Yesterday marked the 75th anniversary of the D Day landings on the Normandy coast during WW2 named Operation Overlord. I’m sure you’ve read and seen loads about this so I thought I’d look at it from a different view point. I’ve been lucky enough to visit Normandy several times and visit the D Day beaches and location important to the operation. So I thought I’d talk about that.
The last time I went to Normandy was 10 years ago just after the 65th Anniversary. We stayed somewhere near Bayeux. The first time I went was in the early 1990’s when I wasn’t even a teenager yet.
One of my favourite places is Arromanches – Sur – Basin or Arromanches as it’s usually called. It’s on the coast where the landing beach code named Gold is. It’s where one of the Mulberry harbours was built by the British forces. Some of the harbour still exists in the sea and the beach. I have fond memories of my visit in the early 90’s eating ice cream sitting on the sea wall with my new cuddly wolf (called Bro) I’d just got looking at the remains of the harbour. Despite everything that had happened there it was just a great day. The last time I went the anniversary flags were still up but it still felt like a happy seaside town.
I also liked the village of Sainte – Mere – Eglise. It was really pretty with pots full of flowers surrounding the church. It was here that an American 505th parachute regiment landed. Except it went a bit wrong for John Steele. He kind of got stuck on the church steeple and was dangling from it. He played dead for hours but the Germans eventually captured him, he escaped and got back to his regiment and survived the war. If you go there you can see a dummy hanging from a parachute from the church.
Another pretty village is that of Ranville. There is a large commonwealth cemetery there. The cemetery is tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, as are all Commonwealth war cemeteries, with each grave having its own plants. This village lead to much hilarity in our family. Now my French is non existent, I was scared of one of the French teacher at school so I did German. My map reading skills are brilliant (well I think so). I saw a sign which I thought said the cemetery and followed it. It was a bit of a surprise when were arrived at the cement works just outside the town. Cimenterie (cement works), cimetière for cemetery, you can see where I went wrong. Mind you it gets worse as not far from Ranvillie is the town of Ouistreham. This is where the ferry between Caen and Portsmouth comes in. We were looking for a car park and I found one, it was the ferry queue!
I also like the town of Bayeux. We went to see the tapestry, which was alright I suppose, or right I found it disappointing and small (I'm bias though as my ancestor Lady Elizabeth Wardle and her ladies made a replica which is in Reading Museum). I did like the Commonwealth cemetery though. It has a great feature of the memorial wall on one side and the graves on the other with a D road going straight through the middle (D roads are like B roads in the UK). There are also German graves here as well. There is a museum next to the cemetery which has 2 tanks outside. 10 years ago there was a bird using the tank’s gun barrel as a nest. I found that so wonderful. Something that caused death being used to raise life.
Now one thing my visits to Normandy showed me is the differences between the cemeteries. Commonwealth ones are peaceful with plants by each grave. The German ones were mostly being looked after the people of the place they were in. The American sites very regimented with no flowers by the graves but just rows and rows of straight lines. In all of them though it was very evident that the fallen were well looked after and honoured. The American cemeteries had active soldiers on duty there to honour there fallen comrades and assist the public. It was at the site of Ponte du Hoc where the Rangers scaled the 100 foot high cliffs under heavy fire that I also had a moment. There was a tour group in with Rangers assisting them. There was one Ranger, he was really tall and looked fantastic in his uniform and knee length brown boots. Me being me asked him if I could have them to which he smiled at me and said “sorry mam”.
So despite what happened on that coast of France it’s still a lovely place which we can visit thanks to the effort and sacrifice of the soldiers who fought there on D Day 75 years ago.
Hello and thank you for taking the time to read my Family History Ramblings on genealogy and history in general. I hope you find it informative and hopefully funny!