The Normandy beaches have been on my bucket list for ages. So this years I decided to make it happen. It was everything I expected and more.
Day 1 Nomandy trip
I made Bayeux my base and how appropriate to be staying than an attic room in the Grand Hotel Luxembourg which had been the HQ of the Gestapo during WW2.
The holiday got off to a rocky start with cancellation of flight. Luckily I was accommodated on a flight in the afternoon to Amsterdam connecting to Paris. A quick dash by taxi meant I caught the last train to Bayeux (by minutes), arriving there after midnight. The brandy that the wonderful hotel receptionist had waiting for me at check-in was certainly welcome.
DAY 2 Tour of the Normandy Beaches
After the hiccups of yesterday, it was great to be collected at the door of the hotel. Carine was our tour guide – and my travelling companions were a family from US based in Brussels and a French girl from Paris. we all knew the basic history of how on June 6th, 1944, Nazi occupied France was invaded by allied troops resulting in the country’s liberation.
The allied landings on the beaches of Normandy– still known by their wartime codenames and the ferocious Battle of Normandy that followed are commemorated through a moving mixture of museums, memorials and cemeteries.
Our next stop was at Ste-Mere-Eglise which owes some of its fame to John Steele, an American paratrooper whose parachute unfortunately entangled in the spire of the church. The church was lovely and Carine’s descriptions of the various windows and their relationship to Landing Day Museum were great.
Across the square we visited the US Airborne and had the experience of sitting in a plane waiting to drop by parachute into Normandy. Social stories about the paratroopers sending their parachutes (silk fabric) home to their girlfriends to use in their trousseau gave some humanity to the horror.
It’s all so sensitively presented and yet there’s no escaping the losses of that momentous summer of almost 80 years ago. It as certainly emotional to listen to taps at the lowerning of the flag in the American Cemetery.
La Pointe du Hoc – this ceremonial dagger was erected by the French Gov on the site of a German bunker as a monument to the Rangers who scaled these cliff in an effort to disable the German defenses.
As we looked down on groups playing and strolling along a peaceful Omaha beach, Carine painted a stark and horrific picture of the landing on what subsequently was called Bloody Omaha.
The German Cemetery at La Cambe brought me back to the very touching sculpture of The Grieving Parents in a church in Cologne. La Cambre made us remember that were losses on all sides – there are 21,139 dead in this cemetery including 296 in a mass grave. The groups of black crosses are symbolic and do not mark graves.