Published: July 27th 2011July 22nd 2011
On the 22nd July we visited the sights of the D-day beaches through Normandy. Not really knowing too much about the American side of the landings, we decided to take the tour that went to the American sights of Utah and Omaha beaches. Of course, we were the only non-Americans on the tour though, which was not what we were expecting and took us by surprise suddenly being surrounded by American accents after having become used to European accents.
But it was a fantastic tour. The stories of the planning and execution of the landings and efforts through the country side to re-claim the towns and region from the Germans were really inspiring. There were stories of paratroopers getting stuck on a church steeple and having to "play dead" for two hours to avoid being shot by the Germans. And seeing the countryside where all of the tiny roads are lined with "hedgerows" which are 7-8 foot high dense hedges making it impossible to see who is waiting on the otherside. The allies worked out quickly that the cows in the fields would follow where the Germans were as they were looking for food... and so they too followed the
cows to track or to avoid the Germans.
We were also taken through the actual landing sights on the beaches which still bear the scars with huge bomb craters and German defensive bunkers everywhere. We were able to go inside the bunkers and get a view out to the English Channel to see where the Germans hid both themselves and their cannons to defend the Atlantic Wall - built along the west of France through to the north of Europe comprising bunkers, mines, barbed wires and beach obstacles. From a high vantage point we could also see in the distance the remains of the artificial harbour built to allow the amphibious landings of the allies.
Our final desitnation was the American Cemetary on Omaha beach. A very moving place, set up much the same as Arlington Cemetary with all of the head stones being identical (crosses for the Christians and Star of David for the Jews was the only differences) and in perfect alignment. However, the most disturbing part of the day was the evidence of a creeping American police state... the visitors centre in the cemetary had an imposing looking security detail that required bag searches and screening by
The allies brought all of this mesh wire with them to help build makeshift air landing fields and today it is used extensively across farms for anything and everything they can think of.
metal detectors. The irony of a memorial to freedom and the sacrifices made in the pursuit of freedom and liberty having such a strong and intimidating search proceedure (the guards openly carried hand cuffs and batons on their belts) was completely lost on the Americans on our tour. When we asked them what they thought of it, their response, without hesitation was, "I'm sure it is for a very good reason". From memory, even Arlington cemetary in Virginia does not have person and bag seraches to enter, so the good reason out on the beaches in northern France completely alludes us.
While visting the beaches area we stayed in the beautiful little town called Bayeux which was one of the first towns to be liberated by the allies, and thankfully had avoided any bombing during the war. the result being that the old streets and most importantly the spectacular catherdral still remained in tact. Also in the town is the Bayeux Tapestry, a 70m (yes, that is not a typo) long tapestry depicting the story of William the Conqueror and the Norman invasions of 1066. Absolutely fascinating.
As we were writing this, we were on the train heaading
One of the first landing beaches of the Americans
back to Paris for four nights... including the all important Sunday finish of the Tour de France... which of course we camped out on the side of the road for 2 hours for the all important 3 seconds as the peleton (?) flew past!
We'll update our Paris adventures soon... we are now on our way through Belgium and off the Amsterdam and then Berlin.
Love to all
There are more photos below