This week is a special ‘Day in the Life Of’ blog post as Sophie, our Senior Account Executive, shares her incredible experience of visiting Normandy during the 75th D-Day Commemorations with the Royal Pigeon Racing Association (RPRA) and Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC).
“Whilst sifting through emails on a normal Tuesday afternoon I was ecstatic to find an email from NATO’s Allied Rapid Reaction Corps inviting our client, the Royal Pigeon Racing Association and Voice to visit Normandy for the 75th Anniversary D-Day Commemorations.
Carrier pigeons played a vital part in both world wars acting as military messengers with their homing ability and speed. Over 100,000 pigeons were used in the war with a success rate of 95% in delivering their messages. To commemorate D-Day and the amazing role pigeons played in the success of both world wars, Major Laurence Roche, Army Press Officer at the ARRC proposed a re-enactment with the release of a pigeon by a Royal Signaller, the role he might have conducted 75 years back.
After six hours on the ferry from Portsmouth, we arrived safely in Caen (including our two pigeons – the stars of the show). The village was beautiful and welcome, there were colourful flags flying around everywhere. We started our Normandy trip by visiting Sword Beach, the location where we would be releasing the pigeons on Thursday morning. The sweeping landscape of sand and calm sea was a completely different scene to what would have been seen all of those years back. It felt like a different world being there and it took a while to take it all in.
After scouting out the area we then did some live social media updates and took the opportunity to create some content.
Later that day we were joined by Harry Swann, Royal Signaller, who as part of his re-enactment had sailed across the channel from Portsmouth. Harry was kitted out with a complete WW2 uniform from The Royal Signals Museum. Army Photographer, Mark Nesbit then started to photograph Harry in his kit and began creating a video for our press materials.
Later that evening we were given the opportunity to visit Pegasus Bridge and join in on the special events taking place. The bridge was filled with hundreds of people celebrating and remembering the important history that took place 75 years ago. Laurence was amazing, it was like having our own personal tour guide and translator for the whole trip. Whilst on the bridge we saw London cabs bringing veterans to the commemorations, Laurence informed us that there are a handful of them who do this every year, out of kindness. It was amazing to see the comradery and generations coming together.
We ventured in to Café Gondrée – the site of first combat during the D-Day invasion and is best known for its role commemorating those events. We had the chance to personally meet Madame Gondrée (Arlette Gondrée), who was a little girl of 5 at the time of the liberation. After shaking her hand, we then went outside to hear her speech, thanking the veterans and starting off the champagne celebrations.
A number of veterans attended the event and even more incredibly, we met the last surviving Signaller of Sword Beach who delivered home the telegram to Britain that ended WW2, his name was Ted. When we asked Ted about his experience, he recited a moving poem describing his role all of those years back. I felt a flood of emotions and can’t imagine the life he has had.
Then Thursday came, the big day. It only seemed right to arrive at Sword Beach at the time the troops would have landed 75 years back 7:25am. We began filming and Harry ventured into the sea as part of the re-enactment.
Sword Beach was successfully taken over by British troops at around 8:10am on 6 June 1944. This was when we released our pigeons back to their home in Portsmouth. The 145-mile journey, direct across the channel only took the birds around five hours. We of course had to celebrate with a coffee!
Later that day we sent out our press materials, photographs and videos. You can catch some of the coverage here:
We then left the house to head to a memorial service on Sword Beach for the Third British Infantry Division. Then led by a piper, we followed marches on to the CWGC Cemetery for the final service of the day. Local school children sang the British and French national anthems before laying colourful flowers on each grave. I walked around the cemetery and felt overcome with emotions, seeing ages in range from 18 – 36, I couldn’t believe how young and petrified these men must have been. It was an amazing and moving way to finish our Normandy experience.
That evening we ate at a little French restaurant in Ouistreham and I even tried a snail. It’s safe to say I wasn’t a huge fan.
There are so many words I could use to describe my experience and I am so thankful for my incredible team, the Royal Pigeon Racing Association and Allied Rapid Reaction Corps for the unforgettable time I had. I was made to feel so welcome and comfortable and I am so pleased to have made such great relationships with amazing people.”
To check out more of Sophie’s trip to Normandy, take a look at our Facebook page: @VoiceCommunications