Armchair Historians

Operation Bluecoat and Men in the Shed, Billy Leblond and Colin Foster

June 16, 2021 Billy Leblond, Colin Foster
Armchair Historians
Operation Bluecoat and Men in the Shed, Billy Leblond and Colin Foster
Chapters
Armchair Historians
Operation Bluecoat and Men in the Shed, Billy Leblond and Colin Foster
Jun 16, 2021
Billy Leblond, Colin Foster

In this episode Anne Marie talks  to La Percée du Bocage museum president, Billy Leblond and Men in the Shed Blogger, Colin Foster about Operation Bluecoat and the story behind Men in the Shed.

Men in the Shed tells the story of 18 Allied POWs who literally left their mark on the wall of a wooden shed owned by a French baker in Normandy. The shed (commandeered by the German military) became a temporary jail  for Allied POW's during the fighting following the D Day landings in 1944.

"Operation Bluecoat was a British offensive in the Battle of Normandy, from 30 July until 7 August 1944, during the Second World War. The geographical objectives of the attack, undertaken by the VIII Corps and XXX Corps of the British Second Army (Lieutenant-General Miles Dempsey), were to secure the road junction of Vire and the high ground of Mont Pinçon.

"The attack was made at short notice to exploit the success of Operation Cobra by the First US Army after it broke out on the western flank of the Normandy beachhead and to exploit the withdrawal of the 2nd Panzer Division from the Caumont area, to take part in Unternehmen Lüttich (Operation Liège) a German counter-offensive against the Americans."     — Wikipedia

Colin Foster has been interested in the Second World War from an early age. According to Colin, " being born in 1959 meant that he grew up in an age where good quality war movies were regularly made!"

He is a regular visitor to Normandy since 2002 when he started researching the Normandy campaign as the result of his friend stubmling upon the names, ranks, serial numbers and dates of capture of 18 Allied soldiers, written on one of the inside walls of his shed. The old wooden shed, which once served as a grainstore, sits behind what used to be the village bakery in the small Normandy village of St Vigor des Mézerets.  purchased the bakery (by now converted to a house) in 2000. His research to date is recorded on his website Men in the Shed.

Billy Leblond has a passion for the History of his paternal grandfather and father with whom he has visited many historical places.
His interset for WWII came in college and developed in Lycée.
His internships focused on  WW2 museums of Normandy and included Dead Man Corner,  Caen Memorial and Grand Bunker Ouistreham.

For the past 5 years Billy has  been  involved  in the  La Percée du Bocage Museum, of which he now serves as president of the museum's board, following Mark Kentell last year. Jean Ménard, the founder of the museum, helped and guided him throughout the years he has been involved. According to Billy Jean Ménard has been instrumental in helping him to understand "the perception of the human aspect of the battles and of the history of veteran to whom we owe so much."


Jean Ménard : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rE_fgzNCpZ0
Museum: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IONeDC5p7d4

La Percée Du Bocage Museum:  https://www.laperceedubocage.fr
Men in the Shed: https://menintheshed.com

Operation Bluecoat Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Bluecoat

To Support Armchair Historians:
Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/armchairhistorians
Ko-fi: https://ko-fi.com/belgiumrabbitproductions


Show Notes Transcript

In this episode Anne Marie talks  to La Percée du Bocage museum president, Billy Leblond and Men in the Shed Blogger, Colin Foster about Operation Bluecoat and the story behind Men in the Shed.

Men in the Shed tells the story of 18 Allied POWs who literally left their mark on the wall of a wooden shed owned by a French baker in Normandy. The shed (commandeered by the German military) became a temporary jail  for Allied POW's during the fighting following the D Day landings in 1944.

"Operation Bluecoat was a British offensive in the Battle of Normandy, from 30 July until 7 August 1944, during the Second World War. The geographical objectives of the attack, undertaken by the VIII Corps and XXX Corps of the British Second Army (Lieutenant-General Miles Dempsey), were to secure the road junction of Vire and the high ground of Mont Pinçon.

"The attack was made at short notice to exploit the success of Operation Cobra by the First US Army after it broke out on the western flank of the Normandy beachhead and to exploit the withdrawal of the 2nd Panzer Division from the Caumont area, to take part in Unternehmen Lüttich (Operation Liège) a German counter-offensive against the Americans."     — Wikipedia

Colin Foster has been interested in the Second World War from an early age. According to Colin, " being born in 1959 meant that he grew up in an age where good quality war movies were regularly made!"

He is a regular visitor to Normandy since 2002 when he started researching the Normandy campaign as the result of his friend stubmling upon the names, ranks, serial numbers and dates of capture of 18 Allied soldiers, written on one of the inside walls of his shed. The old wooden shed, which once served as a grainstore, sits behind what used to be the village bakery in the small Normandy village of St Vigor des Mézerets.  purchased the bakery (by now converted to a house) in 2000. His research to date is recorded on his website Men in the Shed.

Billy Leblond has a passion for the History of his paternal grandfather and father with whom he has visited many historical places.
His interset for WWII came in college and developed in Lycée.
His internships focused on  WW2 museums of Normandy and included Dead Man Corner,  Caen Memorial and Grand Bunker Ouistreham.

For the past 5 years Billy has  been  involved  in the  La Percée du Bocage Museum, of which he now serves as president of the museum's board, following Mark Kentell last year. Jean Ménard, the founder of the museum, helped and guided him throughout the years he has been involved. According to Billy Jean Ménard has been instrumental in helping him to understand "the perception of the human aspect of the battles and of the history of veteran to whom we owe so much."


Jean Ménard : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rE_fgzNCpZ0
Museum: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IONeDC5p7d4

La Percée Du Bocage Museum:  https://www.laperceedubocage.fr
Men in the Shed: https://menintheshed.com

Operation Bluecoat Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Bluecoat

To Support Armchair Historians:
Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/armchairhistorians
Ko-fi: https://ko-fi.com/belgiumrabbitproductions


Anne Marie Cannon:

Hello, my name is Anne Marie Cannon and I'm the host of armchair historians. What's your favorite history? Each episode begins with this one question. Our guests come from all walks of life, YouTube celebrities, comedians, historians, even neighbors from the small mountain community that I live in. There are people who love history and get really excited about a particular time, place, or person from our distance or not so distant past. The jumping off point is the place where they became curious that entered the rabbit hole into discovery, fueled by an unrelenting need to know more, we look at history through the filter of other people's eyes. armchair historians is a Belgian rabbit production. Stay up to date with us through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Wherever you listen to your podcast that is where you'll find us. I'm chair historians as an independent, commercial free podcast. In this episode, I talked to let Paul say do Buckeyes museum president Billy Loveland and men in the shed blogger Collin Foster, we talk about Operation bluecoat, one of the most pivotal yet little known offensives of world war two following the Normandy invasion. We also talk about Collin Foster's project men in the shed. Caitlyn has been a regular visitor to Normandy since 2002, when he started researching the Normandy campaign, as a result of his friend stumbling upon the names rank, serial numbers and date of capture of 18 allied POW soldiers written on the inside wall of his shed. This was born Colin Foster's blog, men in the shed for the past five years, Billy leblond, has been involved in preserving the history of operation Blue Coat, and currently serves as the president of the board of directors of lepel say dubeau College museum PS, I'm probably pronouncing that completely wrong. Billy gives credit to museum founder Jean Menard for helping him to understand the human aspect of the battles and people impacted by the war in Normandy. Billy leblond and Collin foster Welcome and thank you for being here today. No problem.

Colin Foster:

We're going to just get right off into this history that I know very little about. So we're going to ask you, Collin, what is your favorite history that we're going to be talking about today? It's the Second World War, the fighting in Normandy, particularly a relatively unknown operation called Operation bluecoat. And some of the peripheral things that I fell across because of a friend living in Normandy, which ties very neatly back to the operation and also to the museum where we're Billy's president.

Billy Leblond:

Billy, you reached out to me and you wanted you were excited about sharing this history with us on armchair historians. Tell us a little bit about your museum and your passion for this story. So since next last year, I'm a president of the museum. I'm there at noon to five to go on to the museum. It's a small museum in Normandy, little leske knows that there was earth but that is really unique because he'd speak about what happened to the men during Operation bluecoat Medical Center operation we speak about what happened to each of them even if they die on touch one of the most important to remember is the dead on so what started the museum because at first Amina when he created it was looking for the people was liberated the city but also what happened was with people who have done around the city with some school cam right, he keeps a graver forward on he gets all the name of the game update or run several times a day small book on when you become much older, you have tried to find a variant on your game to oversee on meds and I'm sure Sam's book on some one of them was really emotional and basing the name of his camera was was killed when he was wanted. On it starting zap sramana did a temporary exposition on after a museum where he explains the story of the man who followed during Operation bluecoat.

Anne Marie Cannon:

And what's the name of the museum again,

Billy Leblond:

so the name of the museum is collapsing ecocar so the Prakash ukash breakout

Colin Foster:

in picking up on a couple of things that Billy mentioned their own like some of the museums in Normandy, which have Every March all about, you know, they've got tanks outside, and they're very much focused on the fighting, as in just focus on the fighting. Sure. The thing that I really like about the museum some that time is, yes, it's about the fighting, obviously, because without the fighting, one could argue there's no be no reason to have a museum board, in addition to information about the fighting, and some of the units that fought there, there is an awful lot of information about the impact that the fighting had on the general population of the area, and also the impact that it had on the soldiers themselves as they were fighting through the area. So it's very much the story of people, rather than simply the story of tanks, if that makes sense. Yeah,

Anne Marie Cannon:

yeah. Yeah, that's great. Brilliant. So tell us, you know, set it up the operation bluecoat. Who were these men? What was their mission? And how did that play out? And as you said, How did it impact the people?

Colin Foster:

Basically, the Allies had come ashore on sixth of June, and then got into a slugging match with the Germans. And for several weeks, there didn't seem to be a great deal of movement, the Allies were slowly pushing for that a couple of operations where they would push forward, the German thing counter attacked. And on the eastern side of the left hand side, the obvious, which was the British and the Canadians, which sort of was from effectively Bayer across to call the majority of the German armored divisions that were in Normandy, were being attracted there. And the reason why they were attracted there is beyond Khan. And Falaise is basically open countryside or relatively open countryside. And so the Germans view was they needed to stop any breakout from there because it went into good what was called good tank country. And that would then give the breakout to Paris, and further through. So the Germans were very much intent on stopping the British breaking out. on the American side, there was still obviously fighting very hard, but initially, the Americans were interested in in capturing the port of Cherbourg. So they could start trying ferry supplies instead of everything coming over the beaches. But then, that then needed to take some low, which took a lot of fighting a lot of casualties, but eventually got some low. And then the idea was that the Americans would punch with a REIT Hawk, and the British would still be in place, holding the Germans on their front.

Anne Marie Cannon:

How did you do that? That's amazing. Magic. At it is magic. Thank you. I didn't even know I could do that.

Colin Foster:

Okay, so looking at the map, on the right hand side, we've got where the British and most of the German armor is around Khan and that area. And on the left hand side, we've got where the Americans trying to push through. The problem was overt, there's a very large, I'm not gonna call it a mountain. It's a very large hill called mom Council. And Billy will correct me on the spelling of that, where the Germans were, was behind the German lines, and they could actually look across to the American lines and arrange for bombardments artillery bombardments, and as the Americans broke through, they felt that they had an exposed left flank and so needed some support some help with that the British started an operation very, very short notice called Operation bluecoat, which was to come down on the the left flank of the Americans to to effectively sort of keep the Germans away from the Americans and its main objective was to take mom pencil, however, that in some respects went wrong. Because the fighting to take mom pencil was through very, very dense countryside. So narrow lanes, sunken lanes with bigger banks and trees and bushes growing out of them, so ideal defensive country. However, the As the British on on their right flank, they actually found a way through a forest and through between two German armies, and they're always sort of points of weakness because the one side thinks that their colleagues are looking after maybe a road and the other, the other army thinks that they are looking after the road. And as it turned out, there's this bridge over the river solera. But nobody was watching. And the British got their radio, the reconnaissance us got their radio back, the general in charge of 11th armored division that was sort of spearheading this Porsche, recognize the opportunity, pushed his troops down there, and basically forced a gap between two German, German armies, or army groups. And that then expanded and, and, and flooded through the first village or first village town, however, want to describe that was actually liberated as part of that process of the first large one was some art in the process, which is why the museum is is based there. This operation, eventually, mon pensamos, was also taken, and it became quite a really effective operation. And the reason why, in some ways, it's not very well known, is in his memoirs, after the war, Thurgood Marshall Montgomery hardly mentions it, he sort of gives it two or three lines. And then he goes off talking about something else. Because it it Montgomery was was very much a general who liked to properly plan. He's operations. And this blue coat just took a life of its own.

Anne Marie Cannon:

That's interesting. And so it does seem to be one of those pivotal moments in the war, from what you said, and one of the lucky breaks of which there were many. Yeah, I think throughout the war, I mean, it's especially at the end, it seems like so that's really interesting. And yet, how pivotal, let me ask you this, how pivotal Do you think that moment was,

Colin Foster:

it broke through the German lines, it threatened them may one of them may East West supply routes, because sort of just after the operation operation blue cut shot on the 13th of July 1944. On I think it was the seventh of August, the Germans in response to what Hitler asked, mounted a counter attack at the American breakthrough. And their idea was to get through to the sea at my brain says avarage, but I think he was avarage wasn't it, Billy, where the Germans are trying to break through. But they were they were stopped by the Americans were part of the the challenge that they had was they were sending these armored divisions towards the sea. But then they've got the British coming down on their flank. So they've got to divert some of their armor, instead of it going to punch a hole through the Americans and cut off Patton and his third army, who by this point had gone a gun past that the point they're aiming for. They've certainly got the last two armored divisions who are trying to stop the British in the form of 11th Armored Division in form of guards, Armoured Division, third Infantry Division 15th Scottish division, seventh Armored Division. So this whole British and the Germans sort of go, oh, heck there can be there. We've got to stop them, which also then reduced the forces they could send against the Americans. So in in some, and that then started that was the beginnings of what became known as the Falaise pocket, because the Germans have pushed so far in pattern and his third army swung around and it then formed a pocket that then ended up sort of to all intents purposes destroying the German army Normandy

Anne Marie Cannon:

Wow. I didn't know that that's

Colin Foster:

a great really is a pivotal operation. And and it's it's general Roberts paper Roberts, who was the the office commanding 11 farmer division. It was the third big operation they've been involved in and he said in his his autobiography, it took us three operations to get things right actually working, because they came in end of June brings about and their first couple of battles that were involved in. He he was overruled as to how they could operate and They were sort of following sort of standard doctrine at the time. And it was only after the second operation operation Goodwood, that they went, Hang on a moment, we're going into areas, which are really, we need to separate. Rather than having the infantry in the tanks as two separate units, we need to mix them all up. And effectively using the way the German tactics worked, using those against them. And so outside the operation was it was a success. So that's Operation bluecoat, which you want the museum focuses on. And so you can

Anne Marie Cannon:

just ask you, Billy, is there anything else that you want to add to that?

Billy Leblond:

No coding? I've done a pretty good description of some Python here.

Anne Marie Cannon:

Yeah, he did. I think I even understand it a little bit.

Colin Foster:

The map that Billy was sharing that a project that the Canadians have started? Well, I think again, it's all volunteers, isn't it, Billy? And what it does is, it takes it started with just looking at Canadian units. And it now looks at many more units. And it shows day by day, how the units move during the the Battle of Normandy. It's a brilliant resource. What's the name of the website? On Cz project? 40 four.ca?

Billy Leblond:

Has that it? You have ozone 12 is a word here. So as you know, once I've done each day,

Anne Marie Cannon:

that is a That's nice. So I'll link out to that in the Episode Notes. That sounds like an amazing resource. Yeah,

Colin Foster:

it really is. Because you can actually see how you need to move in. Because what they've done is they've looked at the the war diaries of each of the units. So each unit is called the war diary, which recorded in simple terms, what the day was, where they were and what they did. In some cases, it's just nothing to report, nothing to report. And then you'll have three pages covering just one battle, for example. So it's great, because it's actually followed in some of them have got grid references. So they've worked out the grid references, because part of the issue you have nowadays is the grid references that you used on French maps now are a different numbering system to what they were on the maps that were used, or that were created during the war. What's really frustrating is that the French is what were called the French Siri blur, like one to 25,000 maps, they used to have the old numbering system on as well. So you so a lot of my maps have got pencil lines across because I've drawn the old grids up on the very latest versions that don't seem to have those on, which is really annoying.

Anne Marie Cannon:

Interesting. What I'm really interested in now is what you were alluded to Colin is the people and how this affected them. Who were these men? Who were the civilians that were impacted by this operation?

Colin Foster:

The simple answer is everyone who was living in the area because how the British Army liberated France was basically by blowing it up. All of the advances were supported by either aerial bombardment. So bombers coming over fighter bombers, dropping bombs, firing rockets, firing cannon shells, and then artillery shells and, and all that. So basically, if you lived in the way of, of the British Army or the American army, then then and you were a civilian, then you you were likely to suffer in one way or another. And of course, they This is the first time that certainly the French normally had suffered in this way, because there was no fight or very little fighting, I think, during the early part of or 1940 because the French government at the time, sort of came to a surrenders an armistice, before the whole country was was involved in fighting. And, and so and so it was more of a I won't say peaceful occupation, but it was a an occupation rather than a fought for or fought over land. It was the Germans came in and unoccupied. So we the British community, and you know, certainly there was great concern on behalf of the British and the Americans as to French casualties. And I think it was De Gaulle, who was leader of the Free French forces and of course became president of France who I think said, forgive me for the accuracy of the numbers, Brutus, something like the other could be between 10 or 20,000 French people killed as a result of the fighting. And the goal, like you said, 20,000 French people killed for the liberation of our countries a very small price to play. Now, if you were on the receiving end of that, you may have different views, of course, but I think that was that was the gist, you know, he knew there would there, the Germans wouldn't just walk away and leave it, there would be a lot of fighting. But he recognized that, because of that there was going to be some civilian casualties. And although it was attempted to minimize those, the Allies would drop leaflets, telling people that the town was going to be, you know, was in the way of an advance, and therefore they needed to think about moving or whatever. And in some cases, the Germans actually move them away from the front line, they literally move, because their perception was that the French would be on the Allied side, that they would actually clear them sort of two, three kilometers away from the front line. So they knew there wouldn't be anyone spying on them. Unable to to get information back maybe to the allies. So there's a lot of dislocation in terms of physically being moved out of your houses. There was and I think that happened to john Menard, didn't it? If memory serves? It was there was lots of dislocation in that, you know, when they could come back, maybe the house was destroyed, either completely or just or partially. In fact, I remember a veteran that that I knew he sadly passed away, mira Finley, you'll be well beware of Billy because he was he was one of the Scots guardsmen, who was on one of his return visits to to France during the one battle. They thought the Germans were in the, in this one house. So they actually fired shells from their, from their tank at this, this house and sort of basically got rid of the germs. And he went back on one of his visits, they found the house because he got it got a photograph. And you went and the family that were there. I think it was a younger generation rules, the same family living there. Oh, wow. And he apologize for the damage that he had done. For the house, and they just went, that's not a problem.

Anne Marie Cannon:

Thank you. Wait, wait, we're now here free. You don't worry about that can be repaired. That gave me the chills. My mother, you know, like I said about my mom. She was born in Belgium. Her family was just 25 years earlier executed by the Germans in World War One. They called it the rape of Belgium. And so when the Germans were coming through again, my mother's eight years old, they're freaking out. And so they flee. They end up in France, they end up in a town called La Rossa, y'all, and ended up being a military base for the Germans. And so it's interesting hearing this other side of the war, from my perspective, hearing mom's side who, sadly, she passed away in 2017. I'm working on a documentary, it's called the last train leaving Belgium. It's really about her experience as a child in World War Two, and fleeing Belgium. And then they end up going south. And they end up in column Dally a and then of course, they end up being occupied by the Germans. Anyways, you know, these stories that she would tell me, I don't think people realize kind of the gray areas of war. And having my mother's stories like at one point, the the Germans were retreating, the Allies were coming in. And it was a very tense moment for the town that she was in. I love getting the bigger picture of what was going on. And this is one really good example about what effort was put in declaring out the Germans

Colin Foster:

you hate Tom, a really good point there that in more, more modern times, and especially if you're not, if you don't study, the history to adapt, there is the a gross oversimplification that tends to be made that the Germans were all Nazis and bad guys. And the Brits and the Americans were all the good guys. And the Brits, and the Americans never did anything dodgy, and all the Germans were atrocious. And that's just simply not the case. There were really good guys on both sides. And there were really dodgy things that happened on both sighs but of course, it's the victors they get to write the history books. I remember many years ago, because I also do tabletop Wargaming. So we play with a little model tanks and that, and I've just been reading a book about the Canadians. And it was at a Wargaming Show. And there were some, there was a there was, I was stood in a queue. And these guys dressed as Germans walk past this person in the queue. So the when they shouldn't be allowed here, you know, sort of marching around like that, you know, it just totally wrong. Totally wrong. And I said, Well, to be fair, I said, if the word people if the word ban, then you know, it takes two to tango, you have to have both sides in. Yes, but all the atrocities they did and and he sort of went off on a right rant up because I've just been reading this one book, there was a guy who was dressed as reenactor as a Canadian, from a certain unit. And I said, Oh, can I ask you a question that says, He says, You're really objecting to those guys? And he said, Yeah, I said, because of all the bad things that he Yeah, so Okay. Are you happy that guy been there? Well, yeah, of course, he's dressed as a Canadian, of course, yeah, I don't have a problem with that at all. So interesting, I says, so I've just finished reading the book, ourselves. And I'm fairly sure that he's from a unit that were an armored unit. And what they did was they got some German prisoners and fasten them to the front of their tanks. As they were advancing our system, their logic was that a German with our with an antitank, or handheld anti tank weapon would just maybe think, not react immediately, because that sealer and would give them the opportunity of firing first. I said, so if you're unhappy with them, I said, then you should also think of us because at the end of the day, war is a very, very, very ugly thing. Fortunately, I've never experienced it faced in I've never served in the military, anything like that. But I've read a lot. And the problem is you have the very superficial, the Germans are the bad guys, and everybody else is good.

Anne Marie Cannon:

Well, I think that you raise a good point. My mother, one of the stories that my mother used to tell. And this is in the documentary, she's I believe she's telling the story in front of the patisserie where this happened. Her and her brother, her brother was, I want to say, five years younger than her, this is in La roeser. Y'all there at the pastry shop, and they're looking in the window dreaming about the pastries, their mouths are watering. And like I said, this is becomes a German military base. And she says that a German soldier comes up and looks at them goes into the patisserie array and then comes out and he's bought them each a pastry. And that that really helped to kind of bust through my idea of black and white, good and bad. And what my mother always said was, there was a difference between the German soldiers and the SS. And that's how she understood it. And that's how she saw it manifest. And, you know, so I think it is important to talk about, you know, the German soldiers who were just young guys who had had to do what they had to do, and had a conscience about it. I think there was that and we don't hear those stories.

Colin Foster:

A lot. They used to be again, sadly passed away, a guy called Arish biswa, who fought with the 12 ss that hit the ligand. Yet he fought with them bought after the war subsequently, and certainly more recent years tilt to the sadly passed away. He dedicated his life to reconciliation, and especially reconciliation between old adversaries, our new British veteran guy called Albert fig, who was very, very heavily Are you aware of Albert Bailey hill? 112 by camp? Okay, so he's put lots of memorials there and he would if you mentioned the SS two to Albert, he would just go off on one because our ad was really And all he was there on the day that he was introduced to Eric. And through translator, Eric explained what he was trying to do, which actually about reconciliation and education, making sure people don't forget what happened, which actually was what Albert was on about. And I remember being there, though, on top of this bear Hill, clasping each other's hands, where they both fought over clasping each other's hands, and both of them in tears.

Anne Marie Cannon:

That's amazing.

Colin Foster:

I feel privileged to have witnessed that, you know, so I think, again, as we say, it's not just black and white. It's it's not just, it's not even black and white, or don't think between the the German what was called the German here, the ordinary German Army, and the SS, I think, again, there was there were issues with with both, because in some ways, I suspect part of it. Okay, in doctor and I were also just how much stress you're under, you know, and sometimes what situation you're in, because if you're advancing and you suddenly captured some prisoners of war, what do you do with them? And, you know, okay, they should be escorted to the back, where if you've, if you've got a unit of a year, sort of 30 men that's been shot pieces, or whatever. So you've got maybe a dozen left, and these guys have been shooting at you, and then the ammunition run out, and they've put the hands up. Unless you've actually experienced that firsthand. You have no idea how you would be in that circumstance, I think, yeah,

Anne Marie Cannon:

that's what I keep coming back to is, I don't know what I would do in any of these given circumstances. My cousin's mother was a courier for the underground in Belgium. And she worked also for the Census Bureau. And what ended up happening is that, you know, she was really trying to help like farmers, for example, she would say, Okay, I'm going to tell him, you have four cows, when in fact, you have 10 cows. She ended up being basically persecuted by your own people, because they saw her as a collaborator. And so, yeah, I agree with you, Carl, and you just don't know until you're in that situation. You know, my family survived it. And I'm here to tell the story. So I don't know what to say about that. But I'm grateful.

Colin Foster:

Yeah, absolutely. I think this is why it's so important. And the museum do a great job at this, of engaging with veterans who are sort of visiting their old stomping ground, shall we say, and being able to tell their stories, you have to listen to their stories to, to record their stories, and then to share those stories with people. That's vitally important.

Anne Marie Cannon:

Even though this was in the 40s, there's more to be revealed. There's always more to be revealed. Stories more nuance. And you know, we only have some of the information. Yeah. So you know, that's why I'm grateful. You're here telling me this story. So tell us about the people

Colin Foster:

as in the men in the shed people.

Anne Marie Cannon:

Yeah, I'd like to know about the men in the shed. Tell us about your Okay, blog.

Colin Foster:

Okay, that's so a friend of mine moved out into Normandy in 2000. And we've got on the phone, the conversation would would at some point Go on, you really need to come out to Normandy. Why cuz you need to have a look at our shed, because I know you'll enjoy our shed. So eventually, I think it was in 2002. Or persuading my wife and my two kids, right? We're going to Normandy to see Stuart and Barry. So we arrived in their little village and basically, the reason what, why does then the direct link with the museum apart from the fact he's telling the story of people and that's what I'm trying to do with my blog as well. But actually, the village where my friend lived something or Demetri is within the the Operational Area of operation blue coat. So it's sort of an In fact, the units that liberated the village, we're involved in Operation bluecoat. So there's, there's a direct link to Luke out there. So we went over and sort of arrived at my friends were my friend lived, used to be a number of years ago, or number of years before he took out what used to be the village bakery. And in the back garden was the grain store. So where they used to store flour and all the bits to make bread. So we'd sort of dropped our bags and everything I said, Okay, sure. So, what have you What's nice about this, this shed even? There's the shed. So we sort of went up and he said, though those patches there, there was a patch to bullet holes. And I went well, yeah, that doesn't surprise me because there was an awful lot of fighting. Rowdy, you know, the bullet hole. Yeah. It's all go inside. So out the door went inside and yeah, okay, she hit a wooden shed for the junk. Yeah, she will turn around, and I turn around and I just went. What do you know about that? What do you know, back then? I knew nothing. And there's this panel on the as you go in on the left hand side, it's about six strips of wood planks of wood across. And there are 18 names on there. Two American pilots, two American paratroopers, and our F pilot who turned out to be American, and then 13 British infantry. And basically what happened was, as they were being caught in a or Titan is prisoner of war, during the fighting either with the pilots when they were shot down, or as though captured, as the Germans move them back through their lines, they would eventually end up the village of sound vigour. And so it goes right, well, six o'clock now we're not going to go any further. Let's shove them in there, lock the door. That way, we've only got to leave one chap outside guarding them. And so it's just used as an overnight lockup.

Anne Marie Cannon:

So your friend didn't know that, you

Colin Foster:

know, he had no idea. He just saw these names. You just saw these names now. So Wow. Subsequently, what we've been able to do through visiting the National Archives in the UK, we've been able to track some of them down, we found some of them after the war, they would fill in what's called the returning prisoner of war questionnaire, which we put information on. Some of them we've got photographs, some of them we've been really lucky and been able to connect with family members. We've had, the son and grandson of one of the American paratroopers has visited, one of the daughters of the RF pilots has visited and the one of the daughters of Hang on, let's get this right. So the grants informing American paratroopers daughter, or one of the daughters of the merit of the RF pilot, and one of the daughters of one of the American pilots have all visited the ship come over to Normandy on a trip, we've then taken them around. So with the the daughter of the RF pilot, we know where he crushed his aircraft. So we've taken them there to the crash site below the farmer on who has landed Cesar to raise his friend turn up with a metal detector. And she found a couple of pieces of of aluminium that were caked in dirt. So it was obviously not just put there to make you know, for to make it look like that was genuine, full of dirt and crap, whatever it was obviously, a piece of aluminium, where you're going to get animalium in the middle of a field well isn't going to come from a farm truck. So you know, it's fairly reasonable to presume that from is a Spitfire with the daughter of the American pilot. With that, actually, were able to take her to the airfield that he took off from on his last mission, because you can still see where that is in the French countryside. We took we found where he crashed. So we found that that place in and spoke to someone who know someone who was able to explain where it was because she saw the aircraft still in the field of Titan to where he was held as a prisoner first of all where them for escaped from, to then a village where they had some help from the French underground. And then back to the shed. But the real icing on the cake on that one was through my research. Another French gentleman, john Claude Ferran used to have run a, an independent own official website for the village. And through one of his friends, they were able to track down the song of the baker that was there during the Second World War. I mean, again, all four He sadly passed away. Bought on the sort of second day of our trip. We said, well, we'll take you now to the shed so you can have a look at the shed. We took her there. And there's some of the members of the local committee with our local council. There's this gentleman sort of stood back a little bit. And I said, Oh, I just need to introduce you to Juba and says, Oh, yeah, hello. And you know, what, what are you to do with it the village. So what he's to do with the village just says he's, when your dad was a prisoner of war in there, he was nine. Wow, she's dad was the village bike. And it was like, you could have heard a pin drop? Yeah, it was just sort of here was a real connection to the past. I mean, it was just sort of, right. And he was able to describe her dad. And he went, Oh, yeah. But He then told us a story we talked about, you know, sort of the people and this you put something along with the story, he told us that what his father used to do, what, and he won't have been the only one that would have done this, but it's Justin Trudeau, he would walk they used to have an outdoor toilet, in the back garden. And so he would wait until one of the prisoners had been allowed to go to the toilet by the German guard. He would then put his jacket on, storm outside, go to the open the door to the toilet was locked, turn to the gym and shouted the German How dare he let these prisoners use his toilet when he wanted to use the toilet and the German guard would start laughing thinking are just some mad Frenchmen would turn away. And then he would go down whether that came through? Well, that's three dots, which is the Morse code for V. V for victory. So the person used the loo knew that the person on the outside was on his side. And as as the door opened and the prisoner came out. The baker would be shout at him. How dare he use his toilet. He wanted view the toe whatever. And at the same time opening his jacket and passing him some bread. Now that if it had been caught, who knows what would have happened? But that sort of connection and that what's what what people were prepared to French people were prepared to do to help. Maybe not in a in a sort of totally extrovert way. I remember in I think he's report to all the generals immediately after the war with the by General Eisenhower, I think he actually said something like if all of the French people who claim to be part of the resistance and the French forces of the interior, if they'd actually all been available right at the start and have had another two divisions. Yeah. And sort of he sort of made me effectively making the comment. Some people were sort of, well, no, it was safe to come out. We'll say, oh, we're part of the resistance or whatever. But there was some real people who were really risking their lives. Yes. Yeah. To help people. And to have that real connection there then is, as your bar bear is, is explaining this story in French, it's been translated. Do you know? Billy, do you know, Xiomara Missouri, and I've probably pronounce his surname, badly. But he, he's a historian, he was there helping with with translations. And he's translating it into English. And it's just sort of, you know, that those sort of stories, and that being related, not just to me as a as an amateur historian, but being related to the daughter, one of the daughters of one of the guys that benefited from this was just sort of, he talked about goosebumps and hairs on the back of the neck. And that's my that's why I read why I'm passionate about about the research I'm doing. We're also why I'm also so passionate about the Museum at San Martin, because that's the story that they are wanting to tell as well the story of the people.

Anne Marie Cannon:

So when did you When did you start researching those 2002 was

Colin Foster:

2002 or two 2002 went up to 2000 Free was when I actually started my first bit of digging, shall we say,

Anne Marie Cannon:

Okay, and so you and your friend, yeah, Glenn? When did you start the blog A few years ago, okay, cuz there's a lot of information.

Colin Foster:

And we're actually just going through a process because we've got an awful lot of information there isn't even up on that. And whether it's sort of records of of recent trips we've been on or just things that we found out that we've just not got ready to put it up on there. So at the moment, we're actually going through starting to go through a whole refresh of all of the information that we've got.

Anne Marie Cannon:

That is a labor of love. And I thank you for doing the research. So how did you connect with the museum with Billy?

Colin Foster:

Okay, so again, that that goes back a number of years when when we first went over to France, Baron, she said, Oh, you need to go and have a look at this little museum. It's a lovely little Museum, I'm sure you'll enjoy it. And at the time, the president of the museum was an Englishman, a guy called David Mbit when he became the curator there knew absolutely nothing about the the operation are nothing new a little bit and sort of totally embraced it and got really interested in it. And he was always wanting to connect people always wanted to put people in touch with with people. Nice. He then returned back to the UK. And there was then a period where and I have to be careful. No doubt, I'll be my normal self, where the person running the museum. So the way I describe it, saw it as a job. So the turned up, they open the door. If people came in, they gave them a leaflet. And that was it. Yeah, I understand being plugged the God just wasn't interested. We then heard through David, there was this new mad bloke that had got involved. It was a bit of a while he was a journalist, so he was a bit odd. So we went over the following the following Jew, I met a guy called Mark can tell mark is Scottish. He lives in the area. And he just was getting really annoyed at the fact that he got this museum that was telling the story of the area that was just being allowed out. He was afraid to rot away. And he was like, hang on, this is your history, folks. You need we something needs to be done. Yeah. Yeah. In I suppose in common with everything that happens the world over, everyone stepped back and he was sort of, oh, okay, so I better do something about it. Then if I'm putting if, if I'm shooting my mouth off, I better do something about it. So he became the next president of the museum. Glen and I were over there and chatting to mark introduced ourselves, we explaining some of the ideas he got where he wanted to take the museum, because of his enthusiasm and his drive. JOHN Menard, who was the founder of the museum, who, who I think it almost got to the point where he was almost prepared to take his artifacts that he had collected back away from the museum and bearing in mind that when he said the museum, the museum now sits on land that used to belong to john Menard. So that's the involvement that he's had in it. And he was ready to take stuff away. But Mark's drive, enthusiasm, interest, just sparked something john Menard again. So he was then starting to be back involved, we decided to do something Glenn and I are very good at when we're in France, which is going to barter back and have something to drink. And we took mark with us to sort of start having a bit of a chat Mark goes on his phone, and a couple of minutes later, this, this very fresh face person who looked far too young to be able to drink appeared. And that was Billy, who, at the time had just started. I think this is right. And Billy, you can correct me just started showing some interest in the museum. But we're sort of not quite sure how involved to get, and I think got caught up in Mark's enthusiasm to be perfectly honest. And started getting involved in the museum. Mark, he was looking at coming back to Scotland. So within a case of right well, if I'm going who's gonna be the new president of the museum really then became museum president. Mark is still in France, which is great. And he's now the museum secretary. But of course because of Billy's age be being younger therefore very Be familiar with social media and all of that sort of side, Mark, because he's a journalist. And therefore, he's well aware of how to get articles in the press. And all of that means that the museum itself, I think, last last year, despite COVID I think you have some of the best visitor numbers. Certainly in the period before the museum had to short, I think that I'm wrong to believe that last year was was had COVID not happened if if things had carried on as they'd started, it would have been your best year ever.

Billy Leblond:

Yes. If we see at liberation festival we organized each year, it was the best year we've ever done. For the upper part. I've got 50% of visitor who came from England. It was nice. That's important for us, but has reverse dieting. Everybody criteria, if you haven't happened to have COVID. Yeah.

Colin Foster:

So you know, as a team, they work really, really well together. And

Anne Marie Cannon:

is this a volunteer position? Or is this a paid position? position? Wow. Okay. Yeah, that's, that's a lot. And it says a lot about the management at this point. Yeah. So I live in a town. We're a National Historic Landmark District. For such a small town, we have quite a few museums. And there's a huge difference the way that the museums are received, and I won't name who they are. But one particular Museum, I think of the guy who was the executive director is so passionate about telling the story, that it's infectious, the passion is infectious. And it sounds like that's what you've thankfully stumbled on again.

Colin Foster:

Absolutely, absolutely. And it's because of that, why all you also passionate about the museum. One of the issues is that they compete against all the museums along the beaches, because a lot of people think that how how the Germans would be beaten was, you have one day, which was sixth of June, you then probably had Market Garden, fewer Americans, you're probably aware of the Battle of the boards. And then it was all over. The Norwood campaign went on from sixth of June until the end of August. And people forget that. And so a lot of the the museum's on the beaches, that's what people see the don't see the answer. And again, with a lot of them that there's lots of money being thrown at them. Lots of paid staff. And it's a different experience, both the law per se museum and also the one at T cell, which is which is rooted on exactly the same basis. It's a little small church. It's it's very much about the people the the impact of war, it's a lovely little Museum, and some of the things that got there. A lot of the artifacts have been donated by people who fought to liberate the village. Each of them have after we began, then owned it or its family. So we can have explanation about each object. Almost.

Anne Marie Cannon:

Okay, so Billy, why? Why this passion? Why this history? Yeah, I

Billy Leblond:

think it all started with my grandfather, who when I was younger, teach me about history. What happened in ancient time, in our area, later at carranger boys and twisty during World War Two, on financially, when I taught my study, I'm thinking of becoming a working in museum. One day, I have the opportunity to do a project about a museum. I became really interested in for about this museum, and it was the Museum of samata. On which project was when Mark started to redemption museum. It was to create a project to re enter the museum, what we have to do to make it correct after that. So just after that, I've contacted the president before Mac did the addition on the thing to me or which were okay, I have different encounter on that when after doing this project. I've tried to be a member of the museum on open eating during the summer. After all I was out on also because I have my family was a weekend to explain that me about what happened to them. For example, my grandmother, during the war she saw was a crush off our Canadian period in our field in the backyard. So all of its theory behind it. was really interested about what happened in her area. On was it really when I started to work at the museum on metal Jimena site, I was really, I really wanted to explain to people what happens there on the men who fought in Arabia on also the human connection with the family, you know what happened to them on, you have a lot of immigration, we have a new area. For example, my family came in for approximately 10 year for the commemoration on us where we're passed on to become great friends when he was still alive. So it's all of his theory behind that drove my interest in the museum on World War Two history.

Anne Marie Cannon:

Wow. Well, I appreciate your passion and that you're you're committed to telling these different stories. Now, how do you become a member of the museum?

Billy Leblond:

Yes, we have numbers that you find to be monographs and museum studies here on the they can be scary to work on. People want to know more about the operation Ducato about Amanda out there.

Colin Foster:

And the thing that's download there's a form, I think, downloadable from the website, you can actually become a member.

Anne Marie Cannon:

Okay, good. I'll, I'll link out to that to how far away is the shed from the museum 25 miles, big for now. Okay. So those, those are two separate stories.

Colin Foster:

Yeah. They're connected. They're connected in that the area that the the shed is, was part of Operation bluecoat. And the village was liberated by one of the divisions that was involved in operation blue coat. The guys who we are researching, had been captured before operation Blue Coat started. So they weren't prisoners as a result of operation blue coat. It was just a really nice connection between this story, which is the story of people. And the story the museum tells, which is the story of people, both in Moore,

Anne Marie Cannon:

do we see these histories in pop culture anywhere? And

Colin Foster:

sort of in that I keep being asked by several people, when am I writing my book about the men in the shed?

Anne Marie Cannon:

fascinating story

Colin Foster:

actually being launched about that. And eventually there will be a book there.

Anne Marie Cannon:

I could totally see. I could just I have to say this, I could totally see connected short stories about the narratives and the information you've learned about the different characters

Colin Foster:

Operation bluecoat there are some some very good books about already, ranging from PIP Roberts, the general of 11th Armored Division, each covered in his autobiography. There are also a guy called in daglish, who written called the books, there is actually a fictional book called battle, which is set in operation blue coat. And it's, it's sort of set effectively, those were the Americans, those are the Brits, and it was sort of like that, but there's a fictional account of a battle which is based in operation Blue Coat, which sort of fits there. I think it's called battle thing by the name Kenneth Max, he rings a bell but I've got a copy of it downstairs.

Anne Marie Cannon:

Okay, maybe you guys could send me a list and now link out to the books.

Colin Foster:

Yeah. So so this is a book I've written. Oh, nice. And this is about the very first part of Operation bluecoat which was kicked off by what was called six Guards Tank Brigade and, and 15 Scottish Infantry Division, their their objective was to sort of break through or to try and break through the German lines, so that the armored divisions 11th Armored Division guards Armoured Division that I mentioned, could actually then exploit that one of the composite units of six Guards Tank Brigade was Third Battalion Scots guards, and are new I in fact, have now I know another couple of people that fought with them. But I knew a veteran of that battle. And when I discussed it with him he was you say, I never talked about it because in their first, their first day of action, their first battle they lost 24 men killed 19 men wounded and 11 tanks destroyed because they got ambushed. bought the the battalion that the other two parts of battalion held the ground. And that formed a strong shoulder to sort of keep the Germans away. So that 11th Armored Division and guards Armored Division could could break through. And in 2019, which is was the 75th anniversary of the Battle, again, through work that I had done through work that Billy and the museum had done, we unveiled a new, a new and a significantly large Memorial. I'm six foot tall, and this memorial comes up to about there on me. It's in the form of two pages of a book open that you can see on the back of the book there. Okay, yeah. And that records the names of all those that were killed in that battle. On the first day, we had about 60 of the time between 60 and 65. Family members of guys who either fought and fought through the war, or four, and were killed on that hill, from Third Battalion, Scots guard. We had the whole of the village, I think the whole of the village of the lows, which is the little Hamlet that is closest to it. We had this big seven on a gorgeous summer's day. And that, again, was a link and the museum were really interested in championing that because it was some real history. And, and again, it was about the people and sharing that with the family members.

Anne Marie Cannon:

So there's not been a movie made of this, right? Not yet.

Colin Foster:

There's a British chap who's done some filming Hasn't he, Billy? For I think for documentary. Yeah, American sorry.

Billy Leblond:

At all preparation, a documentary for pink next hear about Greg Costanza fighting no money. On he would speak about Operation bluecoat.

Anne Marie Cannon:

Oh, nice. Okay, very cool. keep us updated about that documentary? Is what what is it? I'm gonna ask you the question. What is the one thing that you want people to be left with about Operation bluecoat.

Billy Leblond:

It's a human aspect of it. What happened to the people of it? For example, for some of them. the liberation of some village was the first time they made civilian arms. They were welcome, like directors. And also, for the objective left here in the museum is some things that are really important to us, because each of them have a story. And it's a human story about him.

Colin Foster:

Okay. And I think I would add, I would absolutely echo what Billy said there. And I think the only thing I would add, is, it's a far more important operation than a lot of history books would have us believe. Because a lot of history books, either hardly mentioned it, or Don't mention it. It's real significance. And it was a key operation. And I think the more people that, that are aware of that, the better.

Anne Marie Cannon:

Well, thank you both for keeping the stories alive, and passing him down. And it's nice, like you said, the fresh face ability. He's obviously a younger man, who knows how to do all the, the social media and all that and, you know, that's, that's gonna be a bridge to disseminating the absolutely younger people. And it's the next generation being involved. Right, right. Right. And it's important, it's really important. So is there anything else that I didn't ask or that you want to say?

Colin Foster:

Nothing, just thank you for the opportunity of all sharing the story that is normally shared with a few people, you know, when they come and visit the museum and that all Yeah, sort of corner them in a bar and start talking to them about, you know, my interest in that.

Anne Marie Cannon:

Well, I really enjoyed talking to both of you. Thank you so much for being here. I can't thank you enough. They know thank you. And there you have it, Caitlyn Foster and Billy LeBlanc. To find out more about them the museum and Collins blog men in the shed, be sure to check out our episode notes. Thanks for joining us. Have a great week.