Memorable Days in Normandy

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Throughout this summer, Normandy has been celebrating the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy which began on 6 June 1944. We happened to be in the Department at the end of July. Many of the main festivities were over but even just walking or driving anywhere near the landing beaches one could not help but stop and remember. Pausing and reflecting on so much history and so much destruction really brought home just how lucky we are and how grateful we should be to so many whose lives were lost or altered forever during those dreadful days 75 years ago. I cannot deny it was moving beyond belief just to be in this part of Normandy this Summer.

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These pretty streets withstood the bombings, the tread of army boots and the occasional tank shell. I am sure if the walls could talk they would have many tales to tell. But here they are still standing, in all their glory or decay, they are beautiful. But the story could have been so very different.

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I was not expecting such incredible displays of gratitude all around. In many of the towns, especially those most affected by the fighting, nearly every lamppost held a specially made flag honouring specific WWII Heroes. In some places they were British, in others American or Canadian, and in others French. I read every one I came across, if I was driving I slowed to a crawl to take in the name, the photo, the country and I silently thanked each one by name for everything they gave for our freedom. One couldn’t do anything but read and look; every name, every face, and these are just but the tiniest fraction of those involved.

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In this car park it was the Canadians who were honoured.

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In Lion-sur Mer, a small seaside town, we walked through the streets for hours. Past majestic houses still standing tall and others wearing their pride for all to see.

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The impressive Mairie had flags all around.

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But perhaps the most moving feeling of all was standing on Sword Beach and looking out across the Channel towards England. British forces were predominant here and at Gold during the landings, while Canadians led at Juno and further west at Omaha and Utah, it was the American forces who led the way forward.

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After many minutes of silence just staring and thinking, we eventually turned and walked back away from the sea and towards the town. Once again I found myself marvelling at the architecture that still stands strong today, and I also could not help but think that this has to be one of the prettiest façades for a public loo. Don’t know what it was like inside, but the outside is quite impressive!

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We walked back past pretty houses, old stone walls, some well kept and others having fallen into need of some TLC.

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Next we headed towards Caen where the battle for the city after the D-Day landings continued until the August of 1944. As a result there was a vast amount of damage to the city.

We were sitting in the town centre, enjoying a morning coffee, when we found ourselves looking across at this wonderful old property and its ancient timbers. After finishing our drinks we left the little café and strolled across the street to take a closer look.

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There was a large poster on display, showing the structure ‘before and after’ in 1944, a remarkable contrast to the real building standing just alongside. One could see that all the buildings next to it were destroyed, and how they had been replaced by non-descriptive mid-century structures.

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Amazingly, the church survived.

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And once again there were the flags, everywhere, criss-crossing the streets.

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The city itself is captivating, lively, buzzing, historic and yet also modern. I felt it was rather cosmopolitan. We rented bikes, those ones you see on the side of the road that you pop in your credit card and pay all of €1 for an hour of use (and a whopping €400 deposit, sadly necessary I am sure), and away we went. Boy, did we have fun, whirling through the narrow pedestrianised cobbled streets. Bikes are allowed, cars certainly are not and therefore people amble in the middle of the road! It was cocktail hour and everyone was enjoying balmy weather in the mid 30’s, and to be frank it was quite an effort to not take out any victims by mistake!

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Having returned the bikes we walked to a nearby restaurant for dinner, outside under the stars. A couple passed by in a WWII army jeep, it had no roof and was just as it would have been. They did a tour of the square and everyone voluntarily cheered. Then they stopped, parked on the pavement and came in for an after-dinner drink. We chatted with them and found out they had bought the vehicle and restored it without changing anything except those necessities needed to make it legal on todays roads. The couple were French and proud of their city; they were also extremely grateful for all the allied forces had done for them.

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After dinner we strolled back through the square and again the centre was festooned with flowers and boards with posters depicting so many details from those distant dark days.

It was in every way a trip to remember, and one that provoked much thought. We cannot change history and perhaps we will never learn, but I was so so pleased to see that everywhere so much effort had gone into remembering and honouring.

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21 thoughts on “Memorable Days in Normandy

  • We were at Omaha Beach during a snow storm many February’s. Few folks walking through the American cemetery, you could hardly catch one’s breath thinking of what happens all those years ago.

  • I was in Normandy for the 65th anniversary of D-Day. At one of the ceremonies, in the car park we saw an American jeep drive up and two people dressed as American soldiers get out. We followed them on foot to catch them up and they were Germans! #culturalappropriation LOL

  • thank you for this beautiful reminder of days that changed the world! “Attention must be paid!”, that culminating line of “Death of a Salesman” comes to mind – and you do exactly that! The song, “when will they ever learn, when will they everrrrr learn?” comes also to me — wondering, wondering if this will ever be answered! Did you have a chance to attend the Museum of Peace at Caen? Worthy of the journey — this alone! Lovely to stroll France with you, and not only here. Walked these ways many times, especially with teen daughters in 1976 — they wanted to be home with the Tall Ships. My husband and I told them, “Without the blood that was shed on these Beaches, we would not be celebrating the Bicentennial!” They settled down on Omaha Beach, I swear against rusting tanks still being lapped by waves, each to read her copy of The Longest Day. No more complaints — especially standing among the forest of crosses in the Normandy cemetery.

  • Susan – thanks for this! The words even more than the wonderful photos ! So agree with all Carolyn up above has said . . .’when will they ever learn’ . . . we have a long way to go ! Contrary to anyone reading this methinks, I come from a different time and place . . . I was THERE, just a few hundred kilometres away, a refugee from the Communists in a small town in the Black Forest of Germany. Waiting for the Allies to arrive, as a small child unable to know what really was happening: looking back I understood enough . . . being strafed by American fighters after bombing raids, then undergoing 48 hours of hell when the French Moroccan troops entering Freudenstadt raped over 500 women in plain sight (Google still has a few facts !) . . .including one in my house . . . this did not happen to a previous generation, little me remembers each happening . . . and also mushrooming in the forests as food was scarce and being one of the ‘littlest’ ‘spies’ helping English and American shot-down fliers escape to Switzerland and France . . .Dad and I were a team for over a year . Only later did we find out what had gone on NNW and not such a long way away . . . .loved reading what you wrote . . . we all look at things from a personal viewpoint, I guess . . . . Didn’t Gigi do well 🙂 ? . . .

  • Extremely moving! I do wish more of our young could be there – if they don’t see it, they will never learn. They are too far removed.

    • Beautifully written and wonderful photos – thank you! I visited Normandy and the Landing Beaches in July too! Very moving.

  • I love this post and it brings back wonderful and sobering memories of our visit to Normandy some years ago. As I may have mentioned, my f-i-l landed at Omaha Beach on D-day and was later in the Pacific front. My husband says he (f-i-l) never really talked about the war, as is true with many veterans. But we spent three days there, two with a wonderful guide, seeing even places not everyone would see. It was moving beyond belief! And I was touched to see and hear so many positive things about America and the rest of the Allies. I do get a bit tired of America as bad country all the time. 🙂

    janet

  • Thank you for this beautiful and evocative post, Susan! Your photos and writing are glorious as always, but I especially appreciated your showing us the tributes to the individual soldiers. Countries may go to war, but it’s always individual human beings who bear the ultimate cost. I’m glad these men (and women) are being remembered.

  • We visited Sword and Juno Beaches in 2016 and felt much the same as you – the dreadful losses, the hope, the desperation, and the architecture that witnessed these events. The Commonwealth graveyards with their rows and rows of white markers was a sober reminder of the great cost of war.

  • We were in Normandy a couple of years ago, in the fall, and found it both moving and beautiful to visit Omaha beach, Arromanches, the Museum of Peace, the American Cemetery and many of the small villages. We felt a strong connection to the past and to the people — everyone was so warm and welcoming. We saw several older veterans’ groups visiting as well. One of the most chilling experiences was visiting Longue sur Mer and the German artillery batteries, looking out across the Channel and thinking of all the Allied troops on D-Day not knowing exactly what they would face.
    Thanks for sharing the lovely photos and your experiences!

  • Thanks so much for sharing your photos and experience in Normandy. I have been to this area twice now – once with just my husband and once with my kids when they were teenagers. I think it should be somewhere that everyone should visit to pay our respects and understand what was given for our freedoms. Very sobering. And I loved my visits to Caen.

  • Beautiful photos, you give the observer an impression of the atmosphere in Normandy and Caen. What grand old houses! I’m looking forward to visiting France in September. We are going to a little village near Toulouse but we are looking to stop somewhere en-route from Caen on our drive down. I welcome your suggestions!

    • Our B&B, Maison Maurice is situated 10 minutes from the A10 autoroute junction 36 Pons). Susan, Roddy and family stayed with us just before moving into their new home, a short lifetime ago! Depending on your dates we may be able to accommodate you. You can view our website at maisonmaurice.net. Hope you have a fab holiday in France in any event. Penny

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