In August 1998 I embarked on getting a World War Two tank for a memorial to the tank crews that died in one of the bloodiest battles of the conflict.
On the face of it I and everybody I have approached feel that this memorial is both extremely worthwhile and long overdue.
The site of the memorial is on the notorious Hill 112, which is just South West of the Normandy town of Caen. The hill codenamed 'Jupiter' was described by the German Commander Rommel as being the most important hill in Normandy, for whoever had control of it had control of all around it. How right he was, many soldiers both Allied and Axis were to loose their lives over Hill 112.
The battle for the hill started on the night of 9/10th July 1944.
My Division, the 43rd Wessex, were the main attack force gathered at the start line. We had at our disposal the support of heavy armour from the tank regiments assigned to us. The tanks, British built Churchills and American Shermans, gave us great comfort as we prepared for battle.
To our horror we were to find out that our supporting tanks were no match for the mighty German Tiger I. Out gunned and out armoured our tanks were turned into infernos. The Germans nicknamed the Sherman, 'Ronson' because it would go up in flames if hit, just like a Ronson lighter. In one day alone fifty Churchills were 'brewed up', with many of the crews being killed. The expression 'brewed up' was the way a soldier could sanitise, and so cope with the horrendous way many tankmen died. Many were trapped inside the hull of the tank to be consumed by fire, screaming for help in the full knowledge that no-one in the heat of battle could hear them, let alone do anything to help them. One can only begin to imagine what fear those boys, not men many were still only in their teens, must have gone through.
I served with the Royal Artillery giving supporting fire for infantry and tanks alike as they struggled to gain a foothold on the hill. During the twelve day battle my regiment 112 Field Regiment fired some 65,000 shells from twenty four guns (that's roughly 225 shells a day). Multiply that by three, 195,000 shells fired by the Divisions own three Artillery Regiments. You then have to add to that all the other heavy guns, SP's (self propelled guns) and tanks that were involved, and a picture of what it was like starts to emerge.
It is because of the sheer enormity of the battle and the terrible loss of tank crews and tanks that we of the 43rd Wessex Association wish to erect the memorial alongside our own on Hill 112. It is not just us that owe our debt of gratitude to those brave tank crews, that unstintingly and unquestioningly gave us the support we so badly needed. The local French inhabitants are just as insistent that this memorial is long overdue. There are other memorials across France but the bloody battle for Hill 112 has somehow been forgotten, which it never should have been.
Now , as the tank is unvielled on Sunday 9th June, we can continue to raise peoples awareness of today, of the sacrifices made by the 7000 casualties fifty five years ago in that twelve day battle, that has enabled us to live the way we do.
Free from oppression, hunger and fear.