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Day 10 – The Eagles Nest

Having once again arrived late at the camp site after enjoying the good food and company in Seegatterl the previous evening we woke to a another glorious day in our final objective of Berchtesgaden.  The scenery was stunning and the surrounding hills seemed to carry on as far as the eye could see.  This being the final (official) day of the rally it was amazing to see that all the vehicles which started the rally had made it to the end.  Many like us had nursed their cars around Europe and now that the end was in sight it was like a huge weight had been lifted from our shoulders.  That, coupled with the amazing change in weather we had been enjoying meant that we would certainly enjoy the final 9.7 miles of the rally up to the Kehlsteinhaus, more commonly known as Hitlers Eagle’s Nest.  Not that those few miles would be easy as the road up to Obersalzberg was particularly steep and winding meaning that quite a lot of the joking over the CB radio was that of smoking engines, clutches and gearboxes!

Given that the road to the Eagles ‘Nest has been closed to normal traffic since 1952 it was necessary for all the teams to park in the bus station car park, have some brunch and catch 1 of the 6 buses up to the top.  Like a scene from the Italian Job the 6 buses made the 15 minute journey fly by with the views out of the windows getting increasingly more impressive the further up the winding road we travelled.  At the top it was time for a pat on the back for everyone as the rally finally came to an end.  Just like the men of the 101st Airborne back in 1945 we had reached our final objective.  Before we entered the Eagle’s Nest properly it was time for a celebratory photograph!

 

The journey up to the nest involved a walk 400 feet into a marble lined tunnel bored into the heart of the mountain before taking the original brass lined lift a further 400 feet straight up into the building itself.  Now a privately run restaurant, it was easy to see why the German Nazi party gifted this building to Adolf Hitler for a 50th birthday present as the views were absolutely breathtaking and the tranquility must have been truly amazing.  Although amazing I couldnt help feeling that some of the prestige had been removed from the building now it was a thriving restaurant.  Much of the building had now been turned into staff offices, kitchens and storerooms with only a few of the original rooms remaining.  Those familiar with the archive photo and film footage would still recognise the grand fireplace and large functions rooms still in use today by diners.  After a good look around and a trip to the rocky outcrops for the all important tourist pictures it was time to enjoy more superb German food and beer in celebration of our epic journey!

After all the pictures were taken and our bellies filled it was time to retrace our steps in the elevator and tunnel to get back to the crazy buses!  Now the rally was over it was every man, woman and child for themselves and the freedom this gave us was really quite strange.  After being told where to go and when to be there with a set of roadbooks to guide us, this freedom felt quite unnatural and left us feeling a little lost!  That said, the car hadn’t quite finished with its surprises just yet and refused to start due to an immobiliser fault.  We werent the only team in trouble though as the team parked behind us couldn’t get going due to a flat battery.  So here we were, relying on me to start our car in order to jump-start them and being foiled by a small piece of Land Rover technology!  As is always the case with electronics faults I put my years of RAF technician training to good use by swearing, yelling, kicking and much turning on and off  to eventually clear the fault.  With both cars started it was time to return to camp for some sunbathing and to ready ourselves for the  prize giving dinner planned for the evening.

The prizegiving dinner itself gave all the rally crews the chance to finally relax and have a good chat about their experiences.  Having spent 10 days together it was strange to meet people that we hadn’t really spoken to during the busy days before and many stories were shared about the reletive merits of particular days or places.

With the tables full of food it was time to finally find out how well we had done on the challenges faced by us over the course of the rally.  Prizes were up for grabs for the 1st, 2nd & 3rd place teams in varoius categories including serving military, ex service, civillian and of course the overall rally winner.  Being the competetive kind of souls that we are, we had been checking our progress on the results lists which had been displayed a the rally main control every evening.  Since the rally start we had been no higher than 9th and at one point dropped as low as 17th in the daily standings but we were confident we would end up somewhere in the top 15 teams overall.  When the results for the familiy category (of which there were 6 teams) were read out, much to our surprise and disbelief, it turned out that we had done enough to win!  Given our problems with the cooling system on the car during and before the rally the phrase ‘And they said they’d never make it’ certainly made the win even more sweet as we collected our 1st place trophy.  If we didn’t have enough reason to celebrate before, we did now!

Overall, we ended up 11th out of the 43 teams who started the rally, not bad for novices with a poorly car.  Just think of how well we could have done if we actually knew what we were doing!  Other prizes were awarded for the ‘Spirit of the Event’ which went to the Series Team who took part in a less than luxurious Series 2 Land Rover and the highest sponsorship money raised went to Team Rockape who managed a staggering £17,219.18 for H4H. Another 2 teams received awards for raising over £10,000 during their fundraising activities.  We felt justifiably proud of our 4th place in the sponsorship race with £8,482.92 in the pot in just 6 months.  This all went towards the overall rally total which currently stands at £150,880.21 making everyone justifiably proud of their efforts both on the rally and in the months of fundraising prior to it.  At the end of the day, although the rally was fun, its main aim was always going to be raising money for Help for Heroes in order that they can continue to support our wounded troops.

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Posted by on July 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Day 9 – The Atrocity of War

With a good night’s sleep had by all it was once again up early to pack up the camp and set off for our final destination of Berchtesgaden over 280 miles south-east of our overnight camp.  The day would be split into 2 roadbooks with 3 objectives meaning another long day ahead. 

Our first objective was a visit to the Prisoner Camp at Dachau, the site of some of the most sickening atrocities of the war.  Opened in 1933 it was established by the Nazi Party as the first regular concentration camp in Germany and was built on the site of an old munitions factory.  Heinrich Himmler, then the chief of police described the camp as ‘the first concentration camp for political prisoners’. 

Although much of the site showed macabre scenes of suffering and death, we thought it was important to allow the children to investigate and ask questions where necessary.  Unlike larger camps such as Auschwitz, the camp at Dachau was not used in the mass killing of Jews but over 206,000 prisoners were recorded as being held there and almost 32,000 deaths recorded during its 12 year existence.

From Dachau we made the 85 mile trip to our next objective deep in the heart of Bavaria where further ‘Tasks’ were waiting for us.  There were many points up for grabs in the car park of the beautiful Ski resort of Seegatterl, (without the snow at this time of year) which could make a huge difference to the standings on the final day of the rally.  A course had been set in the woodland hills where we were to find hidden codes set amongst the flora and fauna.  For every correct code points would be awarded, all those missed counted for nothing.  The scenery was amazing and as the track wound its way up the steep hillside the gulleys got deeper and the sharp drops got higher and higher keeping me constantly focussed on keeping all 4 wheels on the hard stuff!  At the halfway point a game of skittles awaited us and we sent in Charlotte (our secret weapon) to score points for the family and very well she did too.  After the woodland track finished I could finally take my eye off the temperature gauge and allow the engine to have a rest on the way back down.  By the time we reached the bottom of what was one of the steepest and longest hills I’ve ever been on we had a different overheating problem to worry about.  The brakes took the strain of controlling the decent of our fully laden vehicle, turning the disks a nice shade of blue and smoking like a chimney!  With a reversing challenge in between us and a good meal at the resort chalet we quickly got that out of the way with a few mm to spare!

Having suffered with pretty poor weather so far on the trip it was fantastic to sit down in the glorious sunny surroundings with the other competitors and enjoy a beer with some traditional Bavarian food.  With only 40 miles left until our final campsite of the rally, we made the most of the sunshine, hospitality and good company.

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Day 8 – The Last Patrol

Our last day in Bastogne and another early start in order to pack the car ready for the move south.  Todays roadbook would see us cover 263 miles heading for the Alsace, an area famed for its wine and the Maginot line fortifications.

The first road book led us to the Bining off-road site in the Alsace region which had laid on a huge spread of fine food, tea and coffee which was well received in the cold and showery weather we were experiencing.  The off-road course looked pretty daunting with the heavy rainfall over the last few days turning most of it into a mud bath!  Thankfully help was at hand in the form of the organisers giving the choice of an Easy, Medium or Hard course to tackle.  Obviously points were weighted towards those who attempted the more difficult routes but the penalties for not making it through were harsher!

Having had a look around and hearing some of the strange noises coming from other vehicles suspension on the Medium route I thought it best to take the Easy route and go for full points not glory.  As it turns out, my confidence was short-lived as I managed to crumple the front bumper into a large gully with the sound of breaking glass notifying us of the loss of a foglight!  Not the drivers fault I might add, we were being marshalled by the site staff at the time….. :-(.  On the way out a combination of thick mud and tight ruts had us trapped and it took a good few attempts to get out using all the momentum and V8 power we could muster.

Thankfully the next challenge was something a little easier.  Before leaving the site we had to undertake a blindfold challenge involving a children’s shape sorter with the idea being the driver tells the navigator what to do for once!  In an interesting role reversal my instructions as the driver were not the best, forgetting half the time that my good lady wife was in fact blindfolded and telling her to move in the direction of one of the children was not the best plan.  Having had the kids try first it was our simple aim to uphold the honour of parents everywhere by beating the time set by them.  Like a true Gent I will not disclose the result!

 

The second half of the day led us through Haguenau which saw some of the final battles of the war then into Germany and the stunning scenery of the Black Forest.  Our overnight camp was in Cawl Altberg and it would only be for one night.  We tried to camp as light as possible as we knew whatever we got out that evening would have to go back in first thing in the morning!  An early night after a good home cooked meal lovingly prepared on the camping stove meant we would be as fresh as possible for the day ahead in the morning.

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Day 7 – The Bois Jacques & Beyond

A fairly leisurely start to the day today with what seems to be a lie in until 07:00 as we were not allowed to depart the Main Control until 08:00.  Before leaving and in order to keep vehicles apart on the route we were set a small ‘task’ to complete before we left.  As driver I thought I would take on the task which turned out to be a jigsaw puzzle on the bonnet of one of the marshals vehicles.  Having taken what seemed an age to complete the Rally Logo puzzle we were off to explore the countryside around the Battle of the Bulge’.

There was a great deal of fighting taking place around the end of 1944/early 1945 in this region.  Many towns and villages were under German control and the Allies fought many battles large and small to liberate them during one of the worst winters for decades.  Many stories could be told of the action which took place here but one tale of deception stands out.  On Sunday 24th December 44 a German Mark V tank blew up on a landmine outside a cafe in the town of Celles.  The owner Mrs Monrique told the advancing Germans that all the roads ahead were minded and the remaining vehicles turned around and retreated.  Since then it has been said that the German advance was stopped right there!  As was always the case, heavy casualties were taken during the battles and one cemetery we visited at Hotton is the final resting place of 666 British and Commonwealth soldiers from the surrounding area.

In the afternoon we visited the La Roche Museum which is dedicated to the Battle of the Bulge.  It holds some amazing examples of military weapons and equipment which have either been well preserved or lovingly restored.

Whilst making our way back to the campsite it was time to visit one of the places we had been looking forward to seeing since watching the series ‘Band of Brothers’.  The foxholes made by the men of Éasy’ Company 101st Airborne overlooking the village of Foy are still there for all to see.  During the freezing Christmas of 1944 the men of Éasy’ Company were placed on the front line without proper winter clothing, low supplies of food, water, ammunition and medical supplies.  They suffered heavy small arms, mortar and artillery fire as well as full frontal attacks from the surrounding German forces between 18 Dec 44 – 13 Jan 45.  Having seen the area they had to defend it is difficult to imagine the situation they were faced with.

Further up the road from the foxholes, a monument dedicated to the men of Éasy’ Company stands to pay tribute to their sacrifice.

 
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Posted by on July 5, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Day 6 – The Battle of the Bulge

After packing up camp and filling up the car boot to the gunnels for the second time on the trip we were back on the road early to take in the 243 miles set for todays roadbook.  We would head for Belgium (via Germany) and along the way take in numerous British,and American cemeteries before reaching Luxembourg (for cheap fuel) and our final destination of Bastogne.

The first stop on our route was the CWGC cemetery in the Reichswald Forest Germany.  This is the largest Commonwealth cemetery of either world war, in terms of area, and contains 7,654 graves.  Given our RAF background it was very humbling to see the graves of nearly 4,000 airmen laid to rest in the cemetery who were brought here from the surrounding area after the war in 1945.  Some of them lost their lives in supporting the advance into Germany but most had died in the early years of the war in the intensive air attacks on German targets.

 

The morning ended with another 4×4 scenario, this time in a large quarry where we had to navigate an orienteering course set up with hidden controls.  We were all grinning from ear to ear whilst getting the car in some deep lakes and perched at some incredible angles!  Having completed the task in fairly quick time and not wanting to damage the car any more than needed, we decided to stop for a quick brew and some lunch before moving away for the second half of the day.

In the final 125 miles of the day we visited the Netherlands American Cemetery  and Memorial in Margraten.  Run by the equivalent of the CWGC the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) the site covers 65.5 acres and contains 8,301 headstones.  In addition to this, a memorial engraved with the names of 1,722 troops missing in action stands in the Court of Honour.  It is nice to see that a small number of these names have since been marked with a small rosette indicating that the remains of this soldier have since been found and buried in the cemetery with the rest of their comrades.

Up next was the ABMC Henri Chapelle American Cemetery in Hombourg, Belgium. Here rest 7,992 military dead, most of whom gave their life during the repulse of the German counter-offensive known as the ‘Battle of the Bulge’.

After a quick fill up in Luxembourg, we were only 30 mins away from our camp site in Bastogne and had made good time (for once).  After pitching the tent (again) it was off to find somewhere for a well deserved meal and back again for a good nights sleep in preparation for our trip around the sites of the ”Bulge’. tomorrow.

 
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Posted by on July 4, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Day 5 -Operation Market Garden

Firstly, apologies for not updating the site for ages, we have been without an internet connection for some time now, our reliable source of free WIFI courtesy of McDonalds does not seen to exist outside of Holland!

The end of day 4 saw us do some wild camping in the woods around ‘The Bridge Too Far’ which was where the airborne troops formed up after landing prior to the 10 mile march to take the bridges.  This would be our camp for the next 2 days where we could explore the history of Operation Market Garden.

 

The morning of day 5 saw us visit the Airborne Museum at Hartenstein which was the HQ of the Airborne troops during ‘Market Garden’.  It also served as a temporary medical facility for those wounded in the attack and subsequent defence of the bridges.

 

From here we visited the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery at Oosterbeek to pay homage to those who died during Operation Market Garden.

 

The afternoon saw us cross the River Rhine over the ‘Bridge Too Far’ which led us to Veldhoven where another 4×4 task had been planned for us in the local woods.  A number of crossword clues had been ‘hidden in and around the forest and it was our job to successfully navigate the car around the trees to find them in the hope we could decode the hidden words in the answers.  This sounds far easier than it was and the risk of damage was ever-present from trees which decided to ‘jump’ out into body panels.  One such tree was apparently a whole inch away (according to my co-driver) when it too decided to jump out as I drove past it.  Having heard the crunch we knew it sounded expensive and upon later investigation a large screwdriver was required to make adjustments’ to the body panels in order to let the passenger door open.  I’m sure a little T-Cut will sort the rest – Fingers Crossed.

We spent the rest of the day making our way back to the campsite via Nijmegen bridge on the route of ‘Hells Highway’.  This was the term given to the road XXX Corps took whilst trying to get to the paratroopers on the bridges in Arnhem to provide much needed reinforcements.  It was this failure to reach the Paras which led to the failure of Operation Market Garden.

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Day 4. The Longest Day

Well just like the famous film, today is turning into an epic! Having packed away the tent in record time we left the campsite at 06:50 and set off on the first of 2 roadbooks for today. The morning saw us take in the battlefields of the Somme where over 60,000 British soldiers became casualties on the first day alone. The countryside is filled with cemeteries of those who perished in the Great War.

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This afternoon has seen us leave France, cross Belgium and we are currently stopped for food and free WIFI somewhere in Holland. With a further 2 hours of driving still ahead we will not arrive at the campsite until 22:00 tonight. It wont take much to get us all to sleep tonight!

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2011 in Uncategorized