SSNS Home > Senior Years > Curricula 9-12 > Grade 11 > Canadian History > Battlefields Tour > 20 July 2010
Today we participated in a Tactical Exercise Without Troops [TEWT]. Before we set out in the morning, Blake organized us into groups (Peter, Laura, and I were together), and Lee explained the mission and handed out some relevant data. Our task was the same as the Royal Winnipeg Rifles in 1944. We were to secure the village of Putot-en-Bessin and defend it against the 12th S.S. Panzer Regiment.
The first task was to get oriented. We drove out to a spot between Secqueville and Putot-en-Bessin and stopped to survey the terrain. The landscape here is flat and open with grain fields in every direction. Lee pointed out a number of features. Putot was up ahead of us with La Bergerie Farm in between and slightly off to the left. Further left was the village of Bretteville-l’Orgueilleuse. Somewhere to the right of Putot was the village of Brouay, both of which were on the Caen-Bayeux Railway.
Our job was to assess the geography and figure out the best strategy for taking Putot. To get a better idea of how to do that and assess the direction from which a German counterattack might come, we drove up along the road to the Bruay Crossing, which is a bridge over the railway on the southwest corner of Putot. Lee assumed the role of commander and ordered us to keep down and move forward cautiously. We were to assess what the best defensive strategy might be, a task that was more difficult than it first appeared. Even though there were plenty of open fields, stands of trees here and there blocked the view. I could imagine German tanks suddenly appearing from behind those trees and attacking the village, but from what direction I didn’t know. What appears clear on a map is not so evident when you are on the ground itself. The enemy could be anywhere “out there”.
After viewing this section of the front, we next drove to the other side of town right up against the railroad. Here Lee took a few minutes to give us additional logistical information. We left that spot and went into the village to take photographs of the war memorial, all the while discussing/arguing the best strategy to take the village and hold it against counterattack. Eventually, all of us came up with plans, and we presented them to the group in a park at Bretteville, where we had driven for a drink and snack. I can’t recall now any of the plans in detail, but Peter presented ours, which did identify La Bergerie Farm correctly as a possibility for the artillery unit that would provide support for the forward troops.
We took to the road again and parked along the highway between Putot and Brettville where Lee told us more about the Battle. Even though the Royal Winnipeg Rifles had setbacks, in other sections of allied advance, the enemy had taken a beating. In fact, the Canadians killed roughly two for one of the SS Regiment, and wiped out 40 Panzer tanks with their sturdy Shermans. As we learned at Ypres and Arras, the Normandy invasion was as much about attrition (weakening the enemy by killing as many of them as possible) as it was about gaining territory. In that, the first battles after the initial D-Day landing were a success, in spite of the fact that Caen was not immediately captured as planned.
We had to move away from the highway because of the noise and landed up on a side road surrounded by fields. Here Leanna chaired our seminar, in which we discussed the impact of geography on battlefield logistics. Our role-play activity had certainly made us more aware of its importance at Putot.
This was the shortest day of the Battlefields Tour, because Blake and Trevor had promised us the afternoon to explore Bayeux, which is an ancient Norman town and home to the famous tapestry that tells the story of William the Conqueror’s invasion of England. We were dropped off in the centre of Bayeux at about 3:00 p.m., and told to be back at 5:00 p.m. for pickup, or return to the Moulin Morin on our own. We all went off in various directions, and I got separated from the rest of the group, although I did meet up with a few of them at the Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux.
The tapestry is half a meter wide and over sixty-eight meters long (1.6 ft X 224.3 ft) and is displayed in a glass casing that extends in a U-shape for the entire length of this extraordinary work of art. Visitors are given a headphone in the language of their choice and can hear a description of each panel as they walk along. The room is dark, except for the lighting on the tapestry itself. This ensures that one’s focus in entirely absorbed by the story as it unfolds before you.
Legend has it that I am descended from the Normans, which is nothing unusual. After a thousand years, most people with English ancestors can claim the same. It’s like my aboriginal roots. After a thousand years on this continent, we will all be able to claim descent from everyone who ever touched North America’s shores. I thought about that as I followed the story of the Norman invasion of England. Like D-Day, where Anglo-Saxons were fighting their German cousins, the Norman Invasion was about Vikings fighting Vikings. Would our common forefathers have mourned the folly?
These thoughts were still with me as I visited the Cathedral of Bayeux, a couple of blocks away. It is a museum of the past, nearly a thousand years old, a grand edifice that demonstrates the brilliant architectural vision of the Middle Ages. Its stained glass windows are awesome. However, as a church it seemed somehow out of time and place. I could not imagine feeling a warm closeness to God within these vast, cold, stone walls. I am sure these sentiments are not mine alone. In secular France today, it appears that I have plenty of company.
I walked back to Vaucelles, and had to ask for directions in poor French twice along the way. People were most helpful. Indeed, throughout my entire stay in France and Belgium, I found people unfailingly courteous. Even with my limited knowledge of the language, I had been able with a little assistance to find my way.
I arrived at the Moulin Morin by ten to five. It had been a hot day, so I took a shower, washed a few clothes, and was in the midst of preparing a meal, when the rest of the gang arrived. Later in the evening, Diane L, Debbie, and I went for a walk to the other side of Vaucelles, so that Debbie could finally get her picture of a château. She had been trying to get one ever since we had arrived in Normandy, and earlier in the day there was a promising opportunity at Bretteville. Blake had even obliged by “slowing” the van a little, but by the time Debbie was ready with the camera, all she was able to get was a stone garden wall! Now she could take all the pictures she wanted at leisure.
It had been a very good day, and I had learned a great deal. I now want to find more about the Normandy invasion, particularly about the tanks. One of my uncles occupied one of them during the campaign, and I want to know his story.
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 Of the roughly one hundred and seventy-five prisoners taken, about one hundred were treated properly. The evidence indicates that those who ended up in the hands of the 12th SS were murdered. For further information on the atrocities perpetrated by the 12th SS Panzers, see Margolian, Howard. Conduct Unbecoming: The Story of the Murder of Canadian Prisoners of War. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998. Reprint 2000. See a preview of this book for a chilling account of the “Murder Divisiont” and its evil deeds, which illustrate, probably better than anything else during the Normandy Campaign, the moral vacuum into which Nazi fanaticism had plunged Germany.