclaims the town on the gable end. Back in the UK that would have disappeared to a collectors wall years ago!p1070920

The game is progressing and I’ve missed out the chance of looking silly by joining in. Maybe the old station saved me from gentle embarrassment!p1070922

J-C looks at me and winks, he’s winning at the moment!

There’s a strong coffee with a splash of Lambig, the local calvados type firewater, waiting at the end of this game. Then there will be Poitrine Fumé, Haricot Blanc avec ail and tarte-tatin to follow, all washed down with a local rough wine, my kind of heaven!

There’s a hint of wood smoke in the cool air, the clear clean air of Brittany and just at the moment there is nowhere else in the world that I’d rather be.

Catch you later – À bientôt!

Dookes

Troubled

I am troubled by our World.

News of the latest atrocity to hit France was just beginning to break as I went to bed last night. This morning I awoke to the awful news that a madman had deliberately driven a truck into crowds of celebrating families in Nice, France. Over eighty innocent revellers, most of them children and young people, had been murdered before the perpetrator had also been killed.

The horror that has been afflicting my beloved France and her people in recent times fills me with great sadness.

Looking around though, it’s not just La France where this all-consuming hatred manifests into violence, intolerance and hatred.

Should we be surprised in this “modern age” when Police Officers are murdered on the streets of Dallas; pilgrims blown up in Saudi Arabia, car bombs tear through crowds in Turkey…?

The sad truth is that intolerance surrounds us in our selfish times.

There is a young lady in her early twenties who lives near Dookes H.Q., sadly she is more likely to greet people with a torrent of abuse than a smile. Is she a grim representative of the future, where isolation, lack of respect and offence are the norm, rather than attempts at understanding and the reaching out of a hand? Or is she a product of the world that past generations have created for the future? A sad indication that the social freedoms and lack of responsibility in the latter half of the twentieth century have failed?

It certainly seems to me that there are many more angry and destructive people around today. Why are there so many disenfranchised?

Or is it me? Am I demonstrating a function of getting older and possibly loosing touch with popular society?

I don’t think it is.

This week I came across a school group of fourteen year olds, they were visiting Cornwall on an “enrichment week.”

Were they helping out in a local hospital?
Assisting in a retirement home?
Doing a shift in an inner-city help shelter?

No.

They had been taken out of school for a week of surfing!

Now, I love surfing, but please….how will this in any way enrich the future lives of these young people?

The world is truly doomed when we teach that “enrichment” does not equal caring for, or about others before oneself.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe we should just extract as much enjoyment from life as we can in the desperately brief time that we have and stuff everything else.

It’s a little difficult to know at the moment.

Je suis Nice.
Je suis Français.

Dookes

A candle for Nice. A candle for peace in the world.

A candle for Nice.
A candle for peace in the world. Chapel of Notre-Dame du Haut.

The Somme – 100

A century ago to-day the most bloody battle that Europe has ever seen began.

An artillery barrage lasting for seven days pounded dug-in German positions, before the signal for soldiers to advance across the shattered landscape of North East France was given.

At 07:30hrs the crash of artillery fire paused and the shrill sound of tin whistles ordered men forward.

Within seconds the mournful whistles were replaced by the stutter of machine guns.

24 hours later 19,240 British and Empire soldiers were dead.
The French Army had lost 1,590; 12,00 German soldiers also died.

The battle raged for a further 140 days and by the time it dwindled to a muddy stalemate over 300,000 men from both Britain, Germany and France had perished and a further 700,000 wounded.

Two words resonate through history and represent the horror, waste and futility of War:

The Somme.

Today Europe is united in remembrance.
May the lessons of the past guide our actions in the present and the future.

Lest we forget.

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“What passing bells for these who die as cattle?” Wilfred Owen 1893-1918

Je Suis Triste, I am Sad.

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Last night as I was watching a football International between Wales and The Netherlands, news began to break about the horrific events unfolding in the French capital, Paris. Sport suddenly became inconsequential.
La nuit dernière, alors que je regardais le foot international entre pays de Galles et les Pays-Bas, les nouvelles ont commencé à annoncer sur les événements horribles qui se déroulent dans la capitale française, Paris. Sport soudainement devenu sans conséquence.

This morning we woke to hear that over 125 people lost their lives, seemingly the victims of organised fanatical terrorists. Some died in restaurants, many at a rock concert, all innocently enjoying a Friday night out at the end of a working week.
Ce matin, nous nous sommes réveillés d’apprendre que plus de 125 personnes ont perdu la vie, apparemment victimes de terroristes fanatiques organisés. Certains sont morts dans les restaurants, un grand nombre à un concert de rock, tout innocemment bénéficiant d’un vendredi soir à la fin d’une semaine de travail.

How brave it must have been to stand with an automatic weapon and spray bullets into a crowd of unarmed people and how evil?
Quel courage il doit avoir été de se tenir avec une arme automatique et tirer des balles dans une foule de personnes non armées et comment le mal?

This week, around the world, ordinary people have been pausing to remember those who have died in conflict.
Cette semaine, dans le monde entier, les gens ordinaires ont pausé pour se souvenir de ceux qui sont morts dans les conflits.

It seems we now need to remember even more.
Il semble que nous devons maintenant me souviens même plus.

My heart weeps for Paris and France. I love that country and it’s people. I have many friends there.
Mon coeur pleure pour Paris et la France. Je adore ce pays et ses habitants. Je ai beaucoup d’amis là-bas.

La France, my friends, I stand with you.
La France, mes amis, je me tiens avec toi.

Vive La France!

Dookes

Liberté, égalité, fraternité.

Liberty, equality, fraternity – the motto of France.

A nation that has this week been rocked by a number of unprecedented savage attacks against its citizens.

As many of you will know France is also a nation that I love deeply.

I love it’s geography,
I love it’s gastronomy,
I love it’s history,
I love it’s traditions,
I love it’s language;

but most of all I love it’s people.

I am blessed to have many friends throughout France and my thoughts and emails have been with them all during these past dark days.

To your motto I add one word from me: Solidarité.
Pour ta devise je ajoute un mot de moi: Solidarité.

I stand with you my friends. Je suis avec toi mes amis.

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Vive La France!

Je suis Charlie.

Le Tour 2014 A Commencé!

Hey it must officially be summer, the 2014 Tour de France has begun!image

I suppose you could add that bizarrely it started in Yorkshire, England…

Will Britain’s Chris Froome be able to defend last years title?image

Who will be King of The Mountains and who will win the Sprinters Green Jersey?

So stand by for an exciting three weeks of cycle racing around France as “Le Boucle” visits most parts of L’Hexagone and these questions are answered on the Champs Élysée!

I’ve just gotta persuade Mrs Dookes that I will cut the grass, after I’ve watched the race on TV…every day!

Dookes

 

Froome photo courtesy of Reuters.