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Published: January 1st 2020
After leaving the relative peace and quietness of downtown Carentan Gabby the motorhome found herself parked up on a very windy headland overlooking the rather choppy sea. Rusted guns still point to the south coast of England. Why are we here? Well this coastal battery at Longues sur Mer is one of the key Normandy D Day battlefield sites. That is reason enough . It is the midst of the landing beaches between Omaha and Gold Beach with views towards Arromanches and the Mulberry Harbours . It is an open site , free to visit and wonder round and to our surprise still has its guns . It was still a busy place even out of season. A place for walkers and enthusiasts alike. There is a tourist information office here but at this time of year it is closed and parking areas large enough to hide away Gabby for the night if we wanted to. I doubt we will stay here as the wind is blowing off the sea and it would make for a very blustery and sleepless night. We can find any number of free sites along this stretch of coast. We had pencilled in a few WW2
sites along this coast but some such as Grandcamp Maisie and The Merville Battery closed down after Armistice Day. We put them in our memory list for another trip. We could fill another holiday quite easily with battle sites and memorials along this coast .
I was taken back to the first worm of an idea for this holiday . Edinburgh had been discounted . Campsites all over the United Kingdom had been selfishly booked by tuggers who made reservations for Christmas 2019 as soon as January 1st came round. Leaving little but the scraps on the table for the rest of us who had no idea if we would get time to get away at all. What was left did not fill me with enthusiasm . Instead my thoughts went across the Channel . The weather would be little different to the UK would it? If it was bad then so be it . If we were lucky with the weather then great . Whatever the worse part of the journey would be from home to the Chunnel. After that it would be plain sailing . Apart from the cakes and the bread . Diet time when I
get home . A small price to pay for a fortnight away from the realities of work.
We wrapped up warm . We needed to. For once our heavy winter jackets coming into their own. Scarves wrapped round our necks and gloved hands. We needed them for the walk we had in mind. We set off as the wind blew and whistled. Even after 75 years these batteries were in amazing order . We walked to the first and found it full of rusting iron. The remnants of the gun. It still looked like a gun even rusted and in bits. Left as a memorial to those who fought here. A memory not to do it again. . It was easy to see how men could be picked off on the beach from these positions. The mangled and rusty remains told a story. It must have been frightening for those firing the guns and those on the receiving end . Smoke , noise and the threat of death just round the corner. It made us think. It must have been horrific. You just cannot put yourself in the place of all these men. Whatever side they fought
on . It makes no difference . War was brutal and the concrete of these bunkers reflected the reality of that brutalness.
The second battery had a gun in better order . We were able to get out of the wind and climb inside the battery to inspect the gun more closely. On our own we had plenty of time to look round, take it all in and wander aimlessly . We read that the four gun emplacements contained four Czech-made (Skoda) 150mm naval guns in a line of casements, a 120mm ex-Russian gun, a command/fire control bunker 300m away on the cliff edge, and a number of other constructions such as trenches, ammunition stores, mortar pits, Tobruck machine gun positions, a searchlight installation and four 20mm AA gun positions… all within a ring of barbed wire and mines. It was a lonely place with the wind howling through it. We walked to the 3rd battery and saw another of the guns. The fourth battery held the last gun. Although of similar size and shape each one held a slightly different position on the clifftop. What destruction they must have caused to anything that passed in their way. .
We stopped often to look round . Amongst these structures we felt a little insignificant .
We walked along the cliff to a further installation . The wind blew and battered us. We were thankful for the warm clothing. This is the first time we have felt cold . We would be grateful to have Gabby to return to . A home on wheels where it only takes five minutes to warm up over a cup of hot steaming coffee and sit against the gas fired heater . A hot meal ten minutes away.
This battery was isolated and different from the others. Much larger and with more gun emplacements . . We could climb on the top of it and in the distance see Arromanches and the remains of some of Mulberry Harbour. We could climb into its dank interior . Moss clinging to the walls. It felt and smelt damp . Unused for all those years. Underground it felt claustrophobic. It must have been hell with all the smoke, the noise and the sounds all around amplified within that deep cavenous space.
. We had the same view across the sea that the soldiers
would have had when they manned the guns How must they have felt ? Did they wonder if they would live to see the next day? Were they frightened? Probably . We have known nothing like this and cannot even with a vivid imagination appreciate it . We will never know as we experienced the installation in peacetime. . The battery, which had the codename Wn48 was built on the cliffs in just a few months between Sep 1943 and Apr 1944. A massive construction that we were amazed could be built in such a short time scale . The amount of concrete needed to build the structures was mindblowing. How did they bring everything in ? How much of a workforce was needed to construct the defences? And all of this going on in a battleground. It beggars belief . The batteries were built to withstand attack and even after all these years this was clear to see . No marks on them to suggest shelling had affected them . Even the weather which would be unkind in this part of France and the years had made little impression on the buildings Nature was taking a long time to
claim them.. A bit of ivy here and there. . They were built to last by an army who had marched its way across Europe.
Walking back I guess we were a little silent . The scale of what we are seeing is monumental. I cannot imagine anyone visiting and not being moved . At each corner a war memorial . Memorials in lines stretching from village to village. Names and names of the dead etched on stone . It goes on and on. Mile after mile . Names of the roads reminding us of the past - Liberation Road . Rue de Liberation - Rue de paratroopers . Each road had a name that linked it forever with the past . Thats not a bad thing. You cannot airbrush history out so road names at least serve the purpose of being constant reminders of the war fought here for the freedom of Europe. I still believe everyone once in their lives should visit a war cemetery perhaps see the Menin Gate to feel what went on before . We should never forget. Seeing these bunkers well they will stay in my memory forever .
In our minds I guess we were silently thanking the men who fought here . It is easy to see just how close we were to an attack . Relief that we escaped it on our own land . Sadness at how many soldiers lost their lives . We were to continue seeing more of the same. Along these beaches the story is just the same . It does not matter what your nationality is there are so many graveyards to the Americans, the Canadians , the British , the Germans .................they just go on and on.
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