France 166 - Pegasus Bridge rising/a massive tanker - the road went skyward


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Europe » France » Lower Normandy » Benouville
January 3rd 2020
Published: January 4th 2020
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Christmas is over . We are heading towards New Year . New Year Resolutions to be made and broken. Brexit - we will be out of the EU in just over a month. What will that bring? A new Labour leader - who will lead the Labour Party out of the political wilderness. Brits wondering if we need International Driving Licences . Will we able to sample French wine freely during 2020 - the transitional year when all things will be sorted out? Will the snowbirds still be able to spend months on end in Spain or golfing in Portugal? So many questions and still the Brexit debarkle continues . Clarity and sense seem miles away from where we stand today.

We are slowly heading home and on our last site of interest in our journey through the Second World War. Pegasus Bridge The bridge was originally called Benouville Bridge . Named after the nearby village. It is a road crossing over the Caen Canal and takes boats to and from the port of Ouistreham. The original bridge was fairly new at the outbreak of war - built in 1934. It was declared after the war a war memorial and moved to become the centrepiece of the nearby museum in Ranville. The replacement bridge erected in 1994 is a bascule bridge and identical to the original bridge. We had travelled over it yesterday and were on our back today.

We arrived to find a large car park which was empty. There is always that sense of unease when a car park is empty . We could not get in due to the height barrier . Van Bunkle on our roof would have been sliced off had we tried to get under. A bit of a disappointment we had to drive further down the road to find a muddy lay by. Someone else had the same idea . Another van had parked in a laybye opposite for the night .

Through the trees we could see the old bridge , a glider and a monument to a solder . We had checked the internet for opening times . The museum was open every day . Sadly though they had not posted their Christmas openings and we found it was closed right up to February 2020. They were missing a trick . The people in the other motorhome and we two would have made 4 visitors , enjoyed the museum , bought a souvenir or two and had a coffee. Two cars drove in and drove out . A further two families income lost to the museum . More came and went as we went in search of the bridge which was well hidden from our viewpoint.

So what makes this bridge special and famous ? On 6 June 1944, the bridge along with nearby Ranville Bridge over the River Orne were captured by members of D Company , the 2nd Airborne Battalian and the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry., A glider force landed in the vicinity. Commanded by Major John Howard the force of 6 Horsa gliders landed , took the bridges and held them . The bridges had to be taken to halt the Germans counter attacking. The bridge was renamed Pegasus after the British Parachute Regiment whose badge was the winged Pegasus.. The successful capture of the bridges played an important role in limiting the effectiveness of a German counter-attack in the aftermath of the Normandy invasion.

We left the museum site and walked over the bridge . Its giant cogs were silent and all that moved on the bridge were us walking along the pavement and a few cars driving over. We stopped outside the Café Gondree famous for being supposedly the first house to be liberated . The family insist it was the first but other locals claim something different . It was closed too. No point in opening with the museum closed . Signs on the bridge told us that if the red lights flashed and the warning bells rang we were not to cross back over . They remained silent and the bridge motionless .

As we walked back we looked first up the canal to the estuary . No sign of a ship at all. To the other side nothing . We wondered how often it raised to let water traffic through. We wondered how long it took to rise . We were soon to find out . As we walked off , with our backs to the bridge we heard it . A bell ringing . The barriers came down. The traffic stopped . We just love a good bridge and this was an opportunity not to be missed .

Still no sign of a ship though as the bridge slowly started to move . The bridge tilted and slowly it moved its teeth meeting with the cogs . The pavement and the road went upwards . From a structure that was minutes ago a roadway it had ended up vertical. It was amazing to watch the process. In the distance was a ship. It trundled along and the traffic waited and waited for it to pass under the bridge . I could not keep my eyes off it . What an achievement . What a beautiful thing that works like clockwork. After the ship passed through the bridge came down. Much more quickly than it rose. Gravity no doubt playing its part.

We may not have seen the museum or got up close and personal with the gliders but what we saw made our trip to Pegasus Bridge well worthwhile . As I said you cannot fault a good bridge .

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