Cummings’ Goings: Channelling your thoughts

Omaha Beach

Omaha Beach - Credit: Archant

BBC Radio Gloucestershire’s Mark Cummings takes a trip to the D-Day battle sites, beaches and war cemeteries of Northern France

I want to share a few words and pictures with you from a recent long weekend in Normandy. After 48 years on this planet I finally made the trip to the D-Day battle sites, beaches and war cemeteries of Northern France.

So many people have said to me: “I’ve always wanted to do that but have never quite managed it.” If you are in this camp I hope I can persuade you to make the very simple, inexpensive but richly rewarding journey. In the run up to our adventure I’d had the privilege of talking to local D-Day vets, soaked up all the 70th commemorations and met the man who heard Eisenhower’s D-Day speech before anyone else.

Trevor Hill from Stinchcombe was 18 years old at the time and a sound engineer at the BBC in London. Just as he was ending his night shift he was warned that he might have to work a few hours extra. An American jeep pulled up outside the studios and he was handed a special tape. This was the iconic Eisenhower D-Day speech which he had to listen to before broadcast. He actually took the recording home with him for a few days before someone noticed it had gone!

I took all these memories with me on an overnight crossing from Portsmouth to Caen and over the next four days cycled to places where events 70 years ago changed the course of the war. I’m sure you’ve had enough history lessons about D-Day this year so I’ll just leave you with a few photos and a quick resume of the highlights.

I shared the adventure with five mates who all have the same inquisitive nature and a joy of learning. Starting off at the Merville battery you get a real sense of what needed to be ‘taken out’ first before the landing could start. We had a brush with some living history at Cafe Gondree at Pegasus Bridge. Madame Gondree was just 10 on D-Day and was there when a glider-borne unit of the British 6th Airborne Division was to land, take the bridge intact and hold it until relieved. The successful taking of the bridge played an important role in limiting the effect of the German counterattack. She rules the roost 70 years on and we had the most magical lunch in her cafe.

Over the next few days we explored Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah beaches, the American Cemetery at Omaha and the Mulberry harbour at Arromanches. We also visited the graves of the fallen at Bayeux and the sheer cliffs the allies scrambled up at Pointe du Hoc. If you manage a few days I beg you to pop over because you’ll be intrigued, touched, informed, moved and will never forget what bravery and sacrifice was displayed on D-Day.

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The cider connection

When I was about 18, I was in a pub with my Dad and my big sister’s new boyfriend. It was a northern pub and I was about to learn the cultured art of boyfriend baiting. I now use all the techniques passed on to me from my Dad on how to wind up your daughter’s boyfriend.

As we approached the bar we ordered our pints of thick, creamy Yorkshire bitter and then turned to Rick who requested... wait for it... half a dry cider!!!!! The pub went silent, tumbleweed blew eerily across the bar and my dad choked rather violently on his sip of Tetleys.

You might guess that I’ve never been a cider drinker - until now. Three events have converted me to the juicy apple and I am now compiling my defence for the inevitable inquisition on the next trip ‘home’. Firstly, during my French excursion I fell in line with my fellow travellers and downed some classic Normandy cider which I have to say tasted fresh, cold, natural and delicious. However was this just the right drink in the right place? We move onto defence number two. I was sitting in Laurie Lee’s old school house in Slad as part of his centenary celebrations listening to villagers reading extracts from Cider with Rosie and everyone was drinking cider... well it would be rude not to, wouldn’t it? Tasted yummy. And finally the clincher. After an evening drinking Bayeux dry of its cheeky apple juice we all agreed that our yearly surfeit of apples shouldn’t be left to the burrowing wasp. We all bemoaned our abundance of many varieties of apples and agreed to search eBay for a cheap cider press and produce our own Cotswold classic. I present this defence to the jury and hope it meets with your approval. By the way, that boyfriend who ordered a half of Strongbow 30 years ago is still married to my big sister.


Adult learning

In the last month I’ve signed up to an art foundation course in Stroud, another one in Bath and ended up in a group interview for a job at Waitrose. The reason for this mid-life career evolution is simple. Every time I take my 17 year daughter to an open evening or job interview I get swept into the adrenaline-fuelled atmosphere of the occasion and each time it seems I get mistaken for a mature student or a jobseeker. No-one considers I might be her Dad so I just go along with the flow. So I’ll be doing fashion textiles at Stroud, ceramics at Bath and Tuesday and Thursday evenings on the checkout at Waitrose.



Did you spot them?

Last month, as a tribute to the article in CL with the Genesis legend Tony Banks, I impregnated my column with some of the band’s song titles. Here they are. Behind the Lines, Many too Many, Misunderstanding, Land of Confusion, Ripples, In Too Deep, Supper’s Ready and Illegal Alien.

Go on Jack...

My scribbling for this month’s column had been temporally interrupted to visit my daughter’s school to view her form’s art project. As I was just admiring her work I got a tap on the shoulder from expert artist and former cricketer Jack Russell. We caught up on old times and I told him about my recent visit to France. Jack is a keen expert on military history and has a special interest in the Glorious Gloucester regiment. Strangely, like many, he hasn’t done the Normandy trip and is desperate to visit Pegasus Bridge. I implored him to do it and I will be sending him a copy of this month’s edition to hopefully send him on his way

Phone with no home...

If someone passes you a cheap pay-as-you-go phone and tells you to answer it at 8.40 am it’ll be me on the other end. This game has been going on for a few weeks and has led us to interviewing many fascinating people. Any device to take us out of our comfort zone on air should be encouraged. I’ve interviewed headteachers, herring sellers, single mums, Severn Trent leakage experts, novelists and ministers. It doesn’t always work however. On a few heart-stopping occasions it hasn’t been answered, I’ve called the wrong number and once it was given to a delivery driver in Stroud and we haven’t seen it since.


This article by Mark Cummings is from the August 2014 issue of Cotswold Life.

For more from Mark, follow him on Twitter: @cummingsradio