RETURN TO NORMANDY
Frank Harris served as a Leading Aircraftsman with 83rd Group, 2nd Tactical Air Force (TAF), Royal Air Force, in Normandy from 1st July 1944 until the breakout. His war had begun in 1941 when he joined the RAF VR as a powerman/electrician, and served with 19th Squadron. His unit took heavy losses during the Dieppe raid, and he has many memories of this. Now attached to 83rd Group, Frank landed on Gold Beach from a LST in the darkness, driving a water tanker, and drove over a hill and inland to the area of Advanced Landing Ground B2 near Bazenville. Here he remained until the August breakout; his journey then took him across France to Belgium to Holland and into Germany, where he was discharged in 1946.
He returned to Normandy in September 2002 with his grandson, military historian and battlefield guide Clive Harris, for a weekend to revisit some of the sites where he served in 1944. We started at the excellent Bayeux War Museum, where Frank was interested to see their superb RAF display. Then we saw the remains of Mulberry Harbour before going down to Gold Beach at Asnelles, where Frank came ashore. Using the excellent Normandy Air War website we had obtained further details and a map of the B2 Advanced Landing Ground, and went out to there where Frank saw the location of the main airstrip. This site had also informed us about a nearby memorial, so we saw that before visiting the RAF graves in Ryes War Cemetery. The day ended at Pegasus Cafe for a drink before returning to the hotel in Bayeux. Frank was quite amazed at how much we had been able to see, and how much was left from the conflict in 1944. He also thought it great that WW2 veterans were allowed free into all the museums, and that they always made an effort to ask him what unit he was in.
Our tour ended in the Falaise Pocket where we visited the ground straffed by the Typhoons and Mustangs Frank saw taking off every day in August 1944. The staff at the Polish Memorial on Montormel were great - they not only asked Frank to sign their veteran's register, they produced a Typhoon control stick for him to see (see below) and gave him a book about the fighting at Montormel. This was a special touch which was greatly appreciated.
Special thanks to John who "carried the bags", and Julian Whippy who was "o/c transport". Thanks also to the guys on the WW2 Forum who kindly helped with some of the research for this trip; especially Erich Brown and Martin Bull.
|Frank and Clive Harris looking at the Mulberry Harbour in Arromanches. By the time Frank arrived in Normandy, the great storm had badly damaged the harbour, so his LST was re-directed to one of the landing beaches.|
|Frank pointing across Jig Sector of Gold Beach, where his LST came in on 1st July 1944. He remembers the Engineers had made a gap in the dunes, and the vehicles from his group drove through it and inland.|
|Frank and Clive overlooking the site of B2 ALG at Bazenville. It was here Frank was based for most of the Normandy campaign.|
|Wall mural in Villiers-le-Sec commemorating the B2 ALG painted by the villagers in memory of those who served.|
|Frank standing under the mural. While it depicts a Typhoon, Frank also worked on Mustangs.|
|In nearby Bazenville is the memorial to the units that served at B2 ALG; here Frank found a plaque commemorating his 83 Group.|
|Ryes War Cemetery was also close by and here Frank and Clive found the graves of some of those who served on B2 while Frank was there.|
|No visit to Normandy for a WW2 veteran is complete without popping into Pegasus Cafe. This has been a meeting place for veterans of the Normandy campaign for many years, and Frank kindly signed Madame Gondree's visitor's book.|
|Frank saw aircraft taking off daily from his airfield, but rarely knew where they went. We took him to the Falaise Pocket to see arguably their finest hour when they straffed the German columns retreating through the pocket. The staff of the Polish Memorial made Frank very welcome and showed him a control stick from a Typhoon recently found on the Falaise battlefield.|
|Frank, Clive and the "crew" who helped on this return to the Normandy battlefields pictured at Montormel, September 2002.|
All photos ŠPAUL REED 2002