A poignant time for reflection
One of the reasons Gary and I wanted to return to Normandy, was to visit the D-Day Landing Beaches of Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno & Sword and pay our respects along the way.
My grandfather had been fighting in North Africa & Italy during the Second World War with the 8th Army, and I am eternally grateful that my ‘Pop’ survived, but for him, as he got older the memories became more painful.
Stories of his recently made friends ‘for life’ from a Welsh battalion singing “Land of My Fathers” was unbelievably moving. I still remember exactly when & where we were sitting when he told us of the horrific atrocities that befell them.
We should never forget the immense sacrifice that men and women from many nations laid down before us. Gary and I wanted to remember, and we wanted to be reminded.
Our journey started at Pegasus Bridge the east of the D-Day Landing Beaches.
This was where soldiers first set foot on Normandy soil, late on 5th to 6th June 1944 and where Operation Overlord began.
Bénouville Bridge was captured within 10 minutes by the 6th Airborne Division and as a tribute to the British Troops became known as Pegasus Bridge. The original bridge is a memorial in the museum.
The museum is very touching; there are some incredible personal stories told by young and old.
What was very encouraging to see was the number of families here, parents ensuring that their children also learn, and remember, why we have the freedom we do today.
Sword Beach is one of the two beaches that British Troops landed upon on 6th June 1944, prior to them capturing the nearby towns, close to Pegasus Bridge.
It’s impossible to imagine the thoughts that were passing through the minds of the soldiers that descended on to these beaches. The impending assault was just moments away.
As we headed west along the Normandy coastline, there are memorials all along the way and strong reminders of the past.
Juno Beach was the point of entry for the Canadians, and a very hard battle was fought here, with them losing 50% of their forces in the first hour of assault.
The sandy dunes that we stroll along today hold so many poignant stories, particularly for the 10 Platoon “B” Company The Royal Winnipeg Rifles, as the bunker/pillbox that was captured by them was named after their Lt. W. A. “Cosy” Aitken.
Further west we arrive at Gold Beach the second beach to be captured by British soldiers. What the troops achieved here in the bay of Arromanches is astounding.
As Gary & I stand high above the bay, we see the magnitude of the artificial Mulberry harbour that was created in a 5-mile arc. In 100 days, the new “Port Winston” landed 220,000 soldiers, 39,000 vehicles and 530,000 tons of supplies, amazing!!!
Bayeux War cemetery
Founded by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Bayeux cemetery is the last resting place for over 4,000 soldiers. Amongst the manicured graves are not only British troops but also Polish, Russian, Italian, Czech & French.
We were amongst just a handful of people that were showing their respects, and the peacefulness was just occasionally broken by chirping birds.
The age of these young men was astounding, so many lives unlived. No matter what their rank or background all these soldiers lay side by side with their comrades.
Omaha Beach is probably the most poignant of the American beaches as a heavy loss of life was brutally taken here.
For the allies to conquer Omaha Beach they had to combat the cliff-like slope facing them, this exposed them immensely to the enemy.
Normandy American cemetery
Positioned high above Omaha Beach, the Normandy American Cemetery literally does take your breath away.
When you see lying before you, row after row, after row, of symmetrical white crosses, the magnitude of the ultimate sacrifice that our loved ones undertook, stops you in your tracks.
It is unbelievably moving, standing in front of the headstones of 9,387 fallen soldiers.
Try not to be rushed here; time needs to be dedicated to respectfully wander amongst the thousands of names.
It’s the little things
You’ll notice the British & Americans headstones differ in the person they remember.
The British record
Regiment emblem, Service number, Rank, Initials & surname, Regiment, Date of death, Age at death
The Americans record
First name, initials & surname, Rank, Regiment, Home State, Date of death
The second American beach was Utah, like Britain’s Sword Beach at the far east of the Normandy landings, Utah was used to parachute in airborne troops.
This was in addition to the huge number of infantry heading into the unknown from the masses of landing crafts.
The D-Day museum is at Utah Beach and scattered amongst the dunes are some lovely memorials and statues.
No Names, No Remains
What I found most heart wrenching, were the memorials to the Soldiers with no names, but remains and to the Soldiers with names, but no remains.
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Inspired to visit the Normandy Beaches?
We visited from Caen, but Bayeux would make an equally attractive base to explore the area.
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