I am currently on a river cruise of the River Seine in France along with my mom, grandmother and aunt. We still have a full day left, so I will post about all of the cruise in a few days. For now, I wanted to have an entirely separate post for the Landing Beaches of Normandy. It was a full day and had many, many interesting and humbling moments.
The day started in the city of Rouen at 8 am. We loaded on to buses and drove 2 hours to the coast to the beaches of Normandy. These were the sites of the Allied Invasion: D-day, 6 June 1944. All of us have studied in school and most of us have seen movies and documentaries, read books, visited museums, etc. to educate ourselves on World War II. Seeing what we saw in Normandy gives everything a new perspective. Seeing exactly where those heroic soldiers from The Commonwealth, Canada and the US landed in order to liberate France and end the war was incredibly humbling and breathtaking.
The landings took place along a 50 mile stretch of the Normandy coast, divided across 5 beaches: Utah (4th Div. US), Omaha (29th and 1st Div. US), Gold (50th Div. British), Juno (3rd Div. Canada) and Sword (3rd Div. British). We first arrived at Juno Beach. From this beach we could see the remains of the artificial harbor that was built by the British. These were temporary portable harbors developed by the United Kingdom to facilitate the rapid offloading of cargo onto beaches, which would turn out to be the largest amphibious invasion in history. Without the artificial harbor, the cargo and soldiers wouldn’t have been able to get to shore and the end of the Second World War as we know it, might not have happened.
We then went on to Batterie de Longues-sur-Mer. The battery at Longues was situated between the landing beaches Omaha and Gold. The site consisted of four 152-mm navy guns, each protected by a large concrete casemate, a command post, shelters for personnel and ammunition, and several defensive machine-gun emplacements. After D-day they became storage for ammunition and oil. Unfortunately, one of the bunkers was destroyed when 2 British soldiers lit a flame to make tea. The blown pieces of concrete, which are still in the same places as they landed, were blown over 5o feet away, and the giant gun was blown to pieces. The soldiers’ bodies were never recovered.
Translated to English, this sign reads “The Longues Battery, taken by the Devonshire Regiment, 7 June 1944”. My uncle, Simon, is from Devonshire, so this is pretty cool to see.
We went to lunch, then onto the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. There are 9385 soldiers laid to rest here as well as over 1500 soldiers memorialized in a garden whose bodies have never been recovered. When we arrived they had a ceremony in respect for those Americans laid to rest in the cemetery, for which we gathered around the “Statue of American Youth”. They played the National Anthem and had a moment of silence.
Written on the walls around the statue it reads:
“This embattled shore, portal of freedom, forever hallowed by the ideals, the valor and the sacrifices of our fellow countrymen.”
We also walked over to the cliff where the US soldiers were bombarded by the Germans. The landscape clearly shows how they could be taken by surprise. We then walked through a portion of the cemetery and to the memorial.
After the visit to the cemetery, we went and walked on Omaha Beach. Currently, the beach is just like any other with a seawall and some houses lining the shore. In front of someone’s house, right on the seawall, was this tombstone:
Once the soldiers landed on the beach on 6 June 1944, they were met with gunfire. As the tombstone says, many American soldiers died right there. For those that escaped that fate, they had to scale the cliffs, only to be met with more gunfire the moment they climbed to the top.
On the beach was a memorial to the 1st Infantry and 29th Infantry soldiers who died on the beach on that day.
My cousin, Jennifer’s, partner, Daniel, served as Staff Sergeant with the United States Army in the 1st Infantry Division from 2009-2012. He was deployed to Iraq 2010-2011 and Afghanistan in 2012. The 1st Infantry Division first started in 1917 with WWI and is the oldest combined arms division continuously serving in the army. They have nicknamed themselves “The Big Red One” after the shoulder patches they wear. As you may be putting together from my writing, Daniel’s infantry division is the same 1st Infantry division that stormed the beaches of Normandy on 6 June 1944 having had many, many casualties that day.
After leaving the beaches we drove on the same road and through the same town as the soldiers did after liberation. There are large photos on old buildings showing how grateful the French people were for the sacrifice of the Americans, British and Canadian soldiers and even grateful to see them driving through the town. The soldiers took photos with the civilians, hugged them, cried with them. In this photo of a destroyed church you can see “The Big Red One” on the top corner, signifying the 1st Infantry Division as they came into this town. The church was eventually rebuilt, as you can also see in the photo.
That concluded our day at the beaches of Normandy. It truly was one of the most humbling and memorable days of my life. I highly recommend a visit here and to spend some time to really understand what you’re seeing and what these soldiers endured and sacrificed for the greater good.
Let us all say thank you to Daniel and to the other men and women who are serving and served our country. We are forever grateful.
I will leave you with some more pictures from our day as well as a poem that was on a plaque on Omaha Beach.
They climbed aboard with anxious heart
The madly sea-tossed landing craft.
The sea-fog on that sad morn
All but shrouded the pale dawn.
As if heaven itself dared not to see,
The hounds of hell that day set free.
They disembarked under hail of shot
Spewing up all – one knew not what –
Facing those cliffs, with gunfire blaze.
Waves bore broken bodies along
The length of that encrimsoned strand
Where death was given so free a hand.
They were no heroes
Though all were heroic
In that eventful day,
When mankind put all at stake.
It is an understatement to say
That our liberty was dearly bought
At the time of that first onslaught.
The foam is red.
All is now still, save for the breeze
That carries back, across the seas
The souls of America’s sons.
Whilst the sun, now and then, warms
Those twenty-year-olds who sleep today
Facing the sea in Normandy.