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By Colin Foster

For much of the period 2014 to 2018 the British public have been absorbed in commemorating and mourning the losses suffered by the generation that fought in the Great War of 1914-1918. Within a year of the centenary of the Armistice of 11th November 1918 we have suddenly reached another and almost equally important series of milestones for the next generation, namely the 80th anniversary of the start of the Second World War and the 75th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy in 1944.

Unlike the commemorations for the First World War, those of the Second World War have assumed a mantle more akin to a celebration of feats of arms than a wake for the carnage that resulted from the battles of attrition that so characterised the struggles of 30 years earlier.

This book and its extraordinary set of contemporary photographs and accounts, updated by views of the battlefield as it now looks, falls into the latter vein but with one additional feature: it owes its origin to the abiding interest taken by a part-time military historian and its author, Colin Foster, and the enthusiasm he kindled in the sons and daughters of the officers and men of the 3rd (Tank) Battalion Scots Guards, who fought at Caumont on 30th July 1944, to preserve the friendship that endured between them and their families for more than 75 years after the battle.

This bond of friendship stemmed, I would suggest, from three particular but separate factors. First, the shock, in the true sense of the word, of the initial battle that they fought on 30th July 1944: a true baptism of fire as this book testifies. Second, from the relatively light casualties that they suffered during the rest of the war, at least in contrast to infantry battalions, ensuring that much of the Battalion that fought at Caumont survived the War, even if wounded. Thirdly, as a result of the extraordinary achievements of the officers and men who served in this Battalion, and their contribution to British society in the 50 years that followed the War.

This was a Battalion which, from the 38 officers serving on 30th July 1944, added to those who joined to replace those promoted, killed or wounded, produced no less than six post war Generals, including a Commander-in-Chief BAOR, three Chairmen of FTSE 100 companies, an Archbishop of Canterbury, a Moderator of the Church of Scotland, two Knights of the Thistle, a Lord Chamberlain to the Queen, and a Deputy Prime Minister. This success was repeated amongst those who served as Warrant Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers and Guardsmen, many of whom pursued post-war careers of distinction in a less obviously public way but nevertheless of significant and tangible value to society at large in Britain and the Commonwealth.

But perhaps the over-riding and distinguishing feature of this Battalion was the bond of friendship that was formed between officers and men in the campaign that started in the Normandy bridgehead on 20th July 1944 and finished in victory, in May 1945, on the Baltic coast. This friendship and the respect that flowed from it survived for over 75 years from the date of the Battalion’s first battle and has suffused itself amongst the children and grandchildren of these men into a lasting feeling of belonging to something very special. Twelve sons of the original complement of officers chose to serve in the First or Second Battalions of the Regiment between 1959 and 2017 and of these no less than six served as a Battalion Adjutant. Of these, three went on to command a Battalion.

The final tribute to this remarkable group of men is the erection of the memorial, illustrated in the latter chapters of this book, on Hill 226 in Normandy, above the village of Les Loges. Its unveiling, two days prior to the 75th anniversary, was accompanied by celebrations participated in by over 25 sons, daughters, nephews, nieces and their grandchildren and spouses as well as a significant proportion of the inhabitants of the villages of Les Loges and St Martin des Besaces, whose liberation, on 30th July 1944, was the result of the bold advance by 6th Guards (Tank) Brigade, chronicled so meticulously in this book.

Some 98 descendants of the men of 3SG raised £15000 towards the cost of the memorial and its accompanying Tableau d’Orientation, along with plaques erected in Edinburgh and London, with additional support from the Scots Guards Association and a significant grant from La Musée Perceé du Bocage in St Martin des Besaces. The enthusiasm and support from the French communities living in Les Loges and St Martin des Besaces was a major factor in making things happen.

For my father, who served in Left Flank at Caumont and succeeded Vernon Erskine Crum as its Adjutant in the winter of 1944, before being severely wounded in Holland in February 1945, his service in 3SG, both during and after the war, was the defining moment of his 16 year career in the Army. He subsequently served as Adjutant of both 1 and 2 SG and as Regimental Adjutant, but these two years and the friendships that stemmed from them were the road map for the rest of his life, as I suspect they were for many of the other officers and men of this unique Battalion.

This book and the effort and enthusiasm engendered by Colin Foster and the sons of Guardsman Muir Findlay and Sergeant Alastair Fleming to bring about the memorial on Hill 226 will, I believe, prove a lasting tribute to the Battalion, (raised in 1943 by my grandfather, Colonel E W S Balfour in his last year as Lieutenant Colonel Commanding Scots Guards) as well as proving to be a continuing source of interest and respect for and from the families of those remarkable men.

Hew Balfour

Copies of the book may be obtained (£25) from Colin Foster (email colin@menintheshed.com or tel: 07887562563)





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