On Sunday 2nd June three intrepid Freemasons from Devon set out to conquer the beaches which formed the landing places of the 2nd world war Normandy Landings on the 6th June 1944.
Steve Robertson and Chris Wollacott both members of St. Thomas Lodge no. 4198 in Exeter and Ian Morton of Lodge Virtue & Honour 494, in Axminster met up before boarding the Poole ferry to Cherbourg, but even before they set sail disaster struck, when Steve’s bike wheel shed a spoke (possibly due to the weight of his baggage) luckily they found a friendly repair shop owner who opened up on a Sunday evening just to help them. But they really had to laugh when Chris arrived on an electric bike advising them that he had left his charger at home and had to complete their journey without the aid of batteries.
The bad luck didn’t stop there either, for as they disembarked in Cherbourg Ian skidded on a slippery patch, he was badly bruised and suffered a dislocated finger. They spent 5 hours in the local French A&E department before eventually starting off, with Ian heavily sedated, on the first leg of their journey to Sainte –Mere- Eglise some 35 miles away. They passed military vehicles of all descriptions, Jeeps, Tanks, Troop Carriers and Halftracks full of personnel dressed in uniforms from the 1940’s all waving to them giving “Victory” signs or something similar as they passed.
First stop was Utah Beach where they laid a poppy cross on the memorial then on to Carentan where they met serving US Rangers who were re-enact the scaling of the cliffs at Pointe-Du-Hoc to attack the German gun emplacements, waving them goodbye they moved on to Omaha Beach having ridden 38 gruelling miles by the time they arrived.
The next morning 6th June, D-Day they visited the large German gun battery at Longues Sur Mer which was taken by the Devonshire Regiment back in June 1944, then onwards to Arromanches where they witnessed almost the whole population wearing period military uniforms, attended a memorial service and watched a flypast of Dakotas as well as marching bands and D-Day Darlings singing songs of the period before moving on to Gold Beach and Juno Beach where they also laid poppy crosses, only covering 22 miles that day. Juno Beach holds a very special place in Steve’s family history as his father was there on D-Day and the platoon he was with liberated the first house on French soil after landings took place.
While at Juno Beach they met Steven Dean, project manager of the new British Memorial and also chatted to some veterans of the invasion and afterwards carried on their journey to Sword and then the Pegasus bridge, this leg of the journey was in their words “brutal” due to the very, very, strong headwinds and rain but became easier when they turned to cycle down the canal to Ouisterham and back to the ferry for the return journey.
After 4 days of cycling and not a lot of sleep they were all looking forward to a restful night as they journeyed back across the channel only to find the majority of the other travellers were returning troops who snored (and worse) the whole way back.
Steve, Ian & Chris enjoyed their adventure cycling a total of 153 miles over the 4 days they were in France, but it was the opportunity of being a part of the commemorations of the D-Day landings which will live with them forever while also raising nearly £1500 which will be donated to the MacMillan Cancer Charity and the Devonshire Masonic Festival on behalf of the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF).