- Mark Forsdike
A Drop Of Fighting Spirit
My good friend Alf, who is already well-known as a leading artist of Great War subjects, has recently turned his outstanding talents to Second World War subjects.
In the first of his new WW2 works, he has taken inspiration from an account in my book 'Fighting Through to Hitler's Germany' in which Corporal Fred Ashby of ‘C’ Company recalled established an observation post in an upstairs room of the Mairie (town hall) in the village of Colleville-sue-Orne.
Late on the morning of D-Day, First Suffolk advanced inland from Sword Beach, heading for their objectives inland. ‘B’ Company headed for the gun position ‘Morris’ whilst ‘C’ Company headed for the village of Colleville-sur-Orne. They were to take the village allowing ‘A’ Company to pass through on their way to capture the bunker complex at ‘Hillman’.
Moving from house to house, ‘C’ Company made it to the church and beside it, the Mairie. Opening the windows cautiously to see down the village street to the southwest, Ashby was aware that as his comrades were sheltering below and against the churchyard wall, that a German sniper remained in the church tower and that some how they still needed to deal with him.
As Fred and a private from his section established their position the Mayor, Monsieur Lenauld, suddenly appeared with a bottle of calvados and poured them both a drink. It was a momentous occasion that Fred remembered many years later and a moment that fortified him to carry on the advance south of the village into the orchard where they waited should they be called upon to support ‘A’ Company who were going-in to attack 'Hillman'.
Fred was badly wounded three weeks later at the Chateau de la Londe and never returned to the Battalion. He recovered and was demobbed in 1945, having joined the Battalion at Stanway in Gloucestershire in late 1940.
In the years that followed the first pilgrimage to Normandy on 1984, a debate was started by Fred and Eric Lummis as to refute the story that appeared in the 1962 film ‘The Longest Day’ when it was depicted that the Mayor of Colleville arrived on Sword Beach on his bicycle, carrying a bottle of champagne and wearing a brass fireman’s helmet. It was later established by Eric that they story was a jumble of recollections from a veteran of 4 Commando, who Cornelius Ryan had interviewed for his 1959 book of the same name, who most probably confused a group of French Red Cross workers who were dressed in such headdress who were moving between the incoming ranks of men as they landed, helping to tend to the wounded.
Alf’s work here encompasses the essence of that moment and of the confidence of the first day in a campaign that was to last another eleven months, but as they were soon to find out, within a few weeks, it was to get much, much tougher.
You can purchase copies of Alf’s excellent work direct from his website which also contains some lovely linocut prints and of course, his awesome Great War inspired pieces: https://timgodden.co.uk/shop/p/fighting-spirit