Last term Level 3 Public Services students travelled to Normandy, France as part of a 4-day study tour. The trip was organised by Lecturer and Course Manager Liam Salt and accompanied on the tour were both Toni Evans and Greg Houghton.
The coach left Reaseheath College at 6.30am on the Friday morning and we started the long drive to Dover to catch the ferry, stopping off in Kent to pick up our tour guide, Mike, from the British Legion.
Crossing the English Channel was smooth even though reports suggested there would be a lot of delays due to fuel strikes/shortages in France…and before we knew it we had docked in Calais. From here it was still a four hour drive to Normandy and our accommodation. Eventually we arrived at our hotel and by the time all the students had found their rooms and we’d had our evening meal, although it was 10pm, no one was moaning!
First full day
On the first morning the group visited St Mere Eglise (Sainte-Mère-Église), a small Normandy town which saw a battle take place in the early hours of the morning before the Allied landings June 1944. Students listened attentively to our tour guide Mike, as he described what took place in that small town square on the morning of 6th June1944…hanging on his every word. From St Mere Eglise the next stop was Utah Beach, one of the five beach sectors the Allies used to land in France. Utah Beach was an American sector mainly made up of the U.S. 4th Infantry Division.
As the students were exploring all the monuments, statues and memorabilia we came across a 92-year-old American Veteran named Mr Collins from Georgia, USA. For the next 30 minutes we received the most real first person account of the Normandy landings – describing the very beach we were stood on! He talked about his experience as a 19-year-old soldier under German fire back in 1944, spine tingling!
We next visited La Cambre German war cemetery and also an old German Battery called Pointe Du Hoc that was positioned on a severe sea cliff face, which was scaled and captured by the U.S. Army Ranger Assault Group. It was only mid-afternoon on the first day of the study tour and the students were definitely getting their monies worth!
The final two site-seeing spots of the day were Omaha War cemetery and Omaha Beach – the site of the biggest loss of life on D-Day (6th June 1944), here over 2,000 Americans lost their lives. Spending time at the cemetery and the beach was an experience that the students clearly took seriously and with compassion. The German machine gun bunkers are still carved into the rugged cliff face and accompanied with Mike’s very descriptive accounts – it was all very real. The students at the dinner table that night were all very vocal, it’s clear the day had been a real eye opener!
The second morning of the tour we set off from our hotel early, heading to a place called the Merville Battery. Here was the scene of an audacious plan and attack that the British were very successful in. British Paratroopers, silently in their gliders under the cover of darkness landed in the very early hours of D-Day just 500 metres away from the heavily defended German Battery. After a two hour battle with a small number of British casualties the British took hold of a very strong strategic point. The students had the opportunity to travel around the battery which is a very interesting and informative museum set within all the different bunkers still left in the ground.
The second site we visited on day two of the tour was Pegasus Bridge, made famous by the film ‘The Longest Day’. Here Mike explained in detail the importance of the British Paratroopers capturing the bridge and linking up with those who had already captured the Merville Battery, several miles away.
The last stop off that day was the war cemeteries of the American and British soldiers. All of the cemeteries had their own unique characteristics. In the British war cemetery, our students carried out their own act of remembrance ceremony, holding a 2 minutes’ silence and laying of a wreath. It was a very fitting end to a fantastic study tour!
The final day was our journey back to the UK. Setting off from our hotel after breakfast we had a straight forward five hour journey to the port of Calais with quick stop off at the Sword and Juno beaches, which is where the British and Canadian soldiers landed on D-Day.
Two hours away from Calais the coach broke down on the outside lane of the motorway. All had to disembark upon to the grass verge to safety in the only period of the whole study tour for it to rain! All credit to the students, as throughout the whole tour they conducted themselves with the utmost of professionalism. After over an hour of waiting we were then escorted to a local village hall by the Gendarmerie (police officers), so now the students now used their time wisely engaging in a Q&A session with the two officers who waited with us until our replacement coach arrived. All in all, a slight hiccup that made the tour that little more exciting than it already had been. Due to this, we missed the ferry but caught the next available one and arrived back at Reaseheath College in the early morning of the Tuesday.
Following feedback from students and staff who attended the Normandy study tour, the Public Services department will be looking at running a similar study tour for May/June 2017.