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.

P1010782

In some places the grass is beginning to win.

P1010779

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!

IMG_0344

 

 

Dedicated to all those who came by air in 1944.

And in loving memory of Greg, Paul and Florrine.

 

 

 

 

 

Tears In A Museum

I guess it could be said of me that I am like many men, in that I don’t normally show my inner emotions. Sure, I’ll go as bonkers as anyone when I’m at a sporting event and my team are doing well and yes I’m not slow in showing my displeasure if I feel that someone has done my family or I wrong! Other than that, no, don’t expect much else . . . normally.

Certainly the last place that I expected emotions to take hold of me would be in a railway museum.

It’s true that railways and locomotives have shaped much of my life, my late father was a mechanical engineer and much of my career involved actually running railways, you could say that it’s sort of in my blood and something that will never leave me! If I visit a museum like the fantastic Cité du Train in Mulhouse, I expect to be fascinated by the variety of exhibits, in awe of the craftsmanship that has made many of the locomotives and carriages and intrigued by the different operating equipment and practices. Only once have I been rendered numb by an exhibit and that occurred in Mulhouse.

The first hall of the museum is amazing. The different exhibits are each presented in atmospheric and dramatic pools of light, I loved it! The mood captures the drama of a night-time departure.P1040199
The efforts of the French Resistance movement in sabotaging the railways during World War Two. P1040011 . . . and of course lunch on the Orient Express!P1040051

Each exhibit has an audio-visual display that explains the details, what to look for and often the human stories associated, all very well done indeed.
In one dark corner I noticed a relatively small freight car and wandered over to take a closer look. It was the sort of vehicle that was used for carrying general cargo or even livestock, basically a simple ventilated box on wheels. Looking closer I noticed the stencilled lettering on the side of the car.P1040037I froze, stunned, shocked, appalled. I realised that I was looking at one of the vehicles used for the deportation of people during the dark Holocaust of World War Two. The stencil indicated that 40 people could be carried in this goods van of only 18 square metres area. In contrast, 8 horses could be carried instead.
I sat on a convenient bench and watched the accompanying audio/visual screen. The commentary detailed how the deportation of people was carried out by the occupying Nazi forces; the story was very factual and professionally done and although bereft of emotion the horror of what occurred was clear to see. Families torn apart, old, young and infirm pushed by rifle butts into the cattle wagons, photographs of despair and fear. Examples of hastily scribbled letters that the deportees threw from trains were highlighted. Of course most of these poor people were on one way journeys, to the horrific extermination camps at places such as Auschwitz where an estimated 1.1 million were murdered.
The video screen flickered to blackness as the presentation came to and end. I sat numbly looking at the blank screen for a few seconds, then glanced up at the simple wooden bodied freight car. P1040038

In the darkness, I wept.

Gremlins!

No, not the little fictional characters in the Hollywood films of the same name. These little fellows are real and play havoc with all kinds of electrical and mechanical equipment.

It is believed that these little creatures first came to notice during the First World War, perhaps the activities of the war released them from an underground lair? Certainly they were documented by the Royal Air Force in the 1920’s, when their delectation for mischief with aeroplanes and engines was first recorded.

During World War II aircrew of the RAF blamed Gremlins for inexplicable occurrences during their flights and missions. Members of the United States Army Air Force also began to experience the exasperating effects of these Imp like little devils. There was even a view that Gremlins had enemy sympathies, but investigations subsequently revealed that enemy aircraft had similar and equally inexplicable mechanical problems; they were just as prevalent in the Luftwaffe and Imperial Japanese Airforce!

It appeared that Gremlins were equal opportunity beings that took no side in the battle, rather they acted in self-interest wreaking their mischief on whoever came into their range.

Since the end of the Second World War the opportunity for Gremlin mischief has literally exploded. The world is now a much more mechanical and electrical place, giving even the most inept trainee Gremlin the chance to practice their dark skills. Since the demise of powerful piston engine aircraft, there is however, one machine that Gremlins love above all others. . . Motorcycles!

Gremlins are now known to be evil road spirits. They jump onto passing motorcycles because they love to ride, feel the wind in their ears and the vibrations of the engine, they are often the cause of many problems endured by bikers. There is however, hope. Many years ago an old biker discovered that Gremlins hate the sound of a small ringing bell. There are many versions of the story of how this happened, but it appears that the evil road spirits can’t bear the ringing and that they get trapped in the hollow body of the bell. Then their hypersensitive hearing and the constant ringing in a confined space drives them insane and they lose their grip and eventually fall off.

Over time it has become apparent that these bells have even more power if they have been received as a gift; sure they work fine if you buy one yourself, but for maximum protection you really need to receive one from a friend or loved one as a gift. That way the magic is doubled, because out there somewhere, you have a friend looking out for you.

So next time you walk past a motorcycle, take a look and see if you can spot a small bell, either on the handlebars or maybe on the swing arm. Whenever you see a biker with a bell you will know that they have been blessed with the most important thing in life, love and friendship. The spirit of camaraderie and brotherhood between bikers is what the ride bell encompasses.

So you can imagine I was pretty happy the other day when Mrs Dookes presented me with this little beauty to hang on Harley. P1030523

P1030524

If you steal a bell from a biker, you steal all the gremlins and the evil that comes with them. So don’t do it, the consequences could be dire!

Gotta dash and fix that bell on my bike!

“You got me ringing hells bells.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

D-Day 70 Years On. Remembering Heroes.

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, but we will! 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 Germans! 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, Florine, Peter, Paul 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 mate 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? An old sentry post is now a memorial to those young men who left to fight in mainland Europe. P1010770The 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.

P1010782

In some places the grass is beginning to win.

P1010779

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!

IMG_0344

 

 

Dedicated to all those who came by air in 1944.