A battlefield study in France has led to a personal journey for both an Officer Cadet and Colour Sergeant from Sandhurst as they walked in the footsteps of their ancestors and learned about the bravery and courage of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in Normandy.
Officer Cadet Tom Walker was armed with the precious memoirs of his grandfather Private Peter Walker who was a medic with the 4th Battalion Somerset Light Infantry and had landed on the beaches of Normandy almost 80 years ago.
They brought to life Peter’s harrowing experience during the Normandy invasion and onwards from June 1944 until the end of the conflict. The real-life account added a special perspective to the battlefield trip, part of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst’s war studies curriculum.
The capture of Caen had been one of Field Marshal Montgomery’s objectives on D-Day in 1944 to secure important transport routes and provide the shortest route to Berlin.
Hill 112, 10 miles from Caen, became a strategic position but despite a firm hold by the British, the regrouping of an Armoured Division with vital fire power meant they had to give up the hill. 43rd Wessex Division were tasked to attack under Operation Jupiter and with them, Tom’s Grandfather.
Private Walker wrote, ‘I was part of a field ambulance, a collective of about 10 Medical Officers (MO) and a team of medics. We dealt with 350 casualties in the first 36 hours. Lived off tea and cigarettes until we dropped then the MO would give us a dose of amphetamine and we'd carry on for another four hours.’
The soldiers became involved in trench warfare similar to that of the Great War, and many described the continuous bombardment, and the onslaught as ‘Death Valley’.
The 4th Battalion Somerset Light Infantry lost 525 men and the 5th Battalion Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry suffered 90 % losses, leaving just 50 men alive. The fighting lasted for 36 days and never took the wood which crowned Hill 112.
For Peter, Operation Jupiter was a baptism of fire, ‘This was the cost of freedom, which the present generation enjoys; the French, Belgians and the Dutch know it, for it is cognisant in their children. It saddens me to realise today, that the young of Great Britain know very little about the real costs of freedom or how it is earnt.’
“I was always proud of his service, but being here, having an idea of the conditions he’d fought under, provides so much insight into what could have been his ultimate sacrifice.” OFFICER CADET TOM WALKER, ROYAL MILITARY ACADEMY SANDHURST
Veteran Peter passed away just a few weeks ago, before his 100th birthday. He joined the Army at 19 was commissioned to Second Lieutenant in India not long after the Battle of Hill 112 and left the services in 1946.
Following his demobilisation, he signed up to the government’s scheme to get servicemen into farming and agriculture. He only returned to the sites he and his colleagues fought across on the 70th anniversary of the battle.
For Tom, following in his grandfather’s footsteps and knowing that he served in Normandy has been an inspiration, “The more military training I go through, the more I understand.” said Tom, who will commission and join his regiment in December. “Knowing my grandfather was one of the last soldiers alive to have gone through D-Day, it was a huge privilege to be his grandson.”
“I was always proud of his service, but being here, having an idea of the conditions he’d fought under, provides so much insight into what could have been his ultimate sacrifice.” Officer Cadet Tom Walker
For Colour Sergeant Windmill a member of the permanent training staff at Sandhurst, the connection was equally poignant when he visited the final resting place of his great Uncle, Private Sydney Teversham, for the first time.
Sydney was the youngest of 11 children and joined the Army at the onset of World War Two. He fought in North Africa and Sicily before participating in D-Day, he landed on Gold beach with 1st Battalion Dorsetshire Regiment on 6th June 1944.
After surviving the initial landings, he took part in further military actions inland as they worked their way towards Calne but was killed in Tilly-sur Seulles after being shot and passed away from his injury on 14th of August 1944.
Although it wasn’t an Allied objective, Tilly-sur-Seulles became one of the first Normandy villages to be destroyed. The hard fighting between the British XXX Corps’, 49th and 50th Divisions and two elite SS Divisions from the I. SS-Panzerkorps saw the village captured and recaptured 23 times in a month.
Buried at the Tilly-sur-Seulles War Cemetery, Private Sydney Teversham is amongst the graves of 990 Allied and 232 German soldiers. The cemetery is one of 17 in Normandy, with over 17,000 graves tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC).
Each CWGC headstone is inscribed with the details of the individual’s rank, name, awards, service number, religious emblem, regimental crest, and some with a personal inscription provided by the family. All are made of the same Portland stone, ensuring that each of its war casualties are commemorated equally no matter their rank.
Kneeling in front of Sydney’s grave Colour Sergeant Windmill, who is a Paratrooper and has been on nine operational tours, three by the time he was his great Uncle’s age, said, “I did a bit of research into what actually happened to him on the day he got shot, but to walk the route and see the locations of the fierce fighting, and now be here to pay my respects - this finally closes the loop for me and my family.”