D-Day 75: A corner of Norfolk forever in a foreign field - a peaceful gift of a gun that repelled Nazis
PUBLISHED: 09:29 06 June 2019
Copyright: Archant 2019
Once a feared sight, these imposing field guns once repelled Nazis and helped the Allies fight for freedom following the D-Day invasion in June 1944. Now, 75 years to the day since Norfolk and Suffolk soldiers fought in a French town, a symbolic gift is being handed over.
From Norfolk to Normandy with love: Battlefront, the East England Military Museum, is gifting a tiny town devastated by the fighting that followed D-Day a "silent guardian" dedicated to all those who took part in the battles.
Shaun Hindle of Battlefront first visited Normandy in the 1980s with a group of veterans who gave him a very personal tour of the region and the places where they fought and where their comrades and those they were fighting for paid for freedom with their lives.
This year, the 75th anniversary of D-Day, he will bring the townspeople of Tilly sur Seulles a gift from Norfolk and Suffolk, a British World War Two 5.5 inch field gun which will stand as a silent sentinel, guarding the land which was so hard-fought for by troops, many of whom were from the two counties.
"We wanted to remember those who fought in the area of Tilly in June 1944," explained Mr Hindle, "now most of the veterans are nearly all gone, I feel we must make every effort to mark their achievements. I am very lucky that, through my work, I have the opportunity to do this in some small way, by placing a memorial on the old battlefield.
"Many of the soliders came from Norfolk and Suffolk, serving in different regiments and corps. There are lots of memorials to the fallen in Normandy and rightly so, but this memorial will be dedicated to all those who took part in the battles. Many suffered from both physical and mental injuries sustained during the fight.
"Over many years myself and my team of volunteers, from the East England Military Museum, have visited Normandy with restored British World War Two military trucks and armoured vehicles in order to participate in commemoration services. The town of Tilly has hosted us every year. We've got to know people in the town and learnt how the war affected the area.
"The town has some regimental memorials and a terrific small museum to the battles of June 1944. It does not have a 'silent guardian' memorial, such as a tank or gun. This I would like to correct and now with the voluntary help of local Norfolk-based companies, and financial sponsorship from individuals, this can be achieved. They have all made it possible for us to restore and move the gun to France."
On June 7 1944, a day after Allied airborne forces had parachuted into drop zones across northern France and ground troops had waded on to five assault beaches from boats, the villages close to the landing zone found themselves in the thick of the Battle of Normandy.
Still scarred from the intense fighting seventy-five summers ago, the landscape bears testament to the loss of life - cemeteries are filled with the war dead and the civilians who lost their lives in the battle for freedom: the total number of civilians killed on D-Day was around 3,000, almost the same as the number of Allied soliders killed on the beaches of Normandy.
Fifteen miles from Caen, between June 7 and June 26, the small town of Tilly sur Seulles changed hands 26 times as the British fought to gain control from the Nazis - little was left of Tilly at the close of fighting, and 76 of the small population had been killed.
The village remained on the front line until mid-July 1944, its hard-fought freedom visible today at the famous Last House in Tilly, the only home to be left standing after the battle, a mute testimony to the destruction.
Mr Hindle will deliver the gun to Tilly sur Seulles on June 7, 75 years after fighting began in the town and it will be ceremonially handed over in an emotionally-charged ceremony which will remember the sacrifice of the troops and the town itself.
The gun, from the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, has been sandblasted by T and B Blasting of Barnham, which donated its services, and will be delivered to France by Mike Newman Recovery (Mr Newman is a former gunner) before being placed in its new position at the town.
Money was raised for the project via a Just Giving fundraising page with individuals pledging around £2,500 to help and museum volunteers giving their time and expertise to repair and restore the gun, which is a model which was used extensively during the Normandy campaign and would have been a regular sight in the region in 1944.
The gun will include plaques from Battlefront and Norfolk Constabulary, the latter reading: "In memory of all police officers from Norfolk who served in the military and took part in the Normandy Campaign."