Bog and bullet

World War 2 wasn’t just about the famous battles. Troops were away from their loved ones for months and years, often in hostile places but always thinking of home. I’ve written before of the aircraft crash sites I’ve visited, all remote and lonely places. These crashes took place during training exercises and it’s important to remember that during war, its not just in the fighting that servicemen risk their lives.

Around the UK there are many places that are associated with military training. But during the build up to D-Day in 1944, allied troops of many nationalities were training and preparing all over the country. Swansea played host to American soldiers of the 2nd Infantry Division. My mum remembered them driving Jeeps along the roads of Swansea and making tyre screeching turns at speed. Their transport ships were anchored in Swansea Bay and vehicles were parked along roads and under the cover of trees across the area.

In the months leading up to the invasion, these soldiers were training constantly to prepare themselves for the ‘Day of Days’. On Cefn Bryn, practice trenches can be found on the ridge and there is at least one bunker, now derelict, near Broadpool. For years I’ve suspected but never known for sure that it was a military relic – it’s in the wrong place to be defensive as it can easily be outflanked. But I recently found out that it was a command centre, and probably played a role in assault training.

The wonderful beaches of south and west Gower were used to practice beach assaults. The Loughor Estuary became an artillery range; the firing points are still visible as concrete shells of buildings near Penclawdd and the target area, not far from Whiteford, is marked by an observation post built on stilts near Woebley Castle.

To the north of Morriston is Mynydd y Gwair and a place Rufus and I visit often. Opposite is Tor Clawdd and the site of the home and research facility of Harry Grindell Matthews, known as ‘Death Ray’ Matthews after his work during the early part of the war on a weapon to stop engines and explode bombs at a distance. He built this isolated retreat, complete with a small airstrip, to work on his secret projects (which also included an aerial torpedo, a means of turning light into sound and a means to synchronise sound and film). Unfortunately he died in 1941, before any of these inventions could be perfected.

In 1944, Tor Clawdd was taken over by the officers of the 2nd Infantry Division and the troops were camped on the surrounding hills. One of the training exercises they carried out was to try and simulate real battle conditions. This they did by firing live rounds at an earth bank while the soldiers crawled along a trench in front of the bank or behind the bank. The remains of this exercise is still visible opposite Tor Clawdd and this morning Rufus and I took a look.

Once you know what you’re looking for, the earth bank is very noticeable, although just glancing at it might lead you to think it’s a drainage feature. As we walked towards it, we passed a single conical mound followed closely by six more, lined up parallel with the bank. The mounds were the positions of the machine guns used to fire on the bank. Then came a deep ditch and some 30 yards from this was the bank.  Between the ditch and bank were several shallow depressions in the ground and I had read that these were the result of explosions set off as part of the training. We wandered along the bank, heading north until it came to an end. Great sections of it were weathered and worn by the passage of sheep and cattle but it still stood a metre or so high.

Then I started to notice the bullets. The first one I saw was long and grey and could have been mistaken for a stone half buried in the mud. But I knew what I was looking for and within 10 minutes I’d picked up 19 bullets and fragments just lying on the surface. I also picked up three large pieces of sharp glass, souvenirs of a later period of history.

I have no idea what it must have been like to undergo this kind of training, but I guess if it helped to save their lives later on, then it was worth it. Research I did into this site suggested that some of the soldiers were killed when a section of the bank collapsed on them during an exercise.

The troops of the 2nd Infantry Division landed at Omaha beach in Normandy on June 8, two days after D-Day, and went on to see action in France, Belguim, Holland and Germany. The division is currently stationed in South Korea.

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This and that

What do you do with a week off and doctors orders to rest?

Today, I spent the first part of the morning doing mundane shopping things and paying in my insurance claim cheque. I was very pleasantly surprised at the speed and efficiency with which my claim was dealt with – thank you Direct Group. My heart usually drops at the thought of dealing with this kind of thing – last time it was a claim for damage to my car by someone trying to park where I was parked. It took the best part of a week of phone calls to sort out and in the end I did most of the arranging rather than the third party company engaged to do it on behalf of the insurance company.

Back home, I was out in the garden taking some portraits of the local Garden Spider when I saw a bit of a life and death struggle between a daddy Long Legs and a smaller spider. In the end, the Daddy Long Legs broke free of the web and escaped and I was secretly pleased. I know it’s all part of nature but it doesn’t mean to say I have to like it.

Then, for the rest of the afternoon, I was going though and editing video taken at last night’s band rehearsal. Rehearsals are so rare these days that when one comes along, I always try and record it in some way. I took a video camera last night and managed to catch the whole of ‘I wouldn’t believe your radio’, a Stereophonics song we’re putting in the set. It has ended up on YouTube  although there is some clever editing to make it look as if I’m playing – in fact, I was videoing and if you listen carefully, there’s no bass guitar on the soundtrack.

Last day of the holidays tomorrow – not plans as yet but I’m expecting rain.

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Not Italy – the sequel.

Following my hmph at Monday’s credit card statement problem, I rang Lloyds this evening. A very friendly and helpful young lady sorted out the problem straight away (after a series of security checks that now qualify me for access to diplomatic secrets). Refund of late payment charge, email to the credit check companies explaining it was a banking error, smiling face from me.

I was quick to moan so I’m equally quick to praise. The measure of a company isn’t just about not making mistakes, it’s about how they deal with the mistakes that have been made.

Not Italy

Hmph.

“You have exceeded your limit on your credit card. This figure may be wrong.”

Yes, it is wrong. The statement is clear, I have about £5.5k credit (I built it up in case I had to be rescued by helicopter from Everest Base Camp). And they appear to have charged me a late payment fee despite me having paid on the day the statement was issued. Some problems with Lloyds today. Is this how they intended to generate more cash to lend to small businesses? Oh, wait, banks don’t do that any more, do they?

“Your petrol tank is empty. This gauge may be wrong.”

“Your altitude is 38,000 ft. This altimeter may be wrong.”

“You are perfectly healthy. This doctor may be wrong.”

No photos. The adverts below may be wrong.