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Travels in a 15 cwt - by Nick Dunford
Operation Nest Egg - Guernsey 2015

This year’s holiday trip was to be to the island of Guernsey for the Guernsey Military Vehicle Trusts 70th Anniversary Liberation Tour of the island from 6th~12th May. I was to have two willing participants with me on the trip, Malcom Lumb and Geoff Moody, both long term friends but both new to the world of military vehicles.

Work to get the truck ready had been going on since the start of the year ,with the fitting of the MWR interior new front and rear canvases and the addition of a roof rack and new markings The full story can be found on the trucks restoration blog on the Historic Military Vehicle Forum under Bedford MWR restoration. 

Tuesday 5th of May

The Drive South

21.00 hrs was the time set for the truck to leave home on our journey south for this year’s trip After a run to Denby Dale and Wakefield to collect Geoff and Malcom in modern vehicle, all the driving now for the next seven days would be at much more sedate pace, With the final loading completed and passengers and driver as comfy as it is possible to be in a 1942 truck the journey could begin.

Truck setting off on its journey to Guernsey.

Unfortunately just as we reached the junction to join the A1 south the truck lost power and the engine died and refused to restart. A quick investigation revealed no spark at the distributor points. Further test showed power going into the ignition coil but not coming out on the low tension connection. The coil had failed. Fortunately I had spare amongst the spares box I had put together for last year’s trip to Normandy. The new ignition coil fitted and the engine restarted and truck never missed a beat for the rest of the trip.

Wednesday 6th May

The Crossing and Arrival at the Camp Site

Early next morning saw three blearily eyed souls doing there last minute food shopping in a well know supermarket close to the docks in Portsmouth. With the shopping completed it was time to make the short trip to the dock to join the queue waiting for the docks to open. Sailing time was to be 09:00 hrs, but all was not well in the English channel when checking the weather back home a couple of days before we were due to set off the forecast showed worsening weather conditions on the south cost and gales for the day of the crossing.

In fact the conditions were so bad that the high speed ferry which usually sailed from Poole to Guernsey had not sailed for the past two days causing all the tour entrants which should have sailed from Poole to be re booked on to our sailing. 

With Condor ferries pulling out all the stops to get us all there for the start of the tour, the boat was to be filled to maximum capacity. Loading was to be a long and complicated job.

Our truck was one of the last to be loaded with me having to reverse the truck into the boat and half way up a loading ramp leading to the next deck ( drivers of war time British trucks will know that with 1940s mirrors you can only just see down each side of the truck what is happening behind the truck is mystery ? ).

I found out just as we came into St Peter Port Harbour, that the ramp I had reversed up raised the truck up on to the exposed outer deck. Loading was finally completed, and the ship ready to sail at 11:45 hrs, two and three quarter hours late.

The journey down the Solent becoming rougher and rougher, and when the ship passed from the shelter of the Isle of Wight out into the channel, the full force of the storm was felt. It was at this point that Condor ferry’s ship, ' The Commodore Clipper', lived up to its nickname of the vomit comet, and I for one was glad to see St Peter Port Harbour.

The crossing was due to take seven hours but with the bad weather the ship finally docked at 20.45 hrs. After unloading the ship sailed on to Jersey. The weather in the Solent a sign of the bad crossing to come. 

The Bedford made the crossing on the outer deck of the commodore clipper the next morning the truck was covered in white layer of salt. 

A reception part of members of the Guernsey MVT had been waiting on the dock for us to arrive and convoys of vehicles were marshalled ready to lead us to our camp site at the Le Vaugrat campsite. There was also another convoy to lead all tour participants who were not camping but staying in the Peninsula Hotel.

Just around the corner from the camp site, after leaving the docks in Guernsey’s main town St Peter port, the convoy travelled to the northern end of the island to site chosen by the GMVT to be our home for the next week.

The camp site at Le Vaugrat ( which the GMVT had arranged for exclusive use for the week ) was a well-managed flat site with good facilities and the addition of a large marque complete with its own bar.

We were directed to our pitch with a rush to get our tents up before the light failing. With the job being finished after dark, I was now glad I had arranged an electric hook up for the tents, After a shower and testing a quick pint of Guinness in the bar it was time for an early night it having been a long couple of days 

Convoy from the docks to the camp site in the failing light.

Convoy arriving at Fort Hommet
Thursday 7th May

The Fortification Tour

10:00am sharp was the time set for the convoy to leave the large field at the bottom of the camp site. This had been set aside to allow vehicles to form up for the various convoys which had been arranged over the six days of the tour. We were up after a good night’s sleep and starting to get things organised after last night’s rush to get the tents up.

Another one of the GMVT ‘s good ideas was to arrange the services of an onsite caterer who produced an excellent cooked breakfast every morning for the duration of the tour. This we thoroughly enjoyed and with the truck checked for oil and water and the radio operators seat fitted in the back we were ready for the off. We joined the line of other vehicles in the field with some very interesting British vehicles.

Looking back through my photos, I have a Ford WOT 1, several WOT 2's, at least five Humber boxes, an 8cwt Humber Snipe, Bedford MW' s, OY's, QL' s, a Bedford Scammell OXC, Morris Commercial C4's,  C8's and at least one of every model of tilly.

Todays road run was to be a tour of some of Guernsey’s more accessible war time fortifications, which had the space to cope with the eighty to ninety vehicles which left the Le Vaugrat campsite on time at 10:00 am. With the help of as many motorcycle out riders as the GMVT could find, we headed down the north west side of the island. This is the part of the island which looked out into the channel.

Our first stop of the day was to be at Fort Hommet. Located on a peninsular, and having gun batteries which could fire out to sea, but also had guns located on the landward side of the peninsular which could fire across the bay and cover the landing beaches in the bay.

My impression of the German defences for Guernsey, was a series of defences to cover any possible landing beach, but they are in much greater size and depth than any seen on last year’s trip to Normandy, with three to four large gun emplacements covering every beach.

After spending time at Fort Hommet, it was time to move to our next site at Batterie Scharnhorst. This was a large gun site set on top a hill with four 15 cm guns which could fire over both sides of the island.

As with most of the German fortifications on Guernsey, at the end of the war it was just back filled with rubble and abandoned. The site was being excavated and restored by Festung Guernsey who were formed in 2005 to restore and conserve important WW2 fortifications on the Island of Guernsey.

After a chance to explore the battery, the convoy moved off to our prearranged lunch stop at Pleinmont Gunnery Observation Tower.

 This is the tower which is the standard idea of the Channel Islands defences being a large five story concrete tower each floor having the range finders and gunnery control for a different gun battery. It was here that the GMVT had set up a soup kitchen to feed the hungry tour participants.

Pleinmont Gunnery Observation Tower each floor controlled the guns of a different gun Battery.

22 cm canon at Batterie Generaloberst Dollmann.
After lunch and short drive, we arrived at the highlight of the day, located on the south west tip of Guernsey ; Batterie Dollmann. This was another Festung Guernsey site.

This time, a 22cm gun battery with a range of 22 kilometres, and is the chosen site for Guernsey Armouries restored 22cm German canon which was to be fired for us.

After a brief safety warning, the GMVT gun crew dressed in period uniform and with all commands in German, loaded and fired the canon for us.

Malcom was seen trying to video the gun firing, but when the film is played back, as the gun fires Malcom jumps. The gun was fired twice and he jumps both times. The firing marked the end of the fortification tour.

We were free to make own way back to the camp site. We chose to take the road past the airport, and back through St Peter Port just in time for the tea time rush hour.

Back at the camp site, it was time for a relaxing night in the marque /bar set up by GMVT, with the first of our nightly war films. Tonight’s film was to be “FURY”.

I leave it to your imagination as to the cat calls, as the yanks won the war again. Just as we were leaving the marque for the night, there was a strange knocking sound filling the air, and comments from our GMVT friends that the Germans are coming?

The Germans we found out were a large group of Lanz tractor enthusiasts, from the eastern side of Germany, who were regulars at the GMVT liberation events.

The sound of the tractors grew loader as the tractors got nearer with the distinctive donkey donk of their single cylinder engines .

Friday 8th of May

School Visits and Liberation Museum

Today was to be school visit day, with convoys of vehicles being taken by GMVT members to do displays of vehicle’s at schools across the island. Being on our own as the sole representatives of the Yorkshire MVT, we joined forces with a convoy of IMPS vehicle’s and were taken to a school in the centre of St Peter Port.

With the vehicles formed up in a line, the kids were allowed out in there various years starting with the youngest first. All classes being dressed in period costume, soon a long line formed as they passed through the cab of each vehicle each one wanting to blow the horn! There was even a young Winston Churchill, complete with bowler hat and fake cigar.

Line up of vehicle’s during school visit.
With the school visit completed, the convoy of vehicle’s made the short run out to near the islands airport, to the German Occupation Museum. We spent the afternoon exploring the museum and café, before returning to the camp site. After quick wash and brush up it was time for the tour barbeque.
Saturday 9th May

Liberation Day Cavalcade

Liberation Day started with a drivers briefing at 09:00 hrs, with all vehicles to be assembled in the lower field by 11.30 hrs, after which the vehicles were marshalled and sorted in to the correct program running order.

The field was a lot fuller than on the previous days, with a big turnout of local GMVT vehicles, and visits from a Gurkha pipe band and bus load of Chelsea pensioners. It was also the day to show off my latest purchase. After months of seeing some my fellow Yorkshire MVT members resplendent in their period uniforms, I thought it was time to join their ranks, after spending a lot of money at a certain uniform supplier this was the result. 

 Today’s convoy had very much relaxed feeling to it with most vehicles with crews dressed up in period uniforms jeeps towing trailers full of kids. The military vehicle part of the parade had over 130 vehicles.

The convoy moved off at 14:00 hrs, and followed the coast heading south to be joined by another convoy of historic civilian vehicles. These joined on behind the parade of parish floats on down the coast road to St Peter Port. The crowd lining the road into the town was estimated at thirty thousand.

After the parade we were shown a film of the cavalcade taken on a helmet camera shot by a ww2 British para in full uniform riding a para scooter which started at the back of the parade but passed everything and finished at the front.

The military vehicles completed the parade and were then parked in a large car park on the sea front, so that members of the public could view the vehicles and we had the opportunity to join in the festivities.

Sunday 10th May

Museum and Parish Visits

Spent the day recovering from the previous day’s celebrations, and had a trip out to view the islands underground German hospital. The sheer scale of the underground works was very impressive, but I don’t think the lack of natural light and damp conditions would do much to help the patients. Back at camp, the film shown in the marque was ”A Bridge Too Far“, with some interesting comments from some older MVT members who had been involved in the filming.

Monday 11th May

Free Day and Tour Finale Dance and Hog Roast

Today being a normal working day in the island, we decided to leave the Bedford at the camp site for the day, and take the local bus into St Peter Port, all for the sum of £1.50 each. Whilst in the town we visited the museum at Castle Cornet, which is part of the harbour defences. This covers the island's other history, as well the war time history.

Just across the other side of harbour is La Valette underground military museum, which is housed in the tunnels excavated into the cliff face by the Germans as refuelling depot for U boats. The number of exhibits in this museum has to be seen to be believed. After a walk around the town looking at the shops, it was back to the camp site to get ready for tonight’s tour finale, which was to be a dance complete with a 1940's swing dance band and hog roast. Dress for the night was 1940's, another outing for the uniform, and with the marquee full to bursting, a good night was had by all.

Tuesday 12th May

The Return Crossing and the Drive Home

The ferry for our return crossing to the main land, was to set sail at 16:30 hrs. Having had a lazy breakfast, we broke camp, repacked the truck, and bid our fair wells to our GMVT friends. Taking the long road right around the island, we arrived at the docks at 12:00 noon.

Having parked the truck in the queue for the boat, check in was not until 15.00 hrs, so we had time for another look around St Peter Port, returning to the dock just in time for check in. Our return trip was to be on the new high speed catamaran “The Liberation”. This was the vessel which had been cancelled by the bad weather on the way out, but today the conditions would be perfect. Again this was going to be another full boat, the smaller vehicles are loaded on two decks in a horse shoe shape around the centre hold which is used for the larger vehicles. 

We were one of the first on, put in the middle with all the larger trucks, with the vehicles packed in so tight that when we arrived in pool, we were to be one of the last off.

The boat had already picked up all the vehicles which had been to Jersey for the liberation, and it was nice to meet some old friends form Normandy last year.

With loading finished and having cast off, the ship moved out of St Peter Port Harbour and began to build up speed. As we passed the Island of Alderney, off in the far distance you could just make out the shape of a Royal Navy Frigate.

With the MV Liberation now at cruising speed of 35 knots within what seemed like a few minutes we had caught up and left the frigate behind in the distance.

The Bedford playing sardenes on the car deck of the MV Liberation.
We arrived on time in Poole at 19:30 hrs; total crossing time 3hrs. After unpicking the tin of sardines that was in the ships hold, this taking another hour, it was time to hit the long road home. The truck performed faultlessly all the way home and after dropping Geoff off in Denby Dale, and Malcom in Wakefield, myself and the truck made it home just in time for sunrise. I would just like to say big thank you to the GMVT members who put so much effort into making the 2015 tour such a big success.