Friday 22 May 2015
Seventy-one years ago the Allied armies were preparing to land at the Normandy beaches only a few kilometres from where we are staying. It is hard to believe the turmoil that would be unleashed on such beautiful countryside. Today the weather is fine, the fields have been planted in summer crops of grain, corn and broad beans. They look lush and sway in the light breeze. We wondered if this is how it would have looked all those years ago.
Our destination today is the Caen Memorial Museum. We were greeted by a larger than life American sailor embracing a local girl, a sign of happiness and relief perhaps. Inside a very large bunker -like building we are greeted by a light welcoming feeling. Without any questions being asked we are charged the rate for 60+. We don't complain but the question is - is this holiday really rejuvenating our youth or is the stress of driving taking its toll.
The first part of the exhibition follows the causes of the Second World War starting with the 1914-18 war and its outcome. History seems to be repeating itself in the Middle East. Will we
ever learn. The exhibition continues with a photographic portrayal of the events before, during and after the war with some thought provoking comments and descriptions, some quite graphic. We were surprised how long we were in the first part of the exhibition, two and a half hours. Time for a lunch break.
We were in time for a showing of a short film using real footage and, we are sure, footage from the film The Longest Day minus John Wayne. Much of the film was shown in split screen depicting both sides in the conflict.
With much more to do today we decided to forego the D-Day Landing exhibition (we saw one at Bayeux). By 4:00 pm we were ready to head for the beaches.
Today the beaches were deserted. A group of people were playing boules. Beach-side houses looked closed up but no doubt the area will be packed with holiday makers in a month or so. Driving from one seaside village to another each one had its own reminder of the D-Day landings. There were notice boards, museums or relics. Arromanches still had remnants of the portable Mulberry Harbour floated over from England.
Remnants of the Mulberry Harbour
final visit was the vast American Military Cemetery adjacent to the beach code named Omaha. Everything about the cemetery was immaculate, even the way the trees were trimmed. It was getting late and a cold wind was getting up. Time to head back to our hotel.
We have seen films of the invasion, The Longest Day, Saving Private Ryan and The Band of Brothers, but until you visit the area you don't realize the enormity of the undertaking, the loss of life, and what it did to the local population. Let us hope a lesson has been learnt, or has it.
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