Any account of the Battle of Normandy that you care to read will for certain make reference to the ‘bocage’ and the influence that this ancient feature of the Normandy landscape had on the nature of the fighting in the engagements that took place to the south of Caen.
The Collins English Dictionary defines ‘bocage’ as follows:
‘n. 1. the wooded countryside characteristic of Northern France, with small, irregular-shaped fields and many hedges and copses. 2. woodland scenery represented in ceramics [c 17: from French, from Old French bose]'.
In their first engagements with the enemy, to the north of Caen, the ground was fairly open and, of course, as the fighting proceeded through the outskirts of the city and thence slowly into the centre, the soldiers struggled through a ruined cityscape subduing German resistance block by block, house by house.
It was in the terrain to the south of Caen that the troops first encountered the challenges presented by the Norman bocage. Typically, as described in the above definition, in bocage country small agricultural plots between which ran sunken lanes that were edged on either side with mature hedges, several feet in height and cultivated out of earth mounds.
This terrain was first encountered by the 59th during operation Pomegranate in the countryside to the south west of Caen.
Bocage provided coverage to the enemy that was second to none and a great asset to a defending army. To an attacking force such effective cover at close quarters presented a great danger of ambush.
Here I recall another anecdote of my Grandfather’s, seemingly one of a number of close escapes during his months in North West Europe. He and possibly the rest of his platoon or section were advancing through typical bocage terrain along the edge of a small holding. The objective was a farmhouse or outbuilding enemy position that had been causing the men a deal of trouble. Upon reaching the building, a lone German machine gunner surrendered. As the soldier was duly taken prisoner, my Grandfather took the opportunity to take up position behind the gun. He discovered that the gun was sighted along exactly the line of approach that he and his fellow South Staffords had taken in order to reach the machine gun position. The fact that the gunner did not open up on the advancing men may have been the action of a spent soldier who wanted out of the cauldron of Normandy. However, a more likely explanation is that the cover afforded by the bocage was so complete that the soldiers were upon the position before he could offer any effective resistance. It may well be that this small action occurred during the Battle of Noyers, however, sadly I have no way of ever knowing for sure.