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23 July 2013 @ 04:33 pm
normandy, 01  

photo // me

Last year in September, I went to France and Belgium with my dad to tour the battlefields of Normandy and Flanders.  It was an amazing trip, and ended with a week in Paris.  I fell in love with Normandy while I was there - it's so beautiful and incredibly peaceful.

I wanted to post some photos from my trip to Normandy, mostly for the wonderful people at Camp Toccoa - I thought some of them might be interested, especially since I went on a battlefield tour specifically of 101st Airborne sites. :)

My dad and I landed in Paris and immediately got on a train to Bayeux, where we stayed for our week in Normandy.  Bayeux is a beautiful medieval village, and I adore it.  One of our days was spent exploring it, it's wonderful cathedral, as well as the Commonwealth war cemetery and D-day museum there.

We did three days of tours altogether.  The first was of the Canadian and British sectors.

One of our first stops was the Commonwealth cemetery at Ranville.  Ranville was possibly the first village to be liberated in France, and the churchyard there was used for immediate burials.  The war cemetery was opened later, but there are still men buried in the civilian church cemetery.

I found all of the Commonwealth war cemeteries to be particularly moving.  Families were allowed a personal inscription on the gravestone, and reading them was just heartbreaking.  Sometimes the amount of graves was staggering, and it brought home that each one was an individual who had loved ones who's lives were changed by the loss of a son or husband or father.  You got a tiny glimpse, too - whether someone had left behind a wife and children, or if they had been an only child.  (One of the most moving ones that I remember most of all read 'The dearest daddy and husband in the world / We will love you always, darling.' It broke my heart.)

We also visited Pegasus Bridge, which you can read more about here. :)  It's a fascinating story!

Throughout the tour, we stopped at quite a few German bunkers that are still scattered across the countryside.  They're everywhere in Normandy!  Especially in farmer's fields; the farmers just leave them where they are because the cost of having them removed would be more than what they would get from the few square yards of crop.  It's surprising how many are left, though.

These are from a German bunker.  The soldiers had already sighted (is that the correct term? :P ) all the distances of landmarks on the horizon.

We stopped at Courseulles-sur-Mer around lunch.  It is the most charming, beautiful little village, right on what was Juno Beach and the Canadian sector.  I remember it being a windy day that was really cold right on the beach, but people were out in swimsuits sunbathing!

One of our last stops of the day was the Canadian war cemetery at Beny-sur-Mer, and - though I might be biased, being Canadian myself - I thought it was the most beautiful and peaceful of the war cemeteries we visited.

As I remember it, it's just in the midst of all these farmer's fields.  But the cemetery itself is protected by these tall maple trees that surround it.  It feels so secluded and quiet, like nothing could disturb it.

And, like all the Commonwealth cemeteries, the inscriptions on the gravestones brought me to tears.

Our very last stop of the Canadian & British tour was Abbaye d'Ardenne.

Twenty Canadian POWs were illegally executed at the Abbey.  It's a tremendously sad story, and if you want to read about that one, here's the link to the wikipedia page.

The day after, we rented a car in Caen and drove to Mont St Michel, which was certainly an adventure!  (I do not recommend renting a car in Normandy!)

The two days after that, my dad and I were set to go on a two day tour of the American beaches and the 101st Airborne tour.

The first morning was the start of the Band of Brothers tour, and it was a gorgeous day - sunny with a beautiful fog in the morning.  This was taken nearby sluice gates that the Germans would've opened to flood the fields on D-day.

We had a brief stop at the crossroads where Bill Guarnere shot the German soldiers in the horse-drawn carts from the second episode.

We also visited this tiny, tiny little village - right close to the site where Lt. Meehan's plane crashed.  They have a lovely memorial, right in the centre of the town, with the names of everyone on the plane inscribed on it.

We also got to stop at Brecourt Manor!  The trenches are still there, on the edge of the field.  Much of Normandy is farmland, and Brecourt Manor is a working farm.  We had two mares with their foals interrupt the explanation of Winters' assault, but I don't think anyone really minded. :P

We had lunch in Sainte-Mere-Eglise.  A paratrooper that landed on D-day actually landed on the church there.  The village itself is very charming and lovely - like all the small villages scattered through Normandy.  My dad and I bought sandwiches at Cafe C-47.  A lot of the restaurants around have walls that all the returning veterans sign, but guess who's signatures I found? :)

Later in the afternoon, as part of the tour we had a chance to go through Dead Man's Corner Museum at St-Come-du-Mont.  They boast quite the collection, including Major Winters' actual uniform and combat gear that was worn on D-day!

This museum was certainly memorable.  The exhibit was small but good, but what really stood out was the shop.  They had an amazing store that carried everything under the sun - uniforms, machine guns, grenades, patches and insignia, medic kits ... It was ridiculous.  About half the stuff for sale was real, too.  They had actual (disabled) guns, and old helmets, and a real medic kit.  And everything you could want as a re-creationist - you could buy a complete uniform (not just paratroopers either, they had SS uniforms too!).

My dad certainly got a kick out of their shop.  The website for the museum's store is here - my dad likes to stay updated on everything they have in stock, haha!

Our last stop on the Band of Brothers tour was Carentan.  We visited the central square, where there is a memorial.  And our guide pointed out a lot of little details of architecture that made it into the show - I'm sure it comes as no surprise that the filmmakers where very careful in recreating the actual details of Carentan.  The above picture is taken on the road right where Winters had to get all of his men out of the ditches and up and moving.  There's a cafe at the very end of the road, just like the episode!

The second day was the tours of the American beaches.  The morning was really dreary and cold and windy.  (Our guide had to joke that they had made special arrangements to make sure the weather was exactly as it had been on the morning of D-day.)

The first stop on this tour was the Lounges-sur-Mer gun battery.

After exploring the guns, we were taken down to Omaha beach.  We were treated to the same weather as the men dealt with on the morning of D-day, our guide told us.  That knowledge certainly made standing in the dampness and the cold ocean wind a little more enlightening.  I was struck by how flat and open the beach is, and how far the men would've had to have run from the edge of the water.  Though I don't think the tide was in the same spot as when the infantry came ashore, it seemed to me that running any distance under fire over that terribly flat, open beach would be impossibly far.

Omaha beach in particular felt haunting.  I don't know why, although I hope I'm not chalking it up to the dreary fog and cold weather, since our visits to Juno and Utah were considerably sunnier (if not any warmer).  Juno felt charming and quaint - hard to describe it any other way with it's whitewashed changing sheds lined up along the sand.  And Utah beach felt beautiful and light, whereas Omaha felt deeply sad, somehow.

Immediately after visiting the beach, we were taken up to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, which overlooks the ocean and has a view of the beachhead.  The Commonwealth cemeteries are close to my heart, but the American cemetery was incredible and beautiful.

Our guide took us around to a few graves and told us the stories of the men, as we did at all the cemeteries we visited.  Then we were allowed to have a look on our own.  One thing I will always remember was walking through the crosses and every so often finding the grave of an unknown soldier.  After passing only a couple, I noticed that there were flowers placed at the base of each of the unknown soldiers' crosses.  I still don't know if this is something the staff at the cemetery do regularly or if it was the work of a visitor, but I had to stand in front of one in tears for a few long moments.  It just touched me so deeply as a gesture of respect and remembrance.

After lunch, we visited Point du Hoc, which was amazing.  All of the shell craters are still there, and some of them are ridiculously large.

In the afternoon, we went down to Utah beach, and visited the memorials along the coast.

All throughout the day, we stopped at little farms, manors, and villages.  It was amazing, since our guide was able to tell us all about the small battles that had taken place in each pasture - things you'd never know travelling by yourself.  That's definitely the biggest reason taking a tour through Normandy rather than renting a car and doing it yourself is so much better.  We had so much more insight into everything that happened.  He also told us hundreds of little stories about individual stories and veterans, which were incredibly interesting.

Normandy is beautiful.  I absolutely loved my time there, and I would recommend it to anyone who is thinking of going!  If anyone is thinking of going and has any questions about any of it, I'd be happy to help out. :)  I would love to answer any questions about getting around, where to stay, how to travel cheap, etc.

not quite tame: librariantwelve_pastels on July 24th, 2013 02:26 pm (UTC)
This is *wonderful*, and it makes me want to take one of these tours even more. As an aside, something I learned recently is that the people in Normandy tend to adopt a grave of a fallen soldier and leave flowers on it, visit it, clean it, talk to the man buried beneath, the whole nine yards. They're really serious about their respect for those boys.
sunday trains: wanderlustsunday_trains on July 27th, 2013 02:32 am (UTC)
I hadn't heard that about the Normans and the graves before, but it's touching and lovely! And I can really see it, given how they are. :)
innovativecheat: Win & Nix (car)innovativecheat on July 24th, 2013 04:00 pm (UTC)
Wow, what a wonderful, and moving trip. If I ever get a chance I would love to visit.

Btw, that is some wonderful photography - can I ask what camera/lens you have? The colours are amazing!
sunday trains: wanderlustsunday_trains on July 27th, 2013 02:33 am (UTC)
It was absolutely amazing, and definitely moving.

I have a Canon 60D and a crappy old kit lens - 18-55mm. :) I photoshop my pictures quite a bit, so I'm glad you like the results!
sra_danvers: BoBsra_danvers on August 28th, 2013 01:25 pm (UTC)
OMG Thanks so much for to share these wonderful pics!
I just want to go again!