On Friday 24th Aug I caught the 12:27 Bournemouth train from Manchester Piccadilly with a view to changing to a Poole train at Southampton Central. The Bournemouth train was slow and it stopped at every station but I had a newspaper and I am a talented sleeper.
Well before Southampton I received a call from Sam to say that the ferry from Poole the following morning had been cancelled because of expected bad weather. The new plan was to embark from Portsmouth instead. Accordingly, I bought a single ticket from the guard and changed at Southampton for Portsmouth. There I found a decent pub by the harbour where I waited for Sam. He arrived late in the afternoon, as handsome and delightful as ever. Gabe joined us soon after eight, also handsome and delightful.
From the pub we made our way to the hotel, hastily booked by Sam. Having checked in, we found a good restaurant nearby and dined well. Gabe chose the wine and paid.
We breakfasted at seven the following morning and took a taxi to Portsmouth harbour; the ferry was due to depart at 8:15. In fact, it didn’t leave until nine.
The crossing was long and rough but the three of us escaped sea-sickness. Other passengers were not so lucky.
Once in France, our concern was to reach the car hire office before it closed. The bus to Caen Gare was outside the ferry terminal and soon filled up – but it would not start. Eventually, after nearly half an hour, the driver realised, perhaps after communicating with the depot, that she had to blow into the on-board breathalyzer before the bus deemed her fit to drive. We reached the car hire office in time and Gabe drove us through the rain to Bayeux, Sam ably navigating with the aid of sat-nav, not easy because of the one-way system.
Bayeux is enchanting, with a colossal cathedral, and our hotel was magnificent, just off a tree-girt square with a splendid fountain. We were shown to our fairly sumptuous rooms and then went in search of dinner. Another success! My aperitif was Calvados and tonic, an excellent combination. Once again Gabe chose the wine but this time I was allowed to pay. We had an early night; travelling is unaccountably tiring. After breakfast in a tapestried room, we set off soon after eight for Ranville.
This is where Thomas Gordon Lonsdale and his fellows of the 12th Battalion were dropped in the early hours of the 6th of June 1944 – and where he was killed that very day.
The cemetery is beautifully designed and exquisitely maintained. It is next to a beautiful church in whose churchyard are many civilian graves and a number of military graves, some German. TG is laid to rest in the main cemetery. The register enabled us to locate the plot with ease. It was an emotional moment. We were the first, as far as we know, ever to have visited from England. We reflected on the chaos and terror of the invasion, on the loss of life – most of the fallen were in their very early twenties – and on the end of the Lonsdale line. Gordon was 22.
The weather was glorious, warm and breezy.
After an hour or so we made our way to the museum next to Pegasus Bridge, the defence of which was one of the objectives of the 12th Battalion. One of the exhibits is a photograph of the 556 men of the 12th Battalion. I tried but failed to identify Gordon. Gabe tells me that this photo is on line; so I may try again. Another exhibit is part of the fuselage of a Horsa glider, one of many which carried our troops on D-Day.
Our last visit of the day was to Longues sur Mer, where we saw the remains of German defence artillery pointed out into the Channel – awesome.
Back in Bayeux we dined at La Rapiere – magnifique! Not to be missed if you are in Bayeux. Gabe chose the wine! I was permitted to pay. My accommodation and cross Channel fare had been taken care of by my generous offspring.
We returned via Cherbourg and Poole, as had been our original intention. The crossing was very smooth.
From Poole we caught the London (Waterloo) train, which would deliver Sam to the Metropolis. Gabe and I disembarked at Southampton. He caught his train to Bristol and I mine to Manchester. The whole trip was an unforgettable delight and my gratitude to G and S for their imagination, generosity and organisational skills is immense.
Both of my magnificent sons have done considerable research into the subject of Gordon and D-Day. They have details which I have not included here. Indeed, Sam has pursued investigations into Gordon’s family tree and discovered the names of all Gordon’s grandparents. I have suggested that he contact Geoff Boyes who has done a lot of work on the Beebys, Rustons and Boyeses.