D-Day … Normandy 70 years later27/06/2014
by Adrien Gallo
Seventy years ago Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy. June 6th 2014, Heads of States, veterans and thousands of citizens of these countries celebrated that anniversary so important in French and world history.
That event has been celebrated with all the pomp and glory that this military exploit warranted. Many heads of states participated in the international pageant held in the town of Ouistreham: Queen Elisabeth II, President Barak Obama, President Vladimir Poutine, Canadian Premier Stephen Harper, Prime Minister Tony Abbott of Australia, The Governor General of New Zealand, Mr Jerry Mateparae, and the kings of Belgium, Netherlands and Norway, to name a few.World TV access was put in place so all major networks could cover the events and tributes given to the veterans of the invasion. Local inhabitants, in gestures of friendship and gratefulness, hosted veterans travelling alone in their homes.To Visit the landing beaches of NormandyTo have a general view of landing beaches, a simplified excursion can be done in a single day, but three ofrfour days are recommended to really explore the region its towns, chateaux and local food and to make contacts with the locals.
Departing from Caen, the regional capital, on a 200km tour, the excursion that covers the British, Canadian and American sectors travels along the coast to Grancamp Maysy to return inland by Bayeux. Numerous direction signs indicate the major sites to visit along the route. Maps and guides are also available.
Exiting from Caen in a north west direction to Cabourg is Franceville where four blockhaus were used by the German army to defend the battery of Merville.
In close proximity is the Benouville bridge, known as Pegasus Bridge, taken by British paratroopers, the first liberated village in France. Next to the museum is the café of Madame Gondree whom I had already met in 1984 during the 40th Anniversary. She had lived through the occupation, was active in the resistance and was condemned to death by the Germans to be saved at the last minute by the landing. Her daughter Arlette is now the keeper of this memorial to the British paratroops.
Departing from Ouistreham a boat takes in the landing beaches that stretches 100km from Sword to Utah beach.
The beautiful coast known as Cote de Nacre with golden sand covers both Sword and Juno beaches in the British and Canadian sectors. At close proximity is the village of Creully were the BBC broadcasted during the battle of Normandy. Also close is the chateau of Cruilet were General Montgomery had his HQ. From there, visible at the bottom of the cliff, Mont Fleury batteries.
In Arromanches, vestiges of the artificial harbour named Port Winston are still visible site of the Mulberry operations imagined by Winston Churcill. Twelve kilometres long and built within a week, this harbour had more than 500,000 vehicles and 2,5 million men landing here. Arromanches became the major supply point of the Invasion.
An exceptional view point of the harbour can be had from St Come village.
The excellent Arromanches museum gives visitors full details of the Invasion, together with military materiel, photographs and small scale plans. An excellent film is also shown. A visit to the Arromanches museum is a must to understand the Invasion.
In the same environment, not to be missed, are the batteries of Longues sur Mer with its four blokhauses with their 150mm guns. Nearby is the charming fishing port of Port en Bessin, ideal for a seafood lunch.
Then on to the great American Cemetery of Colleville, covering 172 hectares of American soil where more than 9,000 GI’s are buried. A father and son lie to rest here as well as 33 pairs of brothers. The cemetery overlooks Omaha Beach and Pointe du Hoc, the most murderous beaches of the landings. At Pointe du Hoc, Col James Earl Rudder lead his 225 strong Rangers during two murderous days before taking the cliff. They finally won, but only 90 of them were alive to celebrate the victory.
Another great spot for lunch is the small fishing village of Grandcamp Maisy with its small restaurants serving delicious seafood.
Leaving the coastline to the interior by the town of Carentan, the last landing beach is Utah Beach, site of a major push, with 836,000 men and 220,000 vehicles landed on the beach of La Madeleine. A visit to the Bunker Museum describes the battle.
Then on to Sainte Marie du Mont where the famous Sainte Mere Eglise is located. 70 years ago paratrooper John Steele got hooked up on the spire of the church by the straps of his parachute; he survived watching the battle below taking place. There’s an interesting museum that is well worth visiting.
Returning now towards Caen, a visit to the German cemetery near La Cambe where more than 21,000 German soldiers are buried is also worth a visit.
Bayeux, the last place of the tour was not damaged by the bombardments. The great gothic cathedral and the Battle of Normandy Museum are not to be missed Also a must in Bayeux is the famous Tapestry of Queen Mathilda embroidered between 1066 and 1082 depicting William the Conqueror’s Battle of Hasting, another landing…
Tips for the visitor
Normandy and its fine sand beaches are ideal for the summer. More than 300km of cycling paths crisscross the region This year many events throughout the summer will celebrate the D Day Invasion.
An impressive calendar of events is available detailing military tattoos, fireworks, concerts, exhibitions, fairs etc. Most museums have new exhibition halls and provide the visitor with downloadable Apps to enhance the experience.
For horse lovers Normandy will this summer host the prestigious Alltech FEITM show that will receive more than 500,000 visitors for its Equestrian games featuring more than 1,000 horses. The major venue will be in Caen with other events in Haras du Pin and Deauville.