Friday, June 19, 2009

How to Read the Blog and see Photos

To read the regular blog stories of the trip scroll down. They start from the BOTTOM and each new one goes on TOP of the previous post.

They are collected together by month. Only the latest month comes up. To read previous months go to Archives or History list to right of page (you may have to scroll down) then click on the month you want.

All photos can be brought up full size simply by clicking on them.

The Istanbul to Normandy story is the current page but you can get the Fiat 500 Trip story just by clicking on the archives for 2007 as above.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Istanbul - Normandy Final

End of another trip


Chev Cab

Bertie's adoption paper

We can now look back and feel very pleased with what was a highly successful expedition. Everywhere in every country, the vehicles were received with enthusiasm by the general public. Those with knowledge of these old vehicles were astonished by the audacity of the concept to attempt to get such a large group such a long distance.

All the crews contributed to this success by retaining their focus for 6 weeks. As they became more comfortable with travel in strange lands – on the wrong side of the road – their enjoyment also increased. Right to the end everyone was still socialising every night and setting out each day with enthusiasm.

Once again we had our faithful companions along on the trip, Penelope ( the Garmin GPS ) proving her worth as the marriage saver. Sitting on the ledge behind my head was Bertie the Brooklands Bear, our adopted mascot. Bertie, dressed in a Sidcot flying suit made by Gieves and Hawkes, was presented to Lang by Prince Michael of Kent just prior to the Vimy flight. He has since accompanied Lang on the Avian flight, was in the Itala during the Peking to Paris expedition, travelled around the world in the Fiat 500 and is now safe at home again.

In conclusion we would like to thank our friends who generously provided some very unique hospitality that no tourist operation could possibly emulate. From the brass band parade followed by some wonderful Italian fare we thank Sandro and Wilmy Scarpa and the Fiat 500 Club. For the night at their 17th century farmhouse with tables groaning with homemade fare and a cake decorated with an Australian flag, along with an impressive private collection of military vehicles, thanks to Marjorie and Peter Tombs. As a fabulous finale to our week in Normandy the D-Day dinner party at a real French Chateau with fine food and wine thanks to Anna and Franck Bailleul.

There were many others along the way who made our trip unforgettable – Jerome Stevens and the boys at the French Military Vehicle Club, the enthusiastic crew in Scarperia from the Italian Military Vehicle Club, Derek Skoda for help with shipping, Colin Smith and the MVT. There were also numerous people who extended friendship and help to members of the crews right across Europe – thank you all.

We were all proud to have reminded people of Australian and New Zealand historical achievements and commemorate the sacrifices our forefathers made by walking the ground where they endured, suffered and died.

Bev and Lang

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

France and Belgium

The Cloth Hall Ieper/Ypres

View from the tower at Villers-Brettoneux

Australian National Memorial Villers-Bretonneux

Le Hamel memorial with old trenches

Field of poppies Flanders

Amiens Cathedral

Our final week of the trip was spent in the area of the Western Front of France and Belgium. This is where so many futile massacres took place during WW1, and where the breaking of the German offensive of 1918 allowed the advances by the allies that led to the armistice 90 years ago on November 11 that same year.

Driving through this area there are so very many beautifully maintained cemeteries mostly established where the men fought and died. It is so emotionally charged, wandering through the headstones seeing the average age of these men in their early 20's and so many with just a headstone stating "An Unknown Soldier" or " An Australian Soldier of the Great War"

On Tuesday we went into Amiens and saw the huge cathederal in the centre of town containing many dedications to the soldiers who fought in the area. We then visited the town of Villers Bretonneux where not only is there a reference to Australia on every street corner but it also has a dedicated Australian National Memorial where there are names of 11,000 Australians who have no grave. On the outskirts of the town is the Adelaide cemetery where the Unknown Soldier's remains were exhumed in 1993 and taken to the War Memorial in Canberra, as a lasting memorial to all unknown soldiers in all wars. We also visited the French Australian museum in the town.

We camped overnight at the village of Le Hamel on the Somme River and saw the new Australian memorial that has recently been established that depicts Monash's very clever assault and recapture of the ridge line. The memorial is on a hill behind the village in amongst the local farm fields and obviously a very stategic position during such a battle. This was also the first battle in which a small number (1,000) of newly arrived American troops were put in with the battle-hardened Australians to gain experience. Several small items such as buttons and bullets were found in the remains of the trenches still scarring the wheat field beside the memorial.

An interesting feature of this memorial is it is from near this spot that Sgt Popkin and another Australian gunner shot down Manfred von Richtoffen (the Red Baron) with their machine guns (despite the unfounded but propaganda driven official story that Canadian pilot Capt Brown was responsible).

On the following and our final day with the group Lang and I visited Arras. Just north of the town is the stunning Canadian Memorial at Vimy Ridge, very stark but unbelievably impressive. The Canadians lost 10,000 men on one day taking this point and the names of 60,000 Canadians lost are recorded (about the same number of wartime losses as the Australians). From there we went across the Belgium border and attended the playing of The Last Post which is performed every night at 8pm at the Menin Gate at the entrance of Ieper/Ypres through which marched thousands of men to the slaughter of the salient. The spectacular stone city gate has the names of 54,000 men, mainly from the British Empire, who died in the immediate area but have no known grave.

Those of us who still had the energy left, attended a last get together with a strange but tasty menu, the pooled remains of our food – and wine - supplies. Even though it had been raining heavily and quite cold during the day, the camp site had a large weatherproof tent. We even managed to have a funny hat competition.

For us this is the wrap-up of a very successful trip. The majority of the group headed to Antwerp to pack their vehicles into containers for the trip back home. The coordination of the containers is not as critical for the trip back, so it was not essential that they all got away together. The Studebaker was sold in Europe and others in the the group are continuing to travel for a longer period. At the last minute we have some interest expressed in the Chev have chosen to wait a few days to see if anything develops.

We have had the dynamics of approx 30 people (numbers have varied between 28 and 33) travelling in 15 vehicles (1 motorbike, 5 jeeps, 3 large trucks and 6 medium size vehicles). Each day I posted the next night's campsite and it was free travel for the day. Some of the team formed themselves into smaller groups of two or three and stayed together during the day, while others were happy to be independent and use the day to do and see what was of particular interest to themselves.

Having been over much of the route before made things easier for us in planning, if not in execution. A mob of fifteen 70-year-old vehicles made it unwise to rigidly plan every nightly stop and we also wanted to retain the flexibility to stop at places of interest or by popular request. Things went very smoothly most of the time but we spent at least an hour each day and several hours on a number of days, trying to secure a suitable stop for the night, reorganise ferry bookings etc. Every camp site we went to was well above the average Australian caravan park standard.

The participants, as planned, knew little of the day to day administration required for the trip and many continue to assume that it all "just happened". Our $1,000 telephone bill is a reminder to us of the constant work required on trips like these.

Because of the the common interest in military vehicles the tour was designed around quite a few of the significant battle fields in Europe of both WW1 and WW2. In between though, there was plenty of opportunity to go sightseeing, and we stayed over in quite a few large, diverse and very colourful cities, such as Istanbul, Athens, Turin, and Paris.

Even though the battlefields have been maintained as memorials to many incredibly bloody and futile experiences I believe they serve as important reminders to future generations, so that these brave men, regardless of nationality, and what they endured will never be forgotten.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Villagers from Baron

The Bailleul chateau feast.

Raining parachutes St Mere Eglise

American parachutist incident recreation St Mere Eglise

Lang and Bill in French resistance outfits

Fireworks Port en Bessin 05 June

Lang film interview Point du Hoc

The team Bailleul chateau

Beach celebration Arromanches 6 June

We organised with the English MVT (Military Vehicle Trust) to stay at their campsite at Etreham during our week long stay in Normandy. This camp ground is in an ideal situation just out of Bayeux and close to all the coastal towns that were involved in the D day landings.

On the first night several of us began the week with a little culture and attended a symphony recital at Bayeux Cathederal featuring Mozart's Requiem, as well as music from Brahms and Haydn with a beautiful 53 strong choir.

Our second day was spent driving around the pretty harbour of Port en Bessin and other local areas, introducing Rhonda, Lang's sister, to a very different experience from her touring around France in her little Fiat Panda for the last nine months..

The whole coast line is dotted with camp sites of all different nationalities and their vehicles. There are around 3,000 military vehicles in the area for the D Day celebrations. Every five years they have an extra big celebration and this year will probably see the last time there are so many veterans still able to attend.

On Wednesday the MVT arranged for a convoy to go to the village of Baron-sur-Odon near Caen. The Mayor of the village welcomed us with a reception at the local "Marie" and from there we transported the people from the village to a tank memorial where a wreath laying ceremony was held. Lang had taken the canopy off the back of the Chev and when we went back to the vehicles after the reception we had a load full of locals already to go. We had brought four other Aussies with us from the camp so had to do a quick run around to make sure they could ride in another vehicle.

On Thursday we started out to visit some of the other camp sites but came to a halt a few kilometres from camp. The starter motor on the Chev had ceased to work. Lang managed, with Rhonda's help, to push the Chev up and over a hill and I was able to do a clutch start. We then drove to some camp sites to see if anyone was carrying or selling spares. Lang decided then to abandon us women and went off on his own to find a hill and attempt to rebuilt the starter, unfortunately to no avail.

After returning to camp some of the English vehicle owners had just returned from a swap meet and had seen a brand new starter at one of the stalls. Two of them took Lang in their Jeep and were able to locate the prize and following a quick fit we were back on the road.

Rhonda and I did not waste the day and headed into town to see the world famous Bayeux Tapesty which is a 70 m long tapesty a thousand years old and tells the story of the Norman invasion of 1066. It is in amazing condition and the colours and condition of the linen are remarkable.

Mobile again on Friday we drove to look at Pointe du Hoc where the American Rangers landed and were faced with high rugged cliffs. The surrounding area is still pock marked with huge bomb craters and has been left as a memorial to an incredible feat. We then went to Isigny sur Mer near where the French are camped and we had lunch with Herman Pfauter and his cousin Mark as this was our last chance to see them before we go our separate ways. We then went on to Ste Mere Eglise which is famous for the parachute drop on D Day and the parachutist who was trapped, when his chute was caught on the steeple of the church. There is a model of the soldier with his chute on top of the church which is in the town square. Here we were able to catch up once again with the Tomb's family who had two of their vehicles on display in the square albeit unofficially and were being hounded to move by a very patient but persistent gendarme.

On Friday night at 11pm - since it is still light until 10.30pm - there was a fireworks display at 25 different locations along the coast line. Most of us went down to Port en Bessin and because of the very high cliffs and a break-water that juts out from the town we had a great view of about 12 sites up and down the coast as well as in the small harbour of the spectacular coordinated show that ran for 20 minutes.

Saturday saw the D Day celebrations, and quite a number from the camp were on the beach for a small dawn service. The majority elected to leave camp at 10am and we assembled waiting for the tide to fall and were able to drive in a 200 vehicle convoy along the beach from Asnelles to Arromanches where later in the afternoon there was a big ceremony for the British Veterans that Prince Charles attended. Initially the British generally and the royal family had been snubbed by the French but with a lot of bureaucratic manipulating and high outrage in the British press there was an appropriate representation.

The atmosphere in the town and on the beach was amazing, it was almost impossible to walk through the town because of the crush of veterans, serving personel, locals, vehicle owners and bands marching. The British decided to go for a Guiness book of records to break the standing record of 49 WW2 bikes in the one place and did it easily with 145 bikes driving down on the beach.

Our Australian group left the beach and headed to the garden party we had been invited to at Anna and Franck Bailleul's Chateau near Villers Bocage. We also had organised on our way there to lay a wreath at the Typhoon Memorial at Noyers Bocage. This being the only recognised memorial in the Normandy area that has an Australian representation. About 2000 Australian airmen were part of the assault on D Day.

Our luck with the weather ran out but the rain did stop to allow our little ceremony to take place. We were a bit of a rag tag group as Anna and Frank's invitation had said dress was Allied, Resistance Chic, and most of us had already changed either in the back of trucks or the local bar's toilet area.

Down the road at the Chateau though the rain caused everything to have to be moved in doors. The tables had been laid for 100 people along the long front driveway and after they had been completely soaked during the afternoon everything was dried and when we arrived it had been rearranged and looking beautiful in two of the down stairs rooms. Even though it was a little crowded it certainly allowed people a better chance to mix.

A fabulous dinner was served, with nibbles to begin with then salads and cold meats including a pheasant terrine, with stuffed pheasants as decoration. This was followed by platters of cheese then beautiful little petit four desserts and coffee. It was a very generous offer of the Bailleuls to invite our group so we could all have a wonderful finale to not only a very significant day but also an incredible week. Anna also related the story of owner of the Chateau who was taken prisoner on D Day 65 year ago and the Germans took over the building and he was shot on the the same day.

A nice touch to our arrival even in the rain was the Bailleul boys dressed in military uniforms very formally directing all our vehicles to their allotted parking in the grounds of the Chateau.

On Sunday, our final day in Normandy, we went to St Mere Eglise to see the parachute drop reenacted by American, British, German and French paratroops. Again the weather was bad but after a delay of an hour we saw wave after wave of parachutists dropping with old fashioned round chutes from C130 aircraft. It was worth the long walk and getting drenched, along with the jostling with thousands of spectators. The wind was extremely strong and there were a number of soldiers injured upon landing.

Now Normandy has finished and we are on the last few days of our trip to northern France and the prospect of organising for the trip home.

For the last week we have had a two-man film crew with us on the trip. They were able to get some funding from the History channel so they hope to make a documentary of our trip combined with historic footage.

Thursday, June 4, 2009



Masterpiece by Marjorie Tombs

The "Jerrycan of Friendship" French Military Vehicle Club

Lang rides Jerome's R12 BMW outfit Paris

Sacre Coeur Paris

Line-up Mont St Michel

The Tomb's Farm Normandy

French National Memorial Verdun

Some of the remains of 130,000 unknown soldiers Verdun


Our first stop in France was in Mulhouse where Lang and a few of the group went and enjoyed visiting the Museum that houses the famous Schlumpf Collection and also the National Railways Museum with it's superb collection of locomotives and carriages. Another group enjoyed cooling off in the campsite pool as it was the hottest day we have had on the trip.

On Monday we arrived in Verdun after a very scenic drive and enjoyed the lush French countryside. We stopped along the way in the lovely little village of Domremy to have lunch and inspect Joan of Arc's house and the nearby cathedral.

Verdun has the dubious reputation as being the byword for war time slaughter. During the last two years of WW1, over 800,000 soldiers – some 400,000 French and almost as many Germans, along with thousands of the Americans who arrived in 1918, lost their lives. In the town and the surrounding areas there are very moving memorials and museums to their memories. Five villages that were completely wiped out in the area and still show the original bomb craters , with just small signs marking where different families lived and, even though today there are trees and grass, it still has an incredible inpact.

The Douaumont Ossuary, at 137m long is extremely impressive and one of France's most important WW1 memorials. It contains the rermains of about 130,000 unidentified French and German soldiers from the battlefields collected after the war.

After 2 nights in Verdun we arrived at our campsite in the middle of Paris and again had a two night stopover. The crews were very apprehensive about the drive through Paris but the various GPS navigation units got everyone in to our camp on the Seine in the Bois de Boulogne without too much tension. The first night Lang and I went to the old bohemian area of Montmarte to capture the romance we had experienced there 40 years previously. Unfortunately we came away disappointed as commercalism and tourism has completely taken over. Lang commented that the best description of the place was "tawdry".

The next day we were invited by the French Military group to go and view their collection. Many vehicle owners in Paris use a marvellous old army facility near Versailles and just half an hour outside the city where they are able to not only store their vehicle but work on them doing their restorations or maintenance. On Thursday Henry de Willy came to our campsite and led a number of vehicles packed with our group down to view their collection and then Jerome Stevens who we had been liasing with, arrived to show us his fantastic collection of vehicles as well as putting on an impromptu and very scrumptious lunch. Many of their members were preparing their vehicles for the trip to the D day celebrations in Normandy.

In the afternoon we caught up with Rhonda, Lang's sister ,who has been holidaying in France for the last nine months. Then in the evening we were invited out to Anna and Franck Bailleul's for a delicious dinner just a stone's throw from the Eiffel Tower. We met Anna and Franck five years ago when we were in France for the 60th D Day Anniversary, and this year Anna and Franck have invited all our group to a D Day garden party on the night of the 6th June at their chateau in Normandy, so we are all looking forward to that later in the week.

From Paris we changed our original itinerary as everyone likes the two night stops in the one venue, and we headed straight for Mont Saint Michel. Along the way we encountered a vast traffic jam. It turned out the French farmers were protesting the low price of milk so had barricaded several towns with their fleet of tractors. We managed to go around the blockades by travelling on scenic back lanes.

The first sighting of Mont St Michel is very impressive. The spire of the cathedral extending from the walled town perched on a rock, surrounded by sea is one of the great sights of France.

We managed to get the vehicles on to the causeway very early in the morning for a photo before the buses and cars started to arrive. This also enabled us to climb the steep narrow laneways past all the cafes and souvenir shops, and look through the abbey before the tide of people descended. The tourists reminded Lang of the annual migration of the Wildebeest on the Serengeti Plains with the lions (the store owners) waiting paitently for their next feed.

On Sunday Lang and I headed the 60kms to our friend's, Marjorie and Peter Tombs, place where they very generously had invited the whole group to stay for the night. We first met Marjorie and Peter when we were in the UK 20 years ago for the 45th D Day Anniversary, and they have been involved in some of our various projects over the years.

Peter has an amazing collection of vehicles and a year ago made the move from the UK to their French 16th century farm house. Peter managed to finish his large barn where he can display all his vehicles in time for our arrival. By late afternoon everyone had arrived and we had the best BBQ meal with lots of wonderful homemade fare, a real treat from the very basic meals we have been cooking on our one and two burner stoves. We had a great jam session to finish the evening with our two resident musicians (Sam on Sax and Dale on guitar) as well as Chris the next door neighbour on the electric guitar.We thank the Tomb's very much for their friendship and generosity.

We had an early start the next morning and one of the few times we have driven in convoy we did the 60 kms to our camp site for the next week at Etreham in Normandy. Entering the village with all vehicles driving in an impressive tight convoy was quite special for Lang and me as we felt we had again accomplished what we had set out to do, and that was to bring 15 vehicles from Australia via Istanbul to Normandy.