Saturday morning dawned after another cold night, a drink of hot sweet tea from a thermos brought round by the CSM was a welcome pick me up whilst on stag however, and after another breakfast we set off back up the hill to relieve the section we had left in the woods the day before. This was a gruelling ten-minute climb up a very steep hill and the day was quickly heating up (it would hit 37° by the afternoon). We spent a few hours in the wood and it was soon noticed that the German forces at the opposite end of the copse were sending out probing patrols and it was decided to send out a patrol of our own to counter them. Three of us went into the woods and started slowly probing through the undergrowth, my side was particularly dense and I was ordered to hold firm whilst the others moved forward. Waiting in a woodland alone for ten minutes, not sure where the enemy might be or what had happened to the rest of the patrol was a lonely experience and it was with some relief that my compatriots came back into sight through the woodland and we returned to report in.
We went back down the hill for some lunch, and then scaled the heights a second time to relieve the next section, by this point the temperatures were very hot and it was a true slog to reach the woodland at the summit. We settled in to watch and spent the rest of the day quietly keeping a look out for the enemy. We returned in late afternoon and had a quick rest, drink and a little food before we made ready for the main company assault to finally clear the farm at the top of the hill. All three platoons were to march around the hill and approach it from a different direction, this involved a good couple of miles walking along paths and roads. A small number of the public came across us and we’re clearly very surprised to see a hundred armed British soldiers traipsing along a country lane- passengers in the cars had their mobile phones out recording us as we went past.
We left the main road and started climbing the hill, winding through a wheat field. I had to take a moment to pinch myself as in front of me, snaking into the distance, were two full platoons of soldiers: 60 plus men, whilst behind me the rest of my platoon followed with another thirty odd men. It was truly an unforgettable sight and something I have never seen in British reenactment before. We were in reserve at this stage and when we did move off it was to approach a small barn that 8 platoon had cleared. As we marched in the piper started playing and you instantly felt twenty feet tall as your boots crimped over the path in time to the piper! We had still not seen the enemy and were told that we were to mop up any stragglers in the surrounding fields; it is fair to say that most of us did not expect much action.
We approached a fork in the small paths that surrounded the wheat fields and about a hundred yards from it an MG42 opened up on us. It was decided that this needed to be taken so two sections and their Bren guns were tasked with clearing the position, whilst the third section went behind the hedge and tried to flank the position. We approached down the path in bounds, the Bren or rifle portion of each section taking turns covering the others. The undergrowth on the opposite side of the hedge proved too thick, but at the expense of a lot of ammunition we succeeded in taking the machine gun and were now tasked with pushing through a wood to clear any opposition. This we achieved with no sign of the enemy and we reached a tarmaced road where we felt we could afford ourselves a little rest, the main battle seeming to have calmed down a bit.
All of a sudden a couple of the enemy came into view, then a few more and before we knew it we had twenty or thirty of them coming our way! It was decided to beat a hasty retreat and we retreated into the fields. We were presumed by the Germans and we had to engage in a running fire fight as we tried to get clear as they poured in after us. Exhausted, we finally made good our escape and came round in a circle to where we met the rest of the company. They had by now neutralised the enemy and we retired to a barn for the night where I collapsed in a heap exhausted after three hours of marching and fighting with wool uniform, two stone’s worth of kit and extremely high temperatures. It had been a gruelling day! The next day, Sunday, we had group photographs before going back to fill in the slit trenches and then returning to a local farm for a well deserved beer and fish and chips and the most wonderful night’s sleep on a camp bed in a barn.
Monday was our last day and we ended off a marvellous long weekend with a regimental ‘smoker’- alcohol, food, skits and singing. This party went on until the early hours, although I drifted back to my bed about midnight as we had a long drive ahead of us on the Tuesday. Without doubt this was the most challenging and rewarding experience of my life and I came away with a new insight into how the British soldier in Normandy lived in the summer of 1944. I have never done anything like this before and came away with a great feeling of accomplishment. My thanks go to the organisers who moved heaven and hell to make this trip happen, it will certainly be an experience that will remain with me for the rest of my life.