Exercise Roy’s Landing

Exercise Roy’s Landing

Ten soldiers and officers from 14 Geo Sqn RE supported by a 4 man support crew embarked on an ambitious eight day Battlefield Study cycling over 500 miles from their new home here at Wyton to the beaches of the D Day Landings in Normandy via Southern England, Belgium and France. Some of their record of the expedition is reproduced below.

Day 1: Wyton – Chatham

At a distance of 104 miles, the first day was the longest for the riders. An early start and a hearty breakfast provided the team with enough fuel to cope with the chaos of rush hour around St Ives and the steep terrain between Royston and Saffron Walden and then through the Essex countryside to Tilbury docks where a ferry took us across the Thames to Gravesend for the final leg of the day. After 11 hours in and out of the saddle, the  gates of Brompton Barracks were reached and the study for Day 1 commenced. Sgt Paronuzzi and LCpl Taylor briefed on the history of Chatham and the role it has played in both World Wars.

Day 2: Chatham – Folkestone

In stark contrast from Day 1, Day 2 was a mere 54 miles along the undulating A2 and then a climb up and over the South Downs into Folkestone. Although the hills tried to break the spirit of the group; dogged determination dragged us through. Upon arrival, the team were welcomed with tea and cakes made by Mrs Fran Noel, mother of WO1 Noel. With the help of friends, she had raised over £150 in aid of BLESMA, a contribution to the teams’ 1000 mile relay, held on 26th May. The theme for the evening’s presentation was coastal defences and the role of the Navy.

Day 3: Calais – Ypres

After 2 days riding in the UK, Day 3 saw the team on the continent for the first time. After the previous days unforgiving hills the relatively flat ground was a welcome sight to tired legs, and allowed the group to practice speed and team tactics. We were introduced to drafting (a trick whereby cyclists go in single file to block the wind for the other people behind them and take turns being the one in front, thus reducing drag and the amount of energy expended) and it proved to be successful, with the groups averaging speeds in excess of 20 miles per hour. This ensured an early arrival into Tyne Cot Cemetery (the largest Commonwealth war grave in Europe), where SSgt Donoghue and Spr Seymour gave a detailed lecture on the battle of Passchendaele. That evening, the group attended the daily memorial service at the Menin Gate. This proved to be a solemn affair, punctuated with the local fire brigade playing the Last Post and the attendance of WW2 veterans.

Day 4: Ypres – Cambrai

After our first night under canvas we awoke to sunshine and a lovely cooked breakfast, courtesy of Sgt Paronuzzi and his team of campsite caterers. The first destination of the day was Messines Ridge. SSgt Fassam briefed the ground, explaining that with today’s tactics and equipment this area of ground would be less important; however in 1917 the ridge was vital to the Allied advance. So much so that 9 divisions and 3 reserve divisions, (a  total of 216,000 troops) were put into battle on 7th – 14th June 1917. Upon the ridge is a cemetery where the fallen soldiers of the New Zealand and British forces lay, poignant reminder of the aftermath of more than 7 days of fighting. That evening, a small contingent accompanied Sgt Paronuzzi to Wallencourt Cemetery. The visit was emotional as Sgt Paronuzzi was, for the first time, able to stand at the grave and pay his respects to his Great Uncle, 27414 Pte P Lang, Royal Scots.

Day 5: Cambrai – Beauvais

By Day 5 the cyclists had become proficient at drafting to the disappointment of the support crew who at times were struggling to keep up! The rolling countryside enabled the team to maintain speed and visualise the tank battle for Cambrai in late 1917. This day saw the first spots of what was almost 24hrs of rain. As the rain began to fall, LCpl Williams and Spr Brand introduced the battle of the Somme with facts of the first day’s offensives on 1st July 1916. Come the end of the battle on 18th November 1916, approximately 1,000,000 soldiers had lost their lives. To add to the misery of the rain LCpl Williams’ bike suffered a major mechanical problem which made it unridable. As we couldn’t fix the problem at the roadside, the support crew had to take it in to a local shop. Fortunately with a new hub and 50 Euros later the bike was fixed and ready to ride again the next day.

Day 6: Beauvais – Conches en Ouche

The noise of torrential rain on the roof of the tent was enough for SSgt Wiggins and WO1 Noel to make a command decision. The weather was bad enough to make the roads unsafe for riding. For the majority of the riders it came as a welcome rest. A stop off for dinner at a Crepe House in a quiet French town was a welcome break to the drivers too. As luck would have it as we arrived at our next campsite, the sun came out.

Day 7: Conches en Ouche – Caen

With very few issues, the day ran smoothly and we arrived in good time to witness the airborne drop onto the DZ at Ranville, close to Pegasus Bridge. WO1 Noel delivered a highly detailed brief on Operation DEADSTICK and the airborne elements involved. Once the brief had finished, the teams’ resident Airborne Sappers, WO1 Throughout the day families, sections or individuals had the opportunity to reflect on the poems, prayers and pictures out on display and light a candle in memory of the dead. At 2300hrs all the candles were extinguished commemorating the exact time war was declared in 1914. Earlier in the day all three Services on Station were represented by Wg Cdr Fashade, Lt Col Vicky Roberts and Lt Cdr Andrew Ware, as well as members of 57(R) Sqn at Huntingdon Town Council’s public commemorations in Market Square. The Station paused… Noel and SSgt Fassam donned tight T Shirts and led the team onto Pegasus Bridge where many pictures of the two were taken. As the sun was setting, the group collapsed back to the final campsite on the Normandy coast. To celebrate the achievements of the week, a BBQ was laid on by Sgt Paronuzzi and his team but the exercise hadn’t finished yet.

Day 8: Normandy Beaches

Waking early the 14 members of the Exercise walked from the camp site to the beach, arriving just as the first vessels would have appeared on the horizon 70 years previously. The final brief on Operation NEPTUNE, the beach landing element of Operation OVERLORD, was presented by SSgt Wiggins. Our location commanded views of SWORD and JUNO beachfronts and it was easy to imagine the fleet of 5000 ships and landing craft off the coast at dawn, 70 years ago. The exercise finished with a visit to Merville Battery; the scene of a daring attack by the 9th Parachute Battalion. Of the 750 personnel in the battalion who jumped, only 150 arrived at the RV for the assault.

Exercise ROY’S LANDING enhanced the knowledge of all that took part on it and encouraged participants to learn more about their own family history. The courage and bravery of the men who fought and died in both wars should always be remembered.