After last year’s trip to Normandy, with the Massed Bands of the Pegasus Memorial, Stuart J Major, Immediate Past Master of Winlaton St Paul’s 8931 and soon to be Past Provincial Grand Steward, was once again invited to participate in the D-Day Commemorations with the Massed Bands of the Pegasus Memorial for the 79th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings.
The Massed Bands of the Pegasus Memorial are all invited musicians from around England, with members from as far north as the banks of the River Tyne and as far south as the coast of Kent. These musicians that form The Massed Bands of the Pegasus Memorial, are not paid; attend at their own cost and use their holidays to go, to give their time for those who served and those who fell during the operations that form what we consider D-Day. The uniforms that the members of the band wear are distinctive, as the Massed Bands of the Pegasus Memorial, continue the tradition of a uniformed constabulary brass band providing the music for the ceremonies in that area of Normandy. Indeed, the organiser of the band was involved in that original constabulary band. For the avoidance of doubt, there were no serving constabulary members of the band.
On the evening of the 31st of May, Stuart along with several from the North East, travelled to Normandy to prepare for their busy schedule of performances.
On the 3rd of June, The Massed Bands of the Pegasus Memorial, moved into their new temporary home, consisting of camping in the Benouville Sports Hall, provided by the Madame la Mayor and people of Benouville. This accommodation was greatly received by the band and allowed the musicians of the band to develop new friendships and create a spirit within the ensemble.
The musical portion of the trip, for The Massed Bands of the Pegasus Memorial, began on the morning of the 4th of June. This year a small group of the band, travelled to Brucourt, a small village 11 miles from Benouville. This was to perform at a short service and a graveside Act of Remembrance for 6 British war dead of D-Day, who perished on the 6th of June 1944. For Stuart, this was a poignant service, having performed the Last Post and Reveille for the Act of Remembrance. For the band, the afternoon was completed with a tour of Ranville War Cemetery, by Mark Worthington, Curator of the Memorial Pegasus Museum, which was followed by a swift rehearsal for the next few day’s music.
The 5th of June saw a march over Pegasus Bridge, into the Museum and performances while the British Veterans arrived due to the hard work of the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans. The band continued to perform while 45 United States Veterans arrived, along with Belgian and Canadian Veterans. This was followed by a service with the original Pegasus Bridge as its backdrop. This service of remembrance and commemoration was presided over by a Padre from the Royal Army Chaplaincy Department and featured the input of several D-Day Veterans, and current serving Army Air Corps and Parachute Regiment Officers. This was followed by a concert in the grounds of the museum. The evening was the bands’ chance to give back to the people of Benouville for their hospitality, with an outdoor concert for the local population, ex-pats and many who were in Benouville for the commemorations.
Then it was the 6th of June. The big day for the band, but also a big day for Stuart, and the Province of Durham. The day started with a service at Ranville Crossroads at a memorial for the Paratroopers who liberated Ranville. This was followed by a march, taking the dignitaries, veterans and the public to the church for a service. After a short break, the band then marched into Ranville War Cemetery to provide the music for the Service of Remembrance. Ranville War Cemetery contains many of the men of the 6th Airborne Division, who fell on D-Day and subsequent actions in the area. During this Service of Remembrance, which was fully supported by a large number of soldiers and officers from the Parachute Regiment on parade, as well as many veterans of D-Day, Stuart was called upon to perform the Last Post and Reveille for the Act of Remembrance. For Stuart, this was an honour and privilege to perform there and for such a special occasion.
From Ranville there was a rush back to Benouville, to form up to march to the memorial on the banks of the Caen Canal, yards from Pegasus Bridge, where those gliders landed 79 years before, where Major Howard and his men pressed forward and the first Allied Casualties of D-Day fell, where the liberation of Occupied Europe began, not on a beach, but at a bridge at 00:16 on the morning of the 6th of June. It was at this memorial at the Service of Remembrance, that Stuart, on behalf of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Durham and the Provincial Grand Master, John Paul Thompson, laid a wreath. From there it was a march to the 7th (Light infantry) Battalion, Parachute Regiment Memorial and service there. There was one performance left, a Sunset Service.
For Stuart, it has been an honour to perform at the events. In total Stuart performed at 7 services, including Last Post at Ranville War Cemetery and Brucourt Cemetery, 6 parades and 2 concerts in 2 ½ days. Stuart has been invited back to join the Massed Bands of the Pegasus Memorial in both Ypres in October and in Normandy for the 80th Anniversary in June 2024.
The Provincial Grand Master’s wreath read:
“When you go home
Tell them of us and say
For your tomorrow
We gave our today
Always in our thoughts – Durham Freemasons.”