Wednesday, 20 April 2011

It was D-Day!

We left Cherbourg on Sunday morning, determined to visit some but not all of the Normandy beaches and learn something about this historic area. Historic for its contribution to the end of World War II when the allies landed on the beaches and started mopping up the German occupiers. The main beaches are almost seamless and are quite similar, being a vaste stretch of sand so we concentrated on two of them. But first, a stop at where it all began. St Mere Eglise (Basse Normandie).

This was one of the first towns liberated on 6 June 1944 as part of Operation Overlord. American parachutists started landing (and being slaughtered) along with special gliders (many of which crashed). There's the famous story of soldier John Steele whose parachute caught on the clock tower and he had to hang wounded while all the action was going on. The town featured in the movie The Longest Day (1962), playing itself, and featuring John Wayne, Robert Ryan and Richard Burton and even Sean Connery amongst a star-studded cast.

After photographing the church and a borne that starts Liberty Road we visited the American Airborne museum. It was really impressive and interesting. We watched a short documentary which was very moving. I think the most impressive thing about this museum is the personal way it handles a terrible subject. Individuals involved in this event are profiled, their belongings are on display. The soldiers and the villagers went through a lot together and formed close bonds. Some soldiers came back to visit the town years later. This place is definitely recommended as a stop-off.

Cruising through the countryside trying to find our way in new territory we visited two of the main landing sites. I was surprised by the depth of the shell holes and the wildness of the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc. No wonder the soldiers had a tough time knocking out German batteries before the invasion got fully underway.

I loved the metal sculpture at Omaha Beach. It's beautiful from every direction whereas the other part of the monument in front of it is a ghastly and ugly thing. We had lunch at Omaha after visiting Pointe du Hoc. After that we felt we'd done all we needed to do concerning these sorts of visits. We didn't have time to visit any war cemeteries.

Even if you are anti-war like me, it's worth visiting these beaches and other war sites. They are important and they are surprisingly moving. Their stories are about real people (not just men, ladies); the soldiers and the french villagers. It's a section of the war NZ didn't play a part in- we were fighting elsewhere, and consequently we tend to know less about it.

Then it was time to move on to Deauville and Honfleur. We'll cover those in the next post.

Photos of St Mere-Eglise (look for the parachutist), a borne, displays at the museum, Omaha Beach with sculpture, and Pointe du Hoc Beach including shell holes with wild primulas flowering, the Coastline.


Alison said...

You're right, we don't seem to know as much about this aspect of the war. It's certainly a place I would like to visit and I'm enjoying your story and photos.

Yves said...

Ho! Frances,

You don't stop at the cemetery of Colleville?
What a pity!
is the only place that any visitor should visit.
Ce cimetière américain domine la plage de Omaha.
6 000 G.I. are staying in the earth of Normandy, in this cimetery.

As remember that young americans give their lives for the liberty in Normandy, the territory of that cimetery has been given to the USA by french people.

Now, it is an american territory.

When you visit, you can't stay insensitive.
Don't to stop at Colleville, and you don't see the reality of result of the war.

Sorry for you!!

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