1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment - North West Europe 1944
VERNON - The River Seine Crossing (25th to 28th August 1944) - Part 14
48th Anniversary Celebrations
of the Crossing of the Seine at Vernon
The French authorities in Vernon, having long been aware of the debt they owed to the British, decided to mark the 48th Anniversary by a commemoration service to which they invited representatives from the late 43rd (Wessex) Division. The special guest was to be the son of Field Marshal Montgomery, who was to unveil a memorial which was erected at the precise spot where the former road bridge commenced its crossing at Vernon.
Three original members of the former Signals Section of the 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment accepted the invitation of the Mayor of Vernon. Travelling together they arrived on 26th August 1992. During an initial tour of the battle area they met three of their former officers, Lieut.-Col Jock Bannister, Captain Peter Wade and Captain Rex Fellows, who were making a similar nostalgic return. Lieut.-Col. Algy Grubb was also due to meet up with his old friends but sadly he died at Vernon while tracing his foot steps of the area he fought at in August 1944. In the momentous days of the Vernon battle Major Grubb, as he was then, was fortunate to survive, as typically, he frequently hazarded his life against a most aggressive enemy. It seems that the fates had decided that he was to die at the scene of his outstanding leadership of his beloved 'B' Coy.
On the morning of 27 August 1992, in company with the representatives of other comrades of the 43rd (Wessex) Division, the Worcestershire veterans attended the unveiling of the stone Memorial, which was hewn from the quarry across the river, and listened to the inspiring speeches of our hosts and to the playing of the National Anthems.
Jean-Claude Asphe, Mayor of Vernon, unveiling stone memorial
The inscription on the stone reads:
ON THE 25TH AUGUST 1944, THE 43RD (WESSEX) DIVISION LIBERATED VERNON AND CROSSED THE RIVER SEINE UNDER THE FIRE OF THE GERMAN UNITS DUG IN ON THE PROMINENT HILLS OF THE EASTERN BANK. THE INFANTRY SUPPORTED BY 4 ARMOURED REGIMENTS FOUGHT DURING 3 DAYS TO REPULSE THE ENEMY. THE CROSSING WAS ACHIEVED BY THE USE OF 3 FLOATING BRIDGES BUILT BY THE ROYAL ENGINEERS. FROM THIS INITIAL BRIDGEHEAD THE 30TH CORPS LED THE ADVANCE TOWARDS BELGIUM. THE BRITISH TROOPS SUFFERED 550 CASUALTIES IN THIS OPERATION.
The veterans were then escorted around the various battle sites and cemeteries in which their comrades were laid to rest. For the veterans of the Worcestershire Regiment there was one deeply poignant moment, when they saw carved on one headstone the joint names of a mother and son, those of Major Benn and his mother. In death they would not be divided. Major Benn was the Battalion Second-in-Command during the battle and his heroism in rallying his men in the action at its most crucial phase was the act of a very brave man. When his mother could not have his body moved back to the UK after the war she arranged for her eventual burial to be in her son's grave.
After the localised tours about the town the veterans were shown the special museum where the various aspects of the battle of Vernon were displayed in pictures.
Many toasts to various celebrities were made in the Town Hall, followed by a speech in French by Jean-Claude Asphe, the Mayor of Vernon. The Commemorations were concluded in the large public hall in St Marcel, a large suburb of Vernon. It was a triumph of organisation and well up to the highest standard of French cuisine, with an eight-course dinner accompanied by vintage French wines. The whole banquet lasted some four hours.
Vernon, France (27th August 1992) 48th Anniversary Celebrations
L to R: Mike Farrell, Bill Gould, Benny Goodman, Frank Nyland, Peter Wade, Jim Norton, Rex Fellows, Don Kearton-Jones, Jock Bannister
Peter Wade lays wreath on Major A. A. Benn grave
L to R: Mrs Kearton-Jones, Don Kearton-Jones, Benny Goodman, Jim Norton, Mr Nortons partner
L to R: Frank Nyland, Jock Bannister, Peter Wade, Rex Fellows, Bill Gould