A Visit to the Beaches of Normandy
Historical events of monumental proportions occurred in Normandy. From here rose the medieval king who conquered England, and this land was the rope in a tug-of-war of power between England and France for generations.
More recent history is commemorated in the World War II memorials of D-Day, June 6, 1944, when 156,000 men landed on the beaches of Normandy and began the liberation of France and the downfall of Nazi Germany.
It was a sobering day. The rows and rows of tombstones in the Commonwealth graves (there are 18 graveyards dedicated to the Commonwealth which includes Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand).
Roses grow between the graves along with lavender, poppies and other flowers. They are beautifully maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
The headstones are identical white stone made unique by the emblem at the top - here a maple leaf for the Canadian troops.
There was so much to see and to absorb at these sites. A one-day visit is hardly enough.
I learned much about the preparations for D-Day and how it all began with 6 gliders, each filled with 30 men and two jeeps who were to land and secure two bridges, just 400 metres apart, so that when the landing of troops occurred, they would be able to cross the rivers with ease.
Above is the original Pegasus Bridge, taken just 15 minutes after the gliders landed. The Pegasus Museum gave a great overview of the event.
This photo of the new Pegasus Bridge looks much the same as the original (both are counterweight bridges), but is larger. The first glider landed shortly after midnight at the site of the first monument. Incredibly accurate. Gliders were silent (until they landed), so the surprise was a success.
Once the bridge was taken, it had to be held until the troops arrived. Shots were fired from roof of the chateau in the distance, but those shots could not be returned, for the chateau was a maternity hospital and the Allies did not want to harm the mothers and children there.
This house and coffee shop, right beside the bridge, was the first house liberated by the Allied troops. It belonged to the Gondree family and the daughter still owns the house and lives there.
More shots were fired from the tower of the church, and these were returned.
How peaceful it all looks today. A young man fished in the river just below the bridge. Patrons enjoyed coffee and ice cream at the house/coffee shop. Young families strolled by.
The water is so blue. People lie on the beach, sunbathing, while children run in and out of the water.
These caissons were towed over on D-Day to form an artificial harbour at Arromanches. It was to this harbour that the materiel for continuing the advance into France arrived.
I was struck by this juxtaposition of war and peace in the square overlooking the sea at Arromanches. A gun memorializes the soldiers who fought there. Next to it is a carousel with merry voices and cheerful music.
On to Juno Beach, the landing site for the Canadian troops. There is a museum here, and a preserved German bunker.
Tim on Juno Beach, now a peaceful place of pleasure and play. I am proud to be a Canadian, and never more so than after seeing the role my country played in the war. 9% of Canada's population at the time took direct part in the war - the highest contribution per capita of any nation.
Let us not forget the sacrifice of so many.