Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Invasion Beaches--Normandy (REPOST)

Because we were in Normandy in April this year I thought I'd repost my impressions of the Beaches where my Grandad landed and, according to him, where he blasted the hell out of the Hitler Youth in Caen. (He isn't very politically correct but I love him anyway). He was a color sergeant major in the Royal Artillery in charge of these things (below) which made him deaf as a post. In an odd coincidence his unit supported the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division throughout the war.
We headed east to some of the D-Day beaches yesterday to try and get a sense of the incredible events that took place 6th June 1944.  It doesn't seem so long ago anymore.  I think maybe you measure time differently as you get older.  I don't have time to write a long blog--almost lunchtime here in the caravan and I'm typing on the kitchen table and I'm about to get kicked off :) 

First we went to Juno Beach where the Canadian troops landed.  It was a long flat stretch of sand strongly fortified by Hitler's Atlantic Wall (an incredible feat of engineering in itself). The sun shone down on golden sand and it was hard to believe so many men fought and died here.

We drove north from here to Arromanches and Gold Beach where the British and other Commonwealth troops came ashore.  We ate lunch on top of a German bunker.
The remains of the Mulberry Harbor that enabled the invasion of Normandy in June 1944 can be seen in this bay.  The Allied Forces constructed the world's largest port within a couple of days of taking the beach.  Arramanches also has the Musee du Debarquement which explains how they designed, engineered and built the floating harbor and hid it from the Nazi spy planes prior to the invasion.  Thank God for Winston Churchill.
Finally (because we have four kids under 10 and a two-hour drive home) we went to Omaha Beach where some of the American Forces landed. 
Overlooking the beach is the American war cemetery at Colleville sur Mer made famous in the opening scene of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.  Immediately you turn in the gate you know you are in a small slice of America.

It's an incredibly beautiful place.  Somber and respectful.  Row upon row of immaculate ice-white marble crosses and star of David headstones are laid out with pinpoint precision.  The symmetry of the stones and the formality of the neatly trimmed lush green lawns and massive monuments adds a slightly surreal aspect.  This is nothing like the rural France we drove past to get here.  It is grand and imposing and a magnificent resting place for so many unfortunate young warriors.

So many graves dated 6th June 1944.  I don't know what would be worse--to die on D-Day or be killed in the battle afterward?  Such brave men.  So many dead.  It's heartbreaking and humbling.

A little further on is the most spectacular piece of coast taken during the assault at Pointe du Hoc.  The American Airborne Division had to climb rope ladders to get to the Nazis shooting at them from the incredible array of German bunkers topping the cliffs (not sure I'd classify this as a beach!).  The top of the hillside is dimpled and cratered from the artillery bombing.  The battle was fierce and bloody on both sides. 

The previous day we'd visited a German Cemetery (I haven't downloaded those pictures yet).  A cold somber granite circle, almost like a bunker in its own right.  No pomp and ceremony, just the bleak warning as to the peril and folly of warfare.  So many dead here...

I wouldn't have missed this part of our holiday for anything.  Paying our respects and trying to imagine what went on 65 years ago put the whole thing into perspective and made it feel real.  How do you thank people for making sacrifices like that?  


  1. Wow, I just finished watching Band of Brothers a few weeks ago so those pixs have a whole new meaning to me now.

  2. It's a great place, Kelly.

  3. Awesome post, awesome pictures. I just visited the WWII museum in New Orleans a couple of weeks back, and afterward had a new appreciation for just how hardcore our grandparents were. :)

  4. Thanks, Shawn. It was a privilege to go, as I'm sure you can imagine.

  5. Thanks for sharing such a great post, Toni. Very humbling, but very necessary. "Last Post" is sounding in my mind.