D-Day Remembered

 

On Tuesday 29th October a group of old comrades of the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry gathered at the Royal Green Jackets (Rifles) Museum in Peninsula Barracks, Winchester, to honour a D-Day veteran.

Francis Louis Bourlet, who is aged 90 and lives near Alresford, was one of the members of Lt Den Brotheridge’s platoon in Major John Howard’s glider which captured the canal bridge at Benouville in the early hours of 6th June 1944. Following a visit to Frank by two former Oxford and Bucks members, his daughter Marilyn Flack had arranged for her father to visit the Museum to view some film clips of the coup de main operation and to inspect the Pegasus Bridge display.

Frank was accompanied by Marilyn, her partner Steve, her son Robert and Frank’s younger sister Rita and her family. Following coffee, Frank donned his red beret with the bugle horn stringed and was welcomed by General Christopher Wallace (Chairman of the RGJ Museum), Brigadier Nigel Mogg (President of the RGJA Oxford branch), Lt Col George Elliott and a number of other old comrades. Sadly neither General Bob Pascoe nor Col John Tillett were well enough to attend.

Museum Curator Christine Pullen had converted the small room behind the reception desk, known as ‘the education area’, into a viewing theatre and showed a number of film clips of the operation from several sources. One of these included interviews with John Howard, his glider pilot Jim Wallwork and Sjt ‘Titch’ Rayner, which Frank watched with great interest. He then answered some questions about the operation and his service career, and proved to be a lively raconteur with an excellent memory. Apparently there are 4 CDs of his reminiscences in the Imperial War Museum. These are also available online at http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80024851. Frank pointed out that ‘Titch’ Rayner never actually made it to Pegasus Bridge because, having been wounded at the River Dives, he was taken into medical care as soon as he arrived at Ranville.

Frank was a Londoner who tried to join the Army at the outbreak of the Second World War. As he was only 16½ at the time he was rejected, but as soon as he turned 18 he told his parents that nothing they could say would stop him. He enlisted in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps in May 1941, but was later transferred to the 52nd Light Infantry, where he trained as a sniper.

Frank was asked if he had taken part in the famous training march from Ilfracombe to Bulford in August 1942 and confirmed that he had. He recalled that it had rained on the first day, but after that it was very hot, and he stated that two men died of exhaustion. As soon as they arrived at Bulford one of his comrades changed into dancing pumps and went off to a dance in Tidworth!

The Museum party then moved to the Pegasus Bridge model display which Frank inspected with great interest, answering more questions and telling more anecdotes. He mentioned an action by L/Cpl Stacey, who leaped onto the back of a German staff car which was attempting to cross the bridge, shot the driver and wounded the officer. For this Stacey was awarded the Military Medal. General Wallace asked Christine if she could produce any documentation of this incident, and a few minutes later she re-appeared with a printout of the citation for the MM, which she had downloaded from the National Archives website. This was presented to Frank.

After looking at the Pegasus Bridge display Frank spent some time chatting to various members of the party before leaving. Marilyn Flack expressed her gratitude to all those involved, and stated that her father had thoroughly enjoyed it and that it had meant a great deal to family and friends too.

It was a rewarding experience to meet a D-Day veteran as switched on as Frank and to hear his stories beside the Pegasus Bridge model display in the RGJ Museum, which set the scene of the D-Day landings so admirably.

 

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    Frank with Lt Col George Elliott.
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    Frank with Lt Col George Elliott.
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    Frank taking coffee with his daughter Marilyn and General Christopher Wallace.
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    Frank being welcomed by General Wallace with (left to right) Marilyn Flack, Brig Nigel Mogg and Frank’s grandson Robert Flack.
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    Members of Frank’s family on left.
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    Members of Frank’s family on left.
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    Off to view the Museum, being pushed by Pat Low.
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    Waiting to watch the film show with his family.
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    watching the film clip of the coup de main operation.
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    watching the film clip of the coup de main operation.
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    watching the film clip of the coup de main operation.
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    Frank and grandson Robert.
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    Viewing the Pegasus Bridge model with Robert.
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    The model.
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    Listening to General Wallace’s description of the action.
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    Listening to General Wallace’s description of the action.
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    Chatting with Lt Col George Elliott and Brig. Nigel Mogg.
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    Chatting with Lt Col George Elliott and Brig. Nigel Mogg.
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    Chatting with Lt Col George Elliott and Brig. Nigel Mogg.
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    Chatting with Lt Col George Elliott and Brig. Nigel Mogg.
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