France Day 11: Normandy D-Day Sites

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Being in Northern France with a car, it seemed opportune to see the various D-Day sites in Normandy. Our guidebooks indicated that a full day was sufficient to get a reasonable overview (though people could definitely spend more), which is what we planned for.

We chose the town of Bayeux as our home base to see this area, and arrived there in the late afternoon, after visited Mont St. Michel. We would then go on to see the D-Day sites the following day. In the mean time, we explored the town a bit, including the cathedral.

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Shortly after getting back to the apartment at 6:00pm, the rain started up again and we delayed dinner plans.  Eventually we did go out, saw the cathedral again, and sat in the restaurant for a while, thoroughly enjoying our food, and getting back to the apartment around 9:00pm.

The apartment was fairly nice with two bedrooms.  On the other hand, the doorways were fairly low for Jeremy’s head and the shower a bit odd.

Friday, June 29, 2017

Our plan for the day was to see the main WWII D-Day sights. It was a very full day, but we managed to cram in most of the important ones.

Arromanches

We started at Arromanches, which was mostly a British invasion point, but it had an interesting artificial harbor (“Port Winston”) that was built there immediately after D-Day, parts of which still survive over 70 years later.

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The boys thoroughly enjoyed exploring the remains.  Fortunately, we were there at medium-tide.  Low-tide would have been better, but we wouldn’t have seen much of anything at high tide.  Definitely check out the tide schedules before you finalize the order of your itinerary.

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After walking the beach a bit, we head into the Musee du Debarquement, which was an amazing introduction for the boys to D-Day history, covering mostly the history of Gold Beach.  It was fascinating to learn about the “artificial harbor,” and being able to see it 73 years later was quite amazing.  How did it survive all this time?

It will be interesting to see what the boys end up remembering from this trip once they start high school  If you have a particular interest in WWII history, you could easily spend quite a while here.  With reasonably young boys, we were probably in and out in less than an hour, about the length of their attention span.

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Longues-sur-mer

After that, we went to Longues-sur-mer, which was further down the beach, and where we saw some German batteries.

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They were apparently well-engineered, still staying there, with a few pock holes, 70+ years later.

Before leaving, we bought the kids some ice-cream to tide them over until lunch time.

Omaha Beach Cemetery

Next up, we drove to the Omaha Beach Cemetery, which was huge, beautiful, and sad.  We also saw a short film.

Everyone was really hungry, but there weren’t a lot of quick choices – we wanted to make sure we had enough time to see the sights, so we ended up just scarfing down some bread, cheese, and pastries from the grocery store.  Then we continued on to the Omaha Beach Memorial site.

Pointe du Hoc

Our drive continued to Pointe du Hoc, the place where the Army Rangers climbed cliffs to take out the batteries.

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It was a beautiful walk, but most of the history had to be imagined from reading the guide book.

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Sainte-Mère-Église

We continued our drive, noting that the roads became smaller and smaller until they felt a bit more like cabbage roads, until we reached the town of Sainte-Mère-Église.

If you have ever watched “The Longest Day”, this town will be of interest to you.  At the center of town is the church where the paratrooper, John Steele, got stuck on the steeple, dropped his knife, and was forced to watch the battle play out below him while he played dead.  Eventually two Germans cut him down and took him prisoner.  Here is an interesting article describing the whole ordeal.

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To the kids’ delight, there was actually a dummy hanging outside the church – on the wrong side.  If you look closely, you can see it in the picture.

The town itself was quite small.  We could have visited the paratrooper museum, but we skipped it, since there are only so many museums that one can visit in a single day.

Utah Beach

Finally, we went to Utah Beach and the museum next door, which was also very nice – my favorite museum of the day. John liked all the grenades and similar exhibits there. There was also a good movie, a tank, and a plane.  We were starting to get tired, but we did the circuit through the museum, and then headed out.

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Back in Bayeux

All in all, a fairly long, yet super interesting day.  We had left Bayeux around 8:30am, and returned around 6:30pm.  We mostly skipped lunch and were quite aggressive at budgeting our time.  It was definitely possible to get a decent sense of the area in a longish day, but WWII history buffs might want to spend more time. We found it necessary to keep an eye on the clock, to see what we intended.

When we got back to Bayeux, one pleasant surprise was that there was some sort of medieval festival going on that particular day. People were dressed up in medieval garb and there were dancing clown-like costumes, some of which we could see from our balcony. Medieval costumes do seem to go very well in an old cobblestoned French town. As we ate dinner later, it was hard to believe that it was the second to last night of our trip. On to Honfleur and Rouen.

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