14 Apr 2016
Report by Head of History Pete Anderson
In the last week of the Easter holiday the History Department took 47 Year 9 students to Normandy to visit some of the key sites of the 1944 Allied invasion. After travelling down on the first day and stopping at the very picturesque Honfluer en route, we visited the Bayeux Tapestry in the beautiful medieval town of Bayeux at the beginning of day two. This was followed by a trip to the German battery at Longues, silenced by the guns of the HMS Ajax on the morning of 6 June 1944, and then to the superb Arromanches Invasion Museum, which focuses on the incredible artificial mulberry harbour built by British engineers at Arromanches.
On the third day we focused on the achievements of the American 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, as well as the landings at Utah and Omaha beaches. The day began with a very moving visit to the German cemetery at La Cambe, followed by the Airborne Troops Museum at St-Mère-Eglise and the incredible site at Pointe du Hoc, where U.S. Rangers scaled the cliffs before neutralising the German battery. We finished the day at St Laurent American Cemetery next to Omaha beach, which features in the opening scene of the 1996 film Saving Private Ryan.
The fourth day was certainly the most memorable, as we concentrated on the achievements of the British forces and in particular the 6th Airborne Division, who achieved all of their objectives on 6th June as part of Operation Tonga. Having visited Sword Beach, we moved inland to the site of one of the greatest feats of D-Day, the coup de main of Pegasus or Bénouville Bridge by Major John Howard and the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. This included a trip to the Café Gondrée, where Madame Arlette Gondrée, the owner of the café, who was four years of age in June 1944, was kind enough to take a photograph with the group and sign postcards. We then moved on to the Merville Battery, the third German battery to be captured on 6th June, which was successfully stormed by Lieutenant Colonel Terence Otway and 150 men of the 9th Battalion Parachute Regiment. The day ended fittingly by visiting the British cemeteries at Ranville and at Bayeux, where the pupils laid a wreath in commemoration of all the fallen.
On the final day we stopped at the Atlantic Wall Museum or the Todt Battery, which contains a huge German Krupp K5 railway gun, capable of firing shells over 50 miles! This highlighted to the pupils the importance of Operation Fortitude, the codename of the Allied plan to deceive the Germans into believing that the invasion would take place in the Pas-de-Calais region. Had the invasion actually taken place in Calais and the Allies had come up against defences as strong as those at the Todt Battery, the outcome would have been very different.
The pupils were impeccably behaved throughout the trip and were superb on site. Many thanks to Mrs Knowles, Mr Wilbur and Mrs Long for giving up part of their Easter holidays to make the trip possible, and most of all to Mr Read (a.k.a. General Patton), who has now attended both the Battlefields and Normandy Tours this year.