I'm off to Normandy this weekend on the 75th anniversary of my Grandad's disappearance in the second Battle of the Odon. It looks like we may have a day free in our schedule so does anyone have any top tips for things to do in Normandy? Equally if anyone else has any highlights from the D-Day beaches or the battlefields further inland that they think we should visit please let me know.
Currently on the list are:
Pegasus Bridge (big tick for me as my brief time in the TA was with the Ox and Bucks LI, or at least their descendants the Greenjackets, but I was based in Oxford so very much the former in my soul).
Mulberry harbours at Arromanches - where Grandad came ashore
Bayeux D-Day Museum
Detailed foray into the Odon valley, Hills 112 & 113
Overlord Museum Omaha Beach
Point du Hoc
Any thoughts welcome!
Go to the Commonwealth war graves at Bayeaux. Very sobering.
When I went to Pegasus bridge in 2008? Madame Gondree, who was 7 years old when the Oxs and Bucks landed, was still serving in the Cafe at the end of the bridge.
If you're driving down from Calais, stop off at any of the 1st World War cemeteries and reflect on what might have been if we had built a united, peaceful Europe in the 20s instead of waiting until after another world war to do it in the 50s.
And are we now gambling with that progress with events today?
I can't visit the sites of all their sacrifices (add the Falais Gap to your itinerary) without feeling the responsibility to make the most of the peace we've enjoyed.
There is a museum in Caen called Memorial. Well worth a visit. Also at Tilly sur Seulles near Bayeux, visit the grave of poet Keith Douglas killed 9 June 1944.
I think you've got a lot of the best ones already. The Merville battery is also very good as is the US Airborne museum at St Mere Eglise.
Depending on where you are staying, if you want a break from WW2, the beaches at Carterets and Barneville Plage on the West side of the Cotentin are good and there is a very nice restored castle, Château de Pirou, that I'd recommend. In Caen, The Ducal Castle and Abbeye aux Dames (for William the Conquerer's tomb) are worth a visit.
If you use the commonwealth graves website with the battalion or unit and date of the battle you may find the casualties are mostly in one cemetery. Some of your grandfather's mates will be there. Just possible your grandfather is with them too in one of the "Known unto God" graves.
> Go to the Commonwealth war graves at Bayeaux. Very sobering.
Will do, that's where his name is. Thanks for posting.
> Go to the Commonwealth war graves at Bayeaux. Very sobering.
> When I went to Pegasus bridge in 2008? Madame Gondree, who was 7 years old when the Oxs and Bucks landed, was still serving in the Cafe at the end of the bridge.
She's still there! Nice to see a plaque on the cafe saying it was the first house in the whole of France liberated and it was liberated by the Ox and Bucks LI : )
> She's still there! Nice to see a plaque on the cafe saying it was the first house in the whole of France liberated and it was liberated by the Ox and Bucks LI : )
Indeed. The Bridge was the first objective succesfully captured at just after midnight on the 6th June 1944. There is a poignant story about Denham Brotheridge who was one of the first casualties of the invasion.
Interesting niblet of Trivia, in the Film The Longest Day Richard Todd plays Major John Howard, commander of the force assaulting Pegasus Bridge. Todd actually took part in this action as Howards' radio operator and in one scene is shown next to the radio operator who is played by someone playing the part of Richard Todd.
Always wonder whether the likes of Richard Todd ever had any chats with the American stars on that film - i.e. John Wayne (who spent the war - and afterwards - making films that generally implied the US won the war single-handed).
Imagine the discussion;
Todd: Benn here before - just the once.
Wayne: When was that ?
Todd: June 6th 1944.
Wayne: But that was ...
There were quite a few actors of the time with pretty distinguished war records. Worthy of mention is Anthony Quayle who was an SOE agent operating behind the lines in Albania, which is mirrored somewhat in his later role in Guns of the Navarone. On t'other side Hardy Kruger was in the Waffen SS Hitler Jugund and was sentenced to death for refusing to execute POWs, Curd Jurgens was imprisoned by the Nazis and the actor who plays Pluskat in The Longest Day picked up his facial scars on the Eastern Front.
I have just come back from a family visit to France and called in on some of the D-Day sites on the way. starting at Ranville, just a mile or 2 west of Pegasus Bridge where there is a large WW2 cemetery. I knew about Brotheridge and looked for his grave but found that it is actually one of about 30 in the churchyard, just next to the cemetery.
Ranville was the first French village to be fully liberated and the local authorities have a interresting and moving display outside the church of the history with stories of those involved.
Revisiting Pegasus Bridge ( last there in 1963!) I was astonished by the accuracy of the gliders landing points which are marked by concrete blocks. Literally 30-50 meters from the bridge, an astonishing feat.
The Uk trained their glider / transport pilots thoroughly. Whilst in the US airborne divisions glider / transport pilots were second rate with poor training. This was one of the reasons why the Uk had a better time of it than the US on D-day.
Slightly older war but if you are in Bayeaux visit the Bayeaux tapestry. Doesn't take long but it is fascinating.
The D day museum in Bayeux is excellent. Pointe Du Hoc is a good bit of battlefield and bunkers.
Good non-war things to do - Cité de la Mer in Cherbourg - excellent exhibition on subsea exploration and self-guided tour of a nuclear submarine. There's also a relatively new bunker thing on Fort La Roule above the harbour possibly?
Mont Saint Michel is impressive but very touristy inside. Saint Malo is good - the walled city (Intra-muros) for general touristing / cafes souvenir shopping, and the Cite D'Aleth fort across the harbour has a good bunker museum in it and some impressively shot-up steel turrets on and around it. If you get up early you could do the last three in a day.
Or go climbing at the Aguille De Mortain or Clecy!
Thanks all, we're just back.
Touristy highlights included Pegasus Bridge and Arromanches. The new sculpture at Arromanches is very affecting. A Eurofighter doing a low pass and bank over the US Cemetery at Omaha beach was a good moment.
Bayeux generally was wonderful and full of signs saying 'Thank you' to the veterans which was touching. The gratitude of the French people generally was evident.
Unforgettable though was the French farmer who we got talking to when we visited one of the sites where Grandad's battery was situated who not only announced he had been doing up a Dodge jeep but then proceeded to give us a ride round the locale in it. His mate Jean came along for the ride. Jean was six in '44 and remembers being carried on the soldiers' shoulders to help them fetch water and the vibrations from the guns firing. Astonishing.
Later that day, the 75th anniversary of Grandad's disappearance, we arrived at the cemetery of Gavrus, the tiny village that was liberated in the attack where Grandad disappeared. We'd come to visit the two Commonwealth War Graves there, one of which was 'Known Only to God'. We arrived to find a marquee set up with Union Flags flying and were told "Yes, they are all in the Church". At the precise moment we came round the corner to the church a parade was called to attention and the Last Post started playing. Goosebumps.
The cemetery was packed with four bus loads of the Royal Welch who had come to commemorate a disastrous attack that had been made from Gavrus later that day in '44.
An absolutely unforgettable trip, and UKC is in part to thank as it was a thread here about War Graves that got me thinking about researching what had happened in time for the 75th anniversary. Cheers guys.
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