JUST RETURNED FROM 4 SUNNY DAYS IN NORMANDY, with an enthusiastic group who enjoyed both the battlefields and calvados of the region. ‘Enthusiastic’ is not a euphemism for ‘drunk’. Although in the past one or two clients have overdone the cidre, supping it like it was Bulmer’s, when it is in fact 18%.
There is much to enjoy on a Normandy tour: the remains of Mulberry outside our hotel at Arromanches; the Longues Battery just down the road, with its guns intact; Pegasus Bridge which has to be visited to appreciate the flying feat that brought three gliders within yards of the bridge; the serenity of Bayeux Cemetery; the sheer scale of Omaha Beach and Cemetery; La Cambe German cemetery where the tank ace Wittmann is buried; Merville Battery to the east, stormed by Col Otway’s depleted paras in the early hours of D-Day.
But one site often missed is the newish bronze GREEN HOWARD MEMORIAL at Crepon (see above). It is by James Butler. It is a moving tribute to the riflemen of the regiment. It depicts a Green Howard at the end of the day, at the end of June 6 1944 – exhausted, sad but resolute. It is the epitome of dignity, and restraint. In sharp contrast to some American monuments which are either ugly or jarringly triumphalist.
It also commemorates one Green Howard – CSM Stanley Hollis VC, the only D-Day VC. He had an interesting day. It started badly with him burning his hand in a landing craft on the way into Gold Beach, on a Bren gun he was firing at a German pillbox. Only it wasn’t a pillbox but a bus shelter. He then rushed and captured not one, but two heavily defended bunkers; destroyed a field gun and rescued two of his men pinned down by m/g fire by distracting and killing the Germans. Sadly, after the war he found nothing as fulfilling or exciting as being a soldier with a gun in his hand and a mission. He took to drink, like so many war heroes. He died at the age of 60.