At May half term I was privileged to take my Scouts from 3rd Squirrels Heath Sea Scouts and the Zenith Explorers on a cycle trip to Normandy, France. We cycled from Cherbourg at the North of Normandy to Ouistreham to the East, using mainly quiet, coastal or country roads. Why were we there? We wanted to discover as many of the beaches used in the D Day landings in 1944, especially as it is the 70th Anniversary of V.E Day.
The Scouts carried all their own gear for the trip, stoves, tents and clothes. Each night we cooked as a collective, taking in turns to prepare the nights meal on Trangias but fresh croissants and drinking chocolate every morning for breakfast sourced the local shops by the Zenith Explorers who soon became experts at getting the best deal! We were away for eight days, seven nights camping at various sites, moving on each day was a great experience for the Scouts rising to the challenge of pitching and taking down tents everyday with a smile.
Mid week , Wednesday, camp routine was slightly different as we stayed at the Municipal Campsite at Bayeux for two nights. This gave us the opportunity of having dinner cooked for us by our support crew, Glynis and Theresa, who were staying in a static mobile home at the Bayeux campsite for the week plus provide free time for the Scouts and Leaders next day to enjoy the delights of this French town. Each day we tried to visit one museum in each area we were camping in, or along our route that dealt with the conflict but each one gave a different perspective on what had occurred which gave the Scouts a good perspective of the human cost of the conflict. This year we included a visit to the German Cemetery at La Cambe which was vastly different to those of the Allied Cemeteries some of the Scouts had visited in 2013 and the American Cemetery included on the 2015 itinerary.
Prior to free time on Wednesday in the morning we laid a wreath of remembrance at the British Cemetery at Bayeux, parading in full uniform; including the raising and lowering of our Group Colours. To the bemusement of French visitors this was conducted in complete silence- the Young People making us proud to be their Leaders. Bayeux Cemetery is of special interest to us because a relative James and Glynis Youngs. is buried there killed at the age of 20 on D Day. It was especially poignant as Glynis showed a photocopy of the telegram informing his mother of his demise and was able to share what she had discovered. This helped to capture the imagination of the Scouts as to what it might have been like to have landed on the beaches on 6th June 1944.
Throughout the trip the Scouts remained good spirited and sang songs while we cycled through the various villages along the coast much to the amusement of the locals..In total we cycled 132 miles and the Explorers 150 miles, as they had visited an extra museum; eight museums, one cinema, three Cemeteries and the RUG! Plus dinner in a French Restaurant and playing on the beach.
I have always been very lucky with my Scouts as they have always taken on the various crazy ideas our Leadership Team have thrown at them with enthusiasm. This trip being one of them. “How far have I cycled today? Whoa!” was the usual comment before going off to play a game of football or Frisbee before after dinner. Parents have commented on the change in their Scouts since their return from Normandy and the new confidence they now have. I would thoroughly suggest that if you have not already taken your Scouts abroad that you give it a try. The experience, team building, fun and putting into practice skills learnt in preparation for going to Normandy the Scouts and Explorers gained from this type of trip is one they will have for life. Also friendships are made or cemented as they helped and encouraged each other along the way. The Parent Helpers who attended also commented on what they had learnt from this experience.
However, it should be noted that visiting Normandy could not have happened without the support received from the WHOLE Troop who helped to raise the necessary funds via attending five bag packing sessions at a local supermarket. One parent also ran some Try Dives to raise money. Everybody joined in to get us there. Such an adventure couldn’t have gone ahead without the prior visits and planning, so I would like to thank everyone involved in this as well as planning running this trip. The names are numerous but there needs to be a special thanks to our Support Crew Glynis and Theresa, who met us every day with lunch and were there when we needed them for a few bike repairs.
To sum up, this was a great trip. For me it clearly shows what can be achieved by having a great bunch of people working together to make sure Scouts are “Joining the Adventure ”
3rd Squirrels Heath Scout Leader.