Monday, 08 July 2019 12:59

Richmond Raider cadets invade Normandy - Part 3: Old battlegrounds and new experiences

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Raiders in Belleau Wood — site of famous battle by U.S. Marines attached to the 2nd U.S. Army Division. Raiders in Belleau Wood — site of famous battle by U.S. Marines attached to the 2nd U.S. Army Division. Contributed photos

We awoke early in the morning on Wednesday at Irene's house in Quinneville — our last morning there. We had a quick breakfast, loaded up the van and said our farewells to our new friend. We picked up Dom at his La Fiere house so that he could travel with us for the remainder of the week. We were off to soak in more of the long history of war in France. 


We went to Merville to see Pegasus Bridge. The British 6th Airborne Division captured this significant bridge in the early hours of D-Day by expertly landing three Horsa gliders right next to it. The troopers immediately took the bridge. There were skirmishes and fights to follow, but the British paratroopers were successful due to their bold action. We went through the museum at Pegasus Bridge and learned a lot more about our Allies' involvement in Normandy. The actual original drawbridge that was captured in 1944 remained in operation for several decades and is now on display in the museum yard. 

After departing the museum, we made a quick stop at the bridge (mostly because it was drawn up for a sailboat to go through. We walked the ground where the gliders landed. Wow, they were bold!

Lunchtime saw us eating at a really nice restaurant where we sat outside. The weather was perfect and we were shaded by a chestnut tree. Each meal provided us with the opportunity to try new things. I had escargots (snails) and veal for the first time in my life. It was really good. 

Another objective for the British paratroopers that was extremely important on D-Day was to silence an artillery battery in Merville. We went to Merville Battery — a cool order of German gun emplacements. Much of the original fortifications and equipment are there. Again, the boldness of action of the very few British paratroopers who attacked and disabled the artillery was unbelievable. There were 750 paratroopers who loaded airplanes and left England for this mission. Only 150 were assembled to conduct the attack once on the ground — yet they succeeded with 75 combat ready afterward. 

My personal favorite part of the day was our visit to the British cemetery. This place was beautiful and peaceful. It was interesting to see the allied graves and the German soldiers who were in the same cemetery. 

We spent several hours traveling to the area of Belleau Wood to get set for Thursday's tours. 

Thursday was the 4th of July, Independence Day, and we began by visiting and paying respects to the many Americans who served in the Great War —World War I.

The first stop was at the WWI monument overlooking Chateau Thierry. This was an awesome monument built shortly after the war. It stayed during the second war. We then went to the American cemetery and were again impressed by the numbers of Americans who fought for freedom and liberty. We met the superintendent of the battle monuments and he told us a story of a 14-year-old American soldier who was killed and never found. He also said that the French and British were losing people at a rate of 180,000 per month for the last year of the war. Unbelievable numbers. We visited the grave of Cpl. Allison Page from Aberdeen, who was a Marine that fell at Belleau Wood. 

We walked down to the village and were able to drink from the bulldog spring that is said to add 10 years life too any Marine who drinks from it. This is where the Marines earned the nickname "Devil Dogs." 

The bulldog spring— said to add ten years to the life of every Marine who drinks from it.

 

Since Dom was leading us, we were able to visit places that we hadn't heard of. We went to Dragon Cave where German and French soldiers fought underground for weeks in total darkness. We also visited the decimated town of Croanne. This town had more than 320 homes at the beginning of the Great War as well as a bustling town. All was destroyed and the old town is just holes in the ground now. 

What a great experience to see how much had been fought for over the years and centuries. 

We drove to Paris for our last visits. 

Raiders at the Great War monument.