United Kingdom, France · 8 Days · 33 Moments · June 2017

D-Day Landings Tour - Normandy, France


8 July 2017

With our last bit of time in Normandy we had a wander around the beautiful Riva-Bella area of Ouistreham - a busy and thriving beachfront, and tourist hotspot. We were able to sit right up on the breakwater and watch our ship dock (finally stopping my over-worrying that we were at the right port). An unstressed end to a great day.
We didn't plan on doing much today while we were waiting for the ferry at Ouistreham, but had some time to kill and came across this place - an old bunker from the Atlantic Wall converted into a museum. Fantastically recreated and preserved inside - you can see where the original door was blown open by the Canadian Royal Engineers (along with imitation explosives). Also really great to see an original landing craft that was restored and used in Saving Private Ryan.

7 July 2017

Our last full day yesterday at Honfleur. We absolutely fell in love with this place last year on the cruise and wanted to come back and have more time to enjoy it. After a packed itinerary every day it was a welcome chance to relax and take in the fantastic atmosphere of the town.

6 July 2017

Our visit to see the world famous Bayeux Tapestry...or at least the closest I could get with the camera! What I can tell you however, is that's very long, very old and very difficult to follow without picking up the audio guide when you walk in.
Catching up from Thursday - Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Bayeux. Fantastic building right in the centre of Bayeux, and only a short walk from the tapestry. We lit a candle there also in remembrance of the lost for a future of peace.
The beautifully maintained Bayeux Commonwealth War Graves Commission Memorial and Cemetery. This is the largest British World War Two cemetery in France, containing 4,648 graves including 3,935 from the United Kingdom. It is a peaceful and humbling place to visit, and it was here that we decided this would be a fitting place to end our tour. We signed the visitors book in remembrance of those who gave their lives so we could live ours.
A quick walk up from the museum was the Bayeux Memorial to the Missing with No Known Graves. It bears the names of 1,805 Commonwealth service men and women who fell in the battle of Normandy. It bears an inscription in Latin that translates as "WE WHO WERE CONQUERED BY WILLIAM LIBERATE HIS FATHERLAND".
After a busy few days on the road we wanted to stay in Bayeux so started the day at the Musée Mémorial de la Bataille de Normandie. The museum is quite educational in its presentation and the exhibits very tasteful. In the grounds I snapped a Sherman and Churchill tank.

5 July 2017

As we came to the end of a long day on Wednesday we made one last stop at Ver-sur-Mer, the eastern end (King Sector) of Gold Beach to watch sunset. The British Army landed three regiments here during the invasion. Exact casualties are unknown here, but suggest 350 killed and 650 wounded.
Canada House and the memorials at Juno Beach. Canada House is thought to be the first house liberated when the Queens Own Rifles of Canada stormed this section of the beach, and is famously captured on photos from D-Day. Over 100 Canadian soldiers were killed or wounded around the house in the first few minutes of the invasion. Casualties at Juno Beach were 340 killed, 574 wounded and 47 taken prisoner.
Sword Beach and memorials at La Brêche d'Hermanville. The landing of the British Army 3rd Division here came one hour after the Americans and ninety minutes after dawn so the Germans were alerted and able to see the landing craft coming in. The anchor in the pictures belonged to the Norwegian destroyer Svenner, sank by German E-Boats off these shores during the assault. 683 men lost their lives at Sword Beach.
Great visit to Mont-Saint-Michel on Wednesday, we walked over the causeway to it which was well worth doing for the views alone. We went to the abbey at the top which was well worth it for the views, but found it odd that the abbey itself was quite empty.

4 July 2017

The coastal battery at Longues-sur-Mer. Situated between Omaha and Gold beaches it was a threat to the Allies on D-Day and was subject to heavy bombardment the night before, and during the assault. There are four emplacements here, one of which is severely damaged. This was not as a result of D-Day but later when the site was used as a ammunition storage facility for the RAF airstrip nearby. The ammunition exploded killing four men and you can see the barrel embedded in the ground in front.
The remains of the famous Mulberry Harbour at Arromanches. Nicknamed Port Winston, this temporary harbour was formed with large concrete sections towed over from Britain, the remains of which surround the whole bay. This was one of two Mulberry Harbours built following D-Day, the other being at Omaha Beach and destroyed during construction by a storm. A staggering 2.5 million men, 500,000 vehicles and 4 million tonnes of supplies arrived via Port Winston.
The American National Cemetery and Memorial at Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer. Truly humbling visit here, which contains 9,387 headstones, 307 of whom are unknown and whose graves bear the inscription - "Here rests in honoured glory a comrade in arms known but to God". The Cemetery overlooks Omaha Beach, site of the greatest US losses on D-Day.
Les Braves sculpture and Comité du Débarquement Signal Monument at Easy Sector, Omaha Beach. The Les Braves sculpture was unveiled on the 70th anniversary of D-Day. The central pillar represents The Rise of Freedom and it is flanked by the Wings of Hope and Fraternity.
A particularly humbling visit to Dog Sector at Omaha Beach, Vierville Sur Mer. The memorial and statues in the pictures are dedicated to the US National Guard, our nearest equivalent would be the Territorial Army. It's built on an old German blockhouse. We walked onto the beach here at what was known as exit D1, and it was here that the Americans suffered their worst casualties. This is the area that was depicted in the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. We walked the entire length of the beach along Dog Sector, and there was a good 100 yards between the sea wall and the water's edge - all clearly visible to anyone on the cliffs. At Omaha Beach alone some 2,400 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing.
One of the highlights of our trip so far was the visit to Pointe du Hoc. It's a great walk around a battlefield virtually left untouched since the end of World War Two, with craters and bunkers dotted around the landscape. I don't think the pictures do it justice, but the size of these craters from Allied bombardment is staggering. On D-Day the Allies attacked this position to take out its 6 gun battery which could fire on both Utah and Omaha Beaches. The US Rangers had to scale the cliffs in the photographs after landing, no less than 100ft around the area. Of 225 US Rangers who landed here, 135 were killed, wounded or missing.

3 July 2017

Last post catching up with yesterday - Dead Man's Corner at St Côme du Mont. The area got the name when the first tank to arrive at this crossroads was brought to a stop by the enemy, and the Tank Commander was mortally wounded. His body hung outside the turret for several days sadly, and the road running alongside the Museum became known as Purple Heart Lane because of the high loss of life travelling on it.
The Utah Beach Memorials and museum were well worth seeing, especially to walk down to the beach itself. Across this ground 23,000 men and 1,700 vehicles landed on D-Day, but 210 also were killed, wounded or missing. Among the Memorials we saw was the US Navy Normandy Monument, pictured showing the roles its sailors played on D-Day.
On our way to Utah Beach absolutely thrilled to come across the monument to Dick Winters, played by Damian Lewis in Band of Brothers. Amongst the inscriptions on the memorial is this thought provoking quote from Major Winters: "Wars do not make men great, but they do bring out the greatness in good men." - Major Richard D. Winters, 1918 - 2011
The Town Hall and Memorials at Saint Mere Eglise. Outside is the pink marker stone of Kilometer Zero which marks the beginning of the route the Free French Army took in their liberation of France.
Remarkable visit today to the church at Ste Mère Eglise. This was where the American Airborne involvement began on D-Day when the 82nd Airborne Division dropped and took the town in the early hours of the morning, the first town to be liberated in France. Hanging from a steeple in the photos is an effigy of paratrooper John Steele, his parachute being caught and leaving him hanging for two hours. His story is told in The Longest Day. There's also two fantastic stained windows in the church commemorating the US paratroopers, along with evidence of machine gun fire within.
Just trying to catch up from yesterday - great visit to the American Airborne Museum, also in St Mére Eglise. In the photos are a C-47 (named Argonia, which flew in Operation Market Garden), Sherman Tank and of course my lovely girlfriend.

2 July 2017

Gun emplacement we came across by chance on the promenade at Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer yesterday. Interesting thing was that it was designed not to fire out to incoming troops but rather inland towards the nearby streets. If you look closely you can see the impacts from Allied fire around the structure.
Just some additional photos from Pegasus Bridge yesterday. In the pictures is the original Pegasus Bridge in grounds of the Memorial Museum and a replica Horsa glider like those used to land troops at the bridge on D-Day.
Fantastic visit to Pegasus Bridge at Bénouville. It was here that the liberation of Europe began when the British 6th Airborne Division landed in Horsa gliders only metres from the bridge largely undetected. It was also here that Lieutenant Den Brotheridge sadly became the first Allied casualty of D-Day. The bridge in the photos is actually a replica built in 1994, but the original is on display just up the road at the museum. Also in the photos is Cafe Gondrée, owned and run by Madame Gondrée's daughter Arlette who as a child was in the cafe on 6th June 1944. We stopped for coffee and were thrilled to actually meet Arlette.
Just leaving Caen Memorial Museum, fantastic exhibits with so many great archive photographs. The museum is as much about peace as it is about war.

1 July 2017

Our home away from home for the next week - absolutely perfect.
As we sail into Ouistreham, it's difficult to imagine how this would have looked on that fateful day on 6th June 1944 as 6,000 ships assaulted these shores and over 135,000 Allied troops began the liberation of Europe. Ahead and extending from left to right are Sword, Juno and Gold beaches
Currently plain sailing on the English Channel after our last English Breakfast for a week. Can't get to the bow so no Jack and Rose poses I'm afraid.
Just waiting to board the ferry at Portsmouth, and then we set sail for Caen and the adventure begins!

30 June 2017

Just checked in to Days Inn, Southampton after a couple of laps of the M27 thanks to a Sat Nav blunder. The adventure begins tomorrow...