We have both been intrigued and inspired by the history of the Normandy beaches and the world war two landings there and had hoped to find time to learn more about this awe inspiring place and time. After a long day travelling across Brittany with a fascinating short diversion into the town of Fougeres to break the journey, we finally reached the Normandy coast and the area where the 1944 allied landings took place.
Quite by accident we found ourselves in Longue sur Mer or at least the visitor centre at the location of a world war two German gun battery. A very eerie, thought-provoking and awe inspiring place to visit; we walked amongst the concrete bunkers with the rusting hulks of their enormous guns looking out to the calm sea thinking about the thousands of men who were willing to give their lives for their country.
I was pleased to see a handful of visitors however I was angered by the children, who ran around the concrete structures and clambered in the guns some of them even making gun noises, and by the adult visitors of all nationalities, who snapped photographs of every remaining piece of concrete, their actions all seemed to me extremely disrespectful and macabre.
Thinking further I rationalised it was really only like my sister and I clambering around ancient castle ruins as we imagined what it would have been like to be the soldiers firing arrows on the moats below and our parents, snapping photographs to remind them of the site that they marvelled at. Even so I could not bring myself to take any pictures.
The important thing is that they were there, English, Czech, Dutch, Americans and Germans all showing an interest, paying their respects in their own way and somehow, hopefully, ensuring that what happened there, the sacrifices made and the futility of war will not be forgotten.
When we saw a camper van parked in the car park we asked in the visitor centre was it actually ok to park overnight in the car park and amazingly it was. We found our space on a grassy area on top of the cliff looking out to sea and to the east along the stunning coastline to the remains of the Mulberry harbour protruding from the sea by Arromanches. This I felt compelled to photograph…
We both had grandfathers that had been in the Normandy landings yet still, other than what Hollywood has presented, we knew little about build up, logistics and challenges of the operation, since few survivors, it seems, ever really wanted to talk about it.
We sat in our beautiful and surreal place reading the books and as the sun set over the calm English Channel, we toasted our grandfathers and all who crossed the channel with them.
The following morning we toured many of the Normandy landing beaches, walked silently amongst the war memorials and read the plaques mounted to the remaining debris of the wars. We were alone in the secluded war cemetery where all nationalities of allied troops rest at peace alongside German soldiers who’s graves are now equally cared for by the dedicated Commissions, into who’s care they fell, though clearly separated and differentiated by inscriptions, or lack of, on their grave stones.
Of all the things we had seen so far, the Normandy beaches provoked more reflection and questioning in us than anywhere, maybe because of our family involvement, maybe because the conflict was so relatively recent or simply because of our sombre mood in the final days of our trip. After the highs of, what we feel was, an amazing adventure the beaches and towns of Normandy made us feel so very small and our exploits so insignificant. This profound feeling will influence what we do from here, now and in the future, we will remember this time and those many people who we must not forget.