Lest We forget – Normandy Landing Beaches
With Remembrance Day approaching it was a poignant time to visit the D-Day Landing Beaches of Normandy to remind ourselves of the sacrifices made on our behalf and to learn more about how the largest armada in history arrived in France on 6th June 1944. It was a couple of hours drive from the ship so we had an early start. An alternative excursion was a guided walking tour of the pretty harbour town of Honfleur, but the vast majority of us chose the D-Day landing tour which, unsurprisingly, was a fascinating and emotional trip, particularly for those who, through family members, had a direct connection to this defining event.
The tour commenced in the small seaside town of Arromanches-les-Baines, code name Gold Beach, the central landing point for the British. In the museum we watched original film footage that showed how the Mulberry harbour – Churchill’s brainchild – was built, towed across the Channel and installed, viewed large scale models and learned about all the obstacles, including unprecedented June storms, that nearly prevented the landing. We then drove inland to a country 16th century Chateaux for a wonderful lunch and obligatory glass or two of wine – we were in France after all. Following lunch the two groups divided and went to Omaha Beach (American) or Juno Beach (Canadian). After a stroll along the beach we visited the excellent Canadian museum where I learned much about life in Canada leading up to and during the war as well as more live footage of troops landing.
As ever, having a friendly, knowledgeable, expert guide on hand to accompany us throughout the day added an interesting dimension to the tour. Whilst I didn’t absorb all the facts, there were some wonderful human stories and fascinating anecdotes – too numerous to share – that I’ll always remember, which in my book is the sign of a very good guide! Oh, alright, just one. After months of testing how the troops could land in the sea and keep their rifles dry they were issued with Durex. Waterproof, transparent, they stayed on, could also be fired through and, ahem, had other uses! Apparently an astonishing 2 million were distributed to the D-Day troops. Surely a novel usage the manufacturer never envisaged!
A short drive through the surrounding countryside, passed several war cemeteries, we arrived at Rainville War Cemetery – Rainville was the first village to be liberated on D-Day. Beautifully kept by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission this inclusive cemetery is the final resting place of over 2,200 men, including servicemen from Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and 321 Germans. There are larger cemeteries in the area, notably one for 9,000 servicemen, but exclusively for US citizens. Walking through the beautifully kept cemetery among the headstones was a sobering and emotional experience, particularly as many were so young, some only 17 years old.
Our final stop was Pegasus Bridge, named in honour of the British Airborne Division who landed by parachute or glider to capture this vitally strategic bridge over the Caen Canal in the early moments of 6th June. Next to the bridge is a café owned by Arlette Gondree, four years old on D-Day, who welcomes veteran Allies from around the world. The bridge attained further acclaim when it became the subject of the film ‘The Longest Day’.
Sadly, this was our last tour as we headed back to the ship after a long, interesting, day. As we chatted over a pre-dinner drink in the lounge we all agreed the cruise was a perfect mix of history and culture and there was much more we all wanted to see, particularly as Normandy is so closely interwoven with our own British history. Scenic’s full Normandy & Gems of the Seine cruise is 11 days, starting and ending in Paris. In addition to the highlights I experienced there is extra time in Rouen, Honfleur, a full day tour to the Somme battlefields, plus visits to several other stunning chateaus and Lyons-La-Foret, arguably one of France’s most beautiful villages. Definitely a cruise to remember!
Chrissy Nason travelled as a guest of Scenic.Full details of their Normandy & Gems of the Seine cruise and other destinations can be found here.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Scenic.