Saturday the 14th of June dawned slightly damp after a friday night of thunder and lightening, but spirits were not dampened as at just a little after 0730hrs, teams 31 (Team Skibum) and 39 (Team 39 Steps) left home plate and headed for the start at Littlecote House in Wiltshire.
An early arrival, before the gates were even opened, made for a relaxed pre-launch prep. Every team had to state (guess!) the noise level of their vehicles at tick over, the first of many obscure and dastardly tasks and challenges set out by the organisers.
Scrutineering followed with the need to produce all the important paperwork as well as random items required by the rules. We passed with flying colours and all that was left was to add the door numbers/sponsor stickers, mount the flags and break out the fancy dress; Pirate costumes this year with the obligatory hook, patch and parrot (Pete the Petrified Parrot - wouldn't you be mounted on the A-Bar in the full glare of the weather!).
Our turn came to cross the line shortly after 1120hrs and we were waved off by Mark Elliot (2IC Help for Heroes) Simon Harmer (One of the guys helped by H4H who lost both legs in Afghanistan). The speech by Simon, of course was very poignant but also very funny. Simon was the Royal Army Medical Corps medic in the patrol when he, in his own words, "wasn't looking where I was going" and was blown up by an IED. The nearest patrol member provided immediate aid including the copies use of the adjective that grew out of the old phrase "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge". Part of the drill for providing such aid is, of course, to call MEDIC!!! Simon's response was... "I AM the 'kin medic!!". Apparently the patrol member responded with a number of newer adjectives!
At the time of crossing the start line, the total for this year stood at £148,000 and over all the rallies £771,000. An awesome figure that combined with the speeches fired up every member of the rally family.
Our route took us through rural Wiltshire and Hampshire where we were tasked with spotting landmarks on a sheet of pictures. As if we weren't busy enough navigating! We crossed Salisbury plain with a number of secret checkpoints to collect and some rough ground to cover. Happily, every team, including team Kung Fu Panda, driving a fiat Panda (which will be auctioned after the event to add to the fund) managed with ease.
Both our navigational skills and the medical knowledge of one of the teams were engaged when one of the teams (happily one is an A&E doctor the other an A&E nurse) came across a car that had ran off the road with one person trapped. They provided immediate aid until Police and Air Ambulance were able to attend.
While the road was closed, those of us who were stopped, chose to deviate from the road books and try to pick up the route later. Some were more successful than others but happily we all ended up at Southwick Park (Allied HQ for D-Day, where Eisenhower made the difficult decision to "go" on the 6th of June) for a tour of the Ops Room that still displays the D-Day map set to something like 0024hrs 7th June.
Dinner was generously provided by Dominos at Portsmouth Brittany Ferries terminal. I'm only sorry I missed the wee guy on the moped that delivered 50 large pizzas!
Dinner was quickly followed by boarding, a few (!) beers (in the words of the Team Skibum co-driver 'a typical England World Cup fixture') then bed.
Our first day in France was heralded by a far too early automatic alarm clock wake up call from the ferry, customs and the first page of the French part of the road book.
Every year, co-incidently, Caen organises their marathon to aid with our navigation (!!!). So after a bit of a roundabout trip across some very tight but huge lock gates and back roads until we arrived in Ranville where a couple of Commonwealth War Graves Commission representatives provided a tour of the British Military Cemetery there that included the graves of the youngest casualty, who managed to join at 14 and died at 16, an officer who is thought to have been a cousin of the Queen Mum, a German sniper buried next to his victims and finally the handler of a Regimental Mascot handler who died before the mascot, a dog. When the mascot was then killed, the regiment insisted that they were buried together.
When all the sweaty runners had disappeared over the horizon, we were able to visit Pegasus Bridge, the first British Objective of D-Day. Six gliders were assigned to the attack in advance of D-Day, five of which made it. Three of the gliders, after releasing their cables eight miles offshore, landed South of the bridge in an adjacent field. The closest glider landed a mere 47 yards (42 metres) from the bridge. The chief of the RAF at the time called it "the greatest feat of precision flying" he had ever seen. Within ten minutes, 180 troops had disembarked and secured not one but two bridges.
Two of the gliders landed North of the bridge, one of which pulled off a landing any modern "Jet Jockey" would have been proud of. A modern passenger jet approaches the runway at about three degrees (Diana Ross wasn't involved!). The plan for the Horsa gliders was to land at 15 degrees. Due to being released far too his approach was much steeper and as a result he landed ate 150mph. Putting that into context, a Boing 747 lands at 150mph! Added to this, he went through the windscreen when glider met terra firma and survived to pick up his weapon and join the attack. Pity some major league football players didn't apply this kind of gumption!
On leaving the museum at Pegasus, we were issued with a new road book that led us West from Sword beach to Juno and Gold beaches. We stopped in Arromanche to wander down to the remains of the Mulberry Harbours that lie on the beach. Sadly the tide was so far and we couldn't reach so we had to settle for a loo stop, some "Tommy the Tourist" shopping and a VERY nice four scoop ice cream (that include mojito flavour... Awesome!!!).
Evening found us pitching camp in campsite Rhein Mathilde where we were welcomed with a barbecue, where friends old and new were able to catch up with the days adventures.
(Geordie accent) Day 3, 0608 in the H4H Rally House...
An early start to the day at the camp site found us ready to collect the road books at 0800hrs and on the road at 0830hrs. Having covered Sword, Juno and Gold beaches on day 2, we were directed further North and West to Omaha beaches. We stopped at one spot to explore some fortifications, one led to another which led to the discovery of a whole series of large, medium and small, mutually supporting fortifications. As one of the party (we had teamed up with team 24 - Techy Tubbies... The clue is in the title!)) is ex-light infantry, enfilade, defilade and grazing fire featured greatly.
After identifying some of the damage and the potential sources of fire impacting, one of the Tech Tubbies (PeteMate) spotted what he had at first taken for some litter. On closer examination it turned out to be four St George balloons with a home made card attached. It seems a grandfather and his grandson (George and Harry Moore) launched the balloons from Essex on the same day that we crossed the start line of the rally. A message has been sent to the attached phone number and we await an answer with baited breath.
A series of field roads, that were a whole lot more interesting than French tarmac, led us around a variety of Commonwealth War Grave Commission sites. However, one of the marshals (an ex-cadet instructor who shall remain Barkerless... Ahem nameless) had set up a speed gun ambush using all... most... some of his camouflage and concealment skills. Happily, some very disciplined driving on the part of Team Skibum's co-driver we passed without a yellow or red card.
The road book ended by leading us to an off road track through a wood where the marshals had set up an observation challenge with some deviously... indeed dastardly... positioning of items. Each item spotted added another letter to a word puzzle that needed to be solved. The answer would be a well known phrase. Hopefully the answer was "BRUZDMAQPSMT".
By the time we had completed the magic phrase, time was knocking on and before we knew it we were heading back to the campsite. Never before, in the field of human conflict, has so much been owed to a single barman and short order cook! Day three was finished and it was time to prep for our departure from France road books and accompanying "bits" (only the marshals know what the stuff is for!) were issued at 2100hrs. The morning will see a mad dash to pack our goods and chattels onto/into the wagons and once more hit the road.
It's a sobering thought that those who went before us, all the D-Day troops but the members of Easy Company, 506th P.I.R. whose exploits this rally is built around, did the journey without the benefit of road books, satnav and Goretex. Gentlemen, in the the year of the 70th anniversary, we salute you.