How our histories interweave

Tag Archives: France

I can’t believe how long it’s taking me to write these blogs. This will be the last one, you’ll be glad to know, as I think our final days of sightseeing in Normandy can be summed up without as much waffling.

Our next day out was at Bayeux, where we visited the large museum and the British Cemetery. The museum is really good, my favourite thing was this quote from General Patton:

“I don’t want to get any messages saying, ‘I am holding my position.’ We are not holding a goddamned thing. Let the Germans do that. We are advancing constantly and we are not interested in holding onto anything, except the enemy’s balls. We are going to twist his balls and kick the living shit out of him all of the time. Our basic plan of operation is to advance and to keep on advancing regardless of whether we have to go over, under, or through the enemy. We are going to go through him like crap through a goose; like shit through a tin horn!”

Is it wrong that I imagine that all being said in a Dale Dye voice? What a badass Patton was, he missed his calling as some sort of motivational speaker.

The British Cemetery was beautiful and peaceful. It’s so sad when you walk past a huge row of graves and see that the date of death for all of them was the 6th June. What an impact that day had on the world.

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Our next stop was the Eisenhower Monument. Eisenhower was a great man who played a pivotal role in the success of Operation Overlord, and I couldn’t help but think that his memorial was not really a fitting tribute. It is in the middle of a roundabout with no easy way of crossing into the centre. When you get there, there’s no plaque and no information, it doesn’t even say Eisenhower anywhere that I could see, and one of his eyes has fallen out. I can’t help thinking Ike is being a bit short-changed here.

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The Museum of Underwater Wrecks in Port-en-Bessin is only a tiny place, but it’s well worth a visit. It’s filled with vehicles and wreckage brought up from under the water twenty or thirty years after D-Day. It’s somehow more fascinating to view these tanks and landing craft with rust and barnacles all over them, they seem to tell more of a story. The most remarkable story is the one of a letter found inside one of the landing craft. From it they were able to trace the soldier who’d written it to his girlfriend. They found he was still alive, and he came over to view the wreckage of his craft and tell them what had happened on D-Day. Really interesting.

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We drove over to Arromanches, where we visited the small museum and the 360 degree cinema. The cinema is really not to be missed. A film is projected on screens all around you, and it really is effective in that the images are chaotic, as war is chaotic, and you have to keep looking all around you to keep track of the film. There was a moment at the end, where it cut from film of the beaches on D-Day,to the peaceful beach today, then it cut to a view of the endless gravestones in the Omaha Beach Cemetery. I can’t think of a better way to demonstrate the price paid for the peace we enjoy today. My eyes are welling up with tears just thinking about it.

Douvres radar station is only a small museum, and there was a bit too much information on the science behind radar,which my tiny brain didn’t understand. My grandad was a radar operator in World War II, I’m sure he’d be ashamed that I sort of just glazed over as I was trying to read it. It’s still interesting to wander around all the bunkers. There was one small room that we walked into and immediately backed out of again. I’m not a superstitious person, but there was a horrible feeling in that room and neither of us wanted to be in there . Spooky.

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Merville Battery is a really interesting museum, which tells the story of the British Airbourne troops who captured the German gun battery on D-Day. As the Mayer of Merville said, “They didn’t know it was impossible, so they did it.” The saddest story at Merville was that of Glenn the paradog, who parachuted in with the men and was sadly killed along with his master. They were buried together at Ranville Cemetery.

To lighten the mood, here’s another photo of me popping out of a gun turret at Merville.

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Juno Beach Museum is obviously aimed at children and teenagers, but it’s a very well thought out museum, with easily digestible information. There are some lovely memorials there too, but I liked these more personal ones better.

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It’s all very modern and up to date, which is something that can’t be said about the tiny, tired museum at Sword Beach. It’s such a shame they don’t make more of it there, this shabby museum with this very sad looking soldier peering out just doesn’t seem to do it justice.

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Our very last stop in Normandy was the Peace Museum at Caen. In retrospect, it might have been better to do this museum first, as the vivid and innovative way they explain the descent into war and the hell the French endured under Nazi occupation gives a great understanding of the war in general, and why the D-Day landings were so important. It also explained to us the joy and gratitude that the French people show towards their liberators. It’s a brilliant museum, and one that takes the best part of a day to look around.

And so that was the end of our time in Normandy. It was a very memorable holiday, and I’d urge anyone interested in history to go to Normandy and see it for themselves. As we mark 70 years since this incredible operation, it’s more important than ever to keep the memory alive and show thanks for the men and that gave their lives in the name of liberty. I don’t think today’s generation would act with the same sense of selfless duty as the men who fought on the D-Day beaches, and I’m truly grateful that there once was a generation who thought the future was worth the ultimate sacrifice. They should be remembered with honour and reverence.

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While it would have been nice to be out and about all day on the 6th, it being the actual 70th anniversary of D-Day, it was near impossible for us to get anywhere because of the traffic restrictions. There was a huge exclusion zone which you couldn’t drive in without a permit, and we couldn’t get a permit because our campsite was outside the zone. So we only attended one event on the 6th, at Utah Beach – but it was quite an event.

We had to formulate a very long-winded route from our campsite to Utah Beach, in order to avoid driving in the restricted zone, but we got there without too much of a problem. We had time for a wander around and a sausage baguette (the staple food of a busy sightseeing holiday in Normandy – I think I was turning into a sausage by the end of it), before we had to make ourselves respectable for the Band of Brothers actors’ reunion at Utah Beach. By ‘make ourselves respectable’, I mean getting changed in the car while tourists wandered all around us. We’re so classy. Jo even ended up putting mascara on some French bloke through the car window. Suitably attired, we headed over to the museum and caught a glimpse of Damian Lewis! Our hunch was right! He was the special guest Ross Owen had been talking to us about the previous day. To say we were excited was an understatement. To say there was much internal flapping when I found myself standing next to him at the buffet table is even more of an understatement.

We met up with our lovely fellow nerds, Laura and Elodie, then excitedly headed into the museum. One of the first people we saw as we went in was Scotty Gordon, son of Easy Company’s Walter ‘Smokey’ Gordon. We’ve met him before, when the crazy fool jumped out of a plane with the other Band of Brothers actors in Devon, and he’s one of the nicest guys you could meet. He greeted us so warmly, with a big hug and a shout of “My girls!” – it put the biggest smile on my face. All night I was struck by how nice everyone was to us. At the end of the day, we’re just nerdy girls who are fans of a TV show, and the people at this event didn’t have to be so nice to us – but they all were. They make us feel so welcome and it means the world to us. Scotty posed for a picture with me, Jo and Laura.

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Before I go any further, I want to just say that I don’t think I’ll be doing anything with this hideous dress ever again, except for maybe setting it on fire. And as for the red lipstick, I think I might have to retire that too. It’s amazing how you don’t realise what you look like until you see photos. *shudder* Anyway, moving on…

We also had the pleasure of meeting George Luz Jnr, who was also really lovely to talk to. He gave us both a regimental coin, with all of Easy Company’s campaigns on it. It was so kind of him, and it now has pride of place in front of my Band of Brothers book on my bookshelf, which is heaving under the weight of my various collected treasures, more than it is with actual books.

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Now it was time to meet the Band of Brothers actors. First up was James Madio (Perconte) and Ross McCall (Liebgott). Jimmy decided they looked like a couple on their wedding day, receiving guests at their reception. Ross’ response to that was, “I don’t like this at all.” Here is a photo of me lurking terrifyingly behind them. Also, we appear to be being photobombed by a ghostly paratrooper…

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After I’d met Ross and Jimmy, I headed over to see Shane Taylor, who played Doc Roe, and Robin Laing, who played Babe Heffron. I’ve met Shane before, and he remembered me, which just illustrates what a genuinely lovely guy he is. He always takes so much time to chat to everyone, and as a consequence, the queue to meet Robin and Shane was the longest all night!

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Next was Damian Lewis. I don’t really remember much of our conversation except for me spelling out my name for the autograph! It was very cool to meet him, I think he’s an exceptional actor, even if I did give up on watching Homeland (sorry!).

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Finally, we met Ben Caplan (Smokey Gordon) and Nick Aaron (Popeye Wynn). It was really touching to hear Ben enthusiastically introducing Scotty Gordon to people too, these guys have the utmost respect for the men of Easy Company and their families.

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I also got the chance to meet some more US veterans, including this awesome lady, May Alm, who was a nurse who landed at Omaha Beach. She seems like she had a real sense of adventure when she was young, and I hope I have half her energy and get-up-and-go if I’m lucky enough to live to 93!

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With my special Band of Brothers nerd album now full of new signatures, we spent the rest of the evening, rather than milling about, sitting in a corner with our fellow geeks Laura and Elodie, chatting. It was such a great evening. I was struck once again by how nice everyone was, when at the end of the night Robin and Shane came over to say goodbye. They really are very patient and lovely with us. Jimmy Madio was making a very impressive effort to get all the actors out of the door and off for dinner, but with limited success. It was a bit like herding cats, and every time he got one guy ready to leave, another one would wander off. Then Jimmy would come back saying, “We’ve gotta go, we’ve gotta rock and roll now,” and then dart off to try to round somebody else up. He must have been hungry!

The next morning, on about four hours’ sleep, we got up at the crack of dawn, in the pouring rain, and drove over to the Winters Memorial for a wreath-laying ceremony. I ended up completely mis-judging the weather and had to get changed in a grotty service station while Jo drank the world’s strongest coffee. It really was a very early start.

The wreath-laying was very poignant, especially since they got PeeWee Martin, a 101st Airborne veteran, to place the wreath. Damian Lewis spent a lot of time speaking with him, which was lovely to see. It was also a touching sight to see Damian Lewis paying such respectful tribute to the man he portrayed so well on screen.

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After the wreath-laying, there was another ‘herding cats’ operation as the designated adult tried to get all the actors back into their mini-buses, which was pretty funny to watch. Also, star of the show was George Calil (who played Alley), who had had a *few* wines the previous evening (he turned up late so I didn’t get a photo), and was expected to have a stonking hangover. He didn’t appear to, and was the perkiest of the bunch, running around in the freezing wind and rain in just a T-shirt. Shane told me George is the noisiest roommate too, they were supposed to be sharing but he had to switch rooms to get some sleep! Robin came over to say hello, and he’d remembered my name from the previous evening. There were 500 people at that event, so for him to make a point of remembering my name was really nice. They really are a genuinely lovely bunch of guys.

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The sun was starting to try to make an appearance as we headed to our next stop, the Thomas Meehan Memorial. It’s by a church in a tiny village, and it is in remembrance of First Lieutenant Thomas Meehan and his men, who tragically never made it out of their plane on D-Day, thus giving command of Easy Company to Dick Winters. I think it’s important to remember the part Meehan played in making Easy Company what they were.

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We headed onwards to St Mére Eglise, made famous because of paratrooper John Steele’s unlucky landing on the church roof on D-Day, where he had to play dead to avoid being shot at. They still have a paratrooper up there today.

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We visited the 101st Airborne Museum. It was so packed, we pretty much had to shuffle around the whole place in single file. I did buy a most excellent sweatshirt from the gift shop though and I think it’s going to be my new favourite, it has the Screaming Eagle on the front.

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My favourite part was where you walk through the fuselage of a C-47 plane and you can hear the men sounding off for equipment check. Then you walk out of the door on to a glass walkway above a model of the Normandy countryside, surrounded by paratroopers in the air, with flashes and gunshots all around you – it’s very atmospheric. St Mére Eglise was a hive of activity, with re-enactors and a lot of actual military personnel all over the place. We found a pizzeria, shared a pizza, and watched the world go by for a while.

By the time we got to Dead Man’s Corner Museum it was turning into a scorcher, unrecognisable from the freezing cold rain in the morning. Dead Man’s Corner Museum was a German command post in a house, so named because a soldier was killed as he emerged from a shot-out German tank outside the building, and remained there for several days, becoming a sort of geographical marker (“You turn left at the corner with the dead man.”). It’s only a tiny museum, but it’s a real gem, with well-presented displays and information. The highlight for me was their collection of Easy Company artefacts, including Winters’ uniform.

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The star of the exhibit, though, is this letter from Captain Speirs to Forrest Guth, which we could just about read through the glass. The letter was written at the end of the war, bringing Guth up to speed on all that had happened since Bastogne. Speirs actually told him that Easy “hadn’t done much”. Not done much? They’d liberated Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest! It really tickled me, only a badass like Speirs could consider that unremarkable.

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Before we headed to Carentan, I had to get changed into more appropriate clothing for the baking heat: cue me stripping off on a grass verge as about 200 paratroopers marched past me. They all got a look at my M&S undercrackers, but I was past caring by this point, it was so hot. They got their revenge for the almighty scare it must have given them by marching very slowly to Carentan, with us stuck behind in the car.

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We eventually stopped off at the road into Carentan, where Winters took off his helmet and ran up and down shouting at his men to get out of the ditches and fight. It’s odd to think of that taking place on this quiet road.

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We didn’t actually stop in Carentan because it was hot, we were tired, and the traffic was horrendous. I think we only missed a photo opportunity of the town square. We didn’t stop at the Memorial of the Battle of the Bloody Gulch either (the battle featured in Band of Brothers, where Blithe shoots the German soldier and takes some edelweiss). I figure we have to leave a couple of things for when we go back again! To finish the day we visited the Airborne Memorial.

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It was an incredible experience to have the privilege of meeting the Band of Brothers actors, family members of the men of Easy and some US veterans. I’m so glad we attended this event. In my humble opinion, Band of Brothers is the greatest TV series ever made – it was a truly unique show which was absolutely a fitting tribute to the heroic men it portrayed. Visiting the places they fought, and seeing their uniforms and letters feels like an enormous honour, especially given the anniversary. This was a couple of days I’ll truly never forget.


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Our next day of activities in Normandy centred around the Utah Beach area of Normandy, a pretty long drive from our base in Houlgate, and a journey we were to make three times in three days while we visited all the sites associated with Band of Brothers and Easy Company.

Our first stop was St Marie du Mont, where we saw a house for sale, which we immediately started fantasising about buying and turning into a 1940s-themed B&B and tea room. One day when we win the lottery maybe…

St Marie du Mont was like walking into a timewarp – the whole town had been taken over by re-enactors, and the area surrounding the church was filled with tents, trucks and jeeps. It was a fantastic atmosphere, and made us thankful all over again that we’d chosen to visit at such a special time.

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We went into the tiny museum in the village square. The museum exhibition isn’t anything special, especially when you compare it to some of the bigger museums in Normandy, but the building itself is really interesting. It was worth the admission price just to see this photo displayed on the museum wall. The building highlighted by the arrow is the building in which we were stood, and those soldiers standing in the foreground are from Easy Company. I have to admit to being very excited and uncool about this!

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It really was such a thrill to be somewhere steeped in so much Easy Company history, and the re-enactors made it even more special. I’ve seen period photos of the real paratroopers sitting on this exact statue and this water pump, so I got a kick out of seeing them in real life, and the re-enactors were an added bonus.

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Our next stop was the 101st Airbourne Memorial, which is situated at the top of the field at Brecourt Manor, where Easy made their textbook assault on the German guns on D-Day.

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It was a nice touch that someone had left a photo of Major Dick Winters on top of the memorial, I think it always helps to think of the men involved with all of these places when you think about the history. It’s incredible to think what went on in this peaceful field 70 years ago.

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We moved down the lane to get a look from the bottom of the field, and had trouble finding somewhere to park, so we just left the car by some big white gates, only realising later that what we’d done was blocked in the entrance to the gates of the actual Brecourt Manor, from which the operation got its name. Obviously, the site of the battle is just a field, but it was very cool to visit this particular field!

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As we went back to the car, we spotted Ross Owen, who organised the parachute jump that some of the British actors from Band of Brothers took part in (and which we’d attended) in Devon a couple of years previously. The event had been organised to help fund the memorial to Major Winters. We stopped to chat to him, and saw that he was with Ross McCall (who played Liebgott), Robin Laing (Babe) and James Madio (Perconte). It took all my inner strength to remain cool and not start embarrassing myself, knowing that we would be seeing the actors again the next day at an event at Utah Beach. There was a lot of internal flailing, which I hope didn’t show on my face. Ross dropped a hint that there would be a special extra guest at the event, who’d not been announced. We got the feeling he meant Damian Lewis, and we really hoped we were right.

Next was to visit the Winters Memorial. I thought I would cry, because he is my all-time hero. Instead, I just felt incredibly proud that I’d helped to fund (in a very small way) this incredible memorial to an outstanding man. I think I admire Winters so much because he was a gentle, moral man, and he managed to lead his soldiers through one of the bloodiest and toughest campaigns in WWII without it changing his character. That’s true strength. The men adored him, which is all the testament to his character that you’ll ever need.

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We left our poppy cross, which Jo wrote a message on (because I write like a child), and then headed off to Utah Beach itself.

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Utah Beach Museum is really excellent, and there’s a section devoted to Easy Company and their action at Brecourt Manor, so it’s a must for any Band of Brothers fan. There was a parachute drop right outside the museum in the evening, accompanied by the Band of Brothers music. It was a lovely moment, and a nice way to help mark the anniversary.

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After Utah we drove to Pointe du Hoc, which was the site of the daring mission by the Rangers to scale the cliffs and capture the German guns. This wasn’t on our original itinerary, but I’m glad we went, if only to point out how wrong we were when we thought the cliffs overlooking Omaha Beach were Pointe du Hoc. The size of the craters caused by artillery are still impressive 70 years on.

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Point du Hoc is also where our obsession with popping out of gun turrets began. We were climbing around inside one of the bunkers when we saw a set of steps leading up. Not knowing where they were going, we climbed up anyway and happened to pop up out of the top in front of a very surprised American tourist, who laughed heartily at us and then snapped this photo.

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The final stop of the day was Omaha Beach, worth a second trip if just for the impressive sunset.

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As the sun went down and the beach finally went dark, there was a laser show and firework display. The lasers and fireworks were dotted all the along the Normandy coast, so from where we were we could see them from Utah Beach all the way towards Gold, Juno and Sword. We walked down on to the sand to watch them, and we were the only people on the beach as far as I could see. It was pretty eerie to stand on that beach and listen to the waves crashing somewhere beyond my field of vision and think about what was happening at that moment 70 years ago. Paratroopers were in the air above, less than an hour away from the moment they were to make their jumps, and the sea was filled with hundreds of boats making their way in formation across the channel. The German soldiers had no idea what lay out there in the darkness, just as we couldn’t see the waves we could hear rolling on to the beach.

We went back to our tent exhausted, but feeling like we’d had a very special day, and knowing that the highlight of our trip was about to take place the next day…

 

 


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Our second day of sightseeing in Normandy was the wettest, it threw it down almost all day, which was apt since we were visiting the first of the British locations – Pegasus Bridge. If you’re into military history and haven’t read Stephen E Ambrose’s book, Pegasus Bridge, then you’re missing out, because it’s a fascinating story. Pegasus Bridge was a vital operation carried out in the first minutes of D-Day. It was the task of the British Airbourne troops and the Glider Pilot Regiment to capture the strategic bridges in Bénouville which would play a key role in stopping a German counter-attack from the east. During the night of the 5th June, pilots landed gliders full of soldiers by the side of the bridges, and Major John Howard led his men in the first successful operation of D-Day. The bridges were captured intact and the British troops liberated the first building in France, Café Gondrée, which still stands today and serves as a focal point for visiting veterans.

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I’ve been to Pegasus Bridge before, but I was keen to go again, and it still takes my breath away to see the narrow margin of error the Horsa glider pilots had. Landing on a small triangle of grass between the water, the road and boggy marshes, the pilots had to land with a precision that was a lot to expect from men going into combat in the dead of night, scared and not sure what they were going to encounter. When you see the plaques which marked where the Horsa gliders touched down you realise what an extraordinary feat of flying it really was. 

The museum at Pegasus Bridge is excellent, and even though I’d been there ten years previously I couldn’t actually remember a lot of the information, and so I enjoyed reading all about it again. I’m like a goldfish, I bet I’ll go back in another ten years and be able to read it all again as if it was for the first time. There were a lot of veterans there, and as we came back indoors from the outside section of the museum, there was a brass band playing for them. They were playing wartime songs, and the veterans were all singing their hearts out, which brought a tear to my eye.

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Outside the museum we had the chance to chat with a veteran, called Ted Hold, who was involved in the operations at Pegasus Bridge. I particularly enjoyed the sticker on his wheelchair which read, “Straight from the Horsa’s mouth.” I later learned this was the title of his book, which I will have to make a point of reading.

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To get out of the rain we went for a cup of tea in Café Gondrée, which I’d never done before. The place is always packed, and there are always a lot of military personnel and veterans there, so we were pretty lucky to be able to share a table with a nice couple from Leeds. It’s not every day you get the chance to have a cup of tea in the first building to be liberated on D-Day.

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On the way back from Pegasus Bridge we stopped off at Ranville. By now the rain had stopped and we were able to look around in brilliant sunshine. Not for the first time, I was struck by the care that’s taken over Commonwealth War Graves. Ranville is a beautifully maintained, peaceful place of remembrance with immaculate lawns and well-tended flowerbeds.

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I’ve become much more interested in Comonwealth War Graves recently, as I’ve started volunteering for The War Graves Photographic Project (twgpp.org), which is working as a joint venture with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) to build up a photographic database of all known Commonwealth War Graves. A lot of people are unable to visit the graves of their relatives, so for them to be able to access a photo instead means a lot to them. They have volunteers across the globe, but I’m the only volunteer photographing graves in Shropshire currently, and have spent many an afternoon with my clipboard, wandering around cemeteries chatting idly (it’s a bit strange, but it sort of seems rude not to say hello) to the servicemen I’ve had the honour to ‘meet’ on my travels. My adventures so far have included me doing an impressive face plant on to one of the graves (sorry, Able Seaman Barlow) and, this weekend, actually climbing inside a huge overgrown conifer tree in order to get a photo. I bet Sergeant Slater had a giggle at the state of my twig-infested hair afterwards.

I think the work of the CWGC is really important, and I’m glad that wherever you go, if you go into a cemetery you will likely find at least one of the white Commonwealth gravestones. They’re easy to spot even in a large cemetery, I find my eye is drawn to them now. I’m amazed that even in a town as small as the one I live, in the cemetery there are two dedicated CWGC plots, with their manicured grass and perfectly tended flowerbeds.

It’s events like the 70th anniversary of D-Day that hammer home the glaringly sad realisation that every year there are fewer veterans who can attend the events, fewer men who can visit the graves of their fallen comrades and revisit the places where they fought. I’m a sentimental person, but that’s why I like to do my volunteering for TWGPP, because I like the idea that someone is still visiting these graves, especially the ones from 100 years ago. Someone is remembering, even if it is just me with my little camera and my bright purple clipboard. Sadly the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s ethos, to “remember in perpetuity’, is becoming more and more important as each year passes.


Being a pair of WWII (and especially Band of Brothers) nerds, me and my travel-buddy Jo had been talking about a trip to Normandy for a while. When we realised that 2014 would mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day, we decided it was the ideal time for a visit. We had to book a year in advance, and still the closest we could get to all the main sites was to be east of Sword Beach in Houlgate. I’m a bit over camping, I like my comforts, but we booked ourselves into one of Eurocamp’s ‘Safari Tents’, which turned out to be quite luxurious. We were higher up than all of the other tents too, so we kind of felt like we were lords  looking down on our serfs.

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We had a wooden floor, a fridge, proper beds with mattresses and duvets, and a little heater. I still had to trek to the toilet block, walking past everyone in my super hero PJs, but it was better than a bog standard tent.

Our first day in Normandy was the 2nd June, and things were already gearing up for the anniversary celebrations. We headed to Omaha Beach first. The small museum there was a little bit dated, it was basically a lot of 1980s shop mannequins in army uniforms, arranged in slightly unconvincing tableaus.Image

After that we had a walk down to the beach and looked at the memorials. I like the new modern sculpture which they have erected on the beach.

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We decided to walk up to the cliffs, which we mistakenly thought at the time was one side of Pointe Du Hoc. Geography never was my strongpoint. As we walked up the cliff we came across a bunker which had obviously housed a German gun. It’s easy to see how they caused such devastation on the beach on the 6th, the view they had on to the landing area was pretty formidable.

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On our way back to the car, we spotted a US veteran. I was a little shy of talking to him at first because I didn’t want to seem rude or disrespectful, or annoying. I asked one of the people he was with if he’d mind us bothering him and I was assured he loved people bothering him. So, I met my first D-Day veteran, Duckie Robertson, who landed on Omaha Beach on the 6th. He was quite a character. Despite failing eyesight, he spotted my labret piercing and questioned me on it, telling me it, “looks like shit, honey.” He can’t have thought it looked too bad though, because his ‘fee’ for a photo was for me to give him three kisses!

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It was so fascinating to speak with Duckie, he was telling us all about being stationed in the UK prior to D-Day, in Devon, with a British family who he formed a very close bond with. It’s stupid but it made me feel a little bit proud to think that the US soldiers were made to feel so welcome and treated with such warmth while they were stationed in England. After we’d been chatting to him for a while, someone else came over to get him to sign a WWII book. When he flicked to a page showing a German soldier he proclaimed, “Look at that Jerry sonovabitch,” which did make me laugh quite a lot. Duckie says he just, “says it how it is.” I think if you made it up Omaha Beach on D-Day, you’ve earned the right to say whatever the heck you like. It was a real honour to meet such a character, I’m so glad people like Duckie were still able to make it to Normandy to mark this anniversary.

On our way to our next port of call, we happened on the Overlord Museum, which turned out to be one of the best museums we visited. It’s well worth a stop if you’re in the area.

Our next stop was the American Cemetery behind Omaha Beach. I’ve seen it on TV and in movies, but they really don’t do it justice. Seeing those seemingly endless rows of crosses stretching as far as you can see really stops you in your tracks. I struggled to comprehend what I was looking at, if I’m honest.

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I was holding my composure reasonably well until I spotted a grave for an unknown soldier. I don’t know why that’s so much more tragic than the ones with names, but it got to me. That man gave the ultimate sacrifice for his country and the Allied forces, and we don’t even know who he was. I’m not ashamed to say that I stood and cried.

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We walked around for a while, it really is a beautiful, well-maintained and peaceful place. Eventually we walked to an area we suspected got less foot-traffic than elsewhere and chose a grave at random to place one of our poppy crosses. It’s really the least we could do.

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And so that was the end of our first day in Normandy. Already I could tell this was going to be a pretty special and memorable trip.

Our evening ended with a barbecue on the campsite, then a lovely hour spent ignoring each other and using the campsite wifi in the bar. I see that I noted in my holiday diary that Jo pushed me in a hedge on the way back to the tent. In fact, she may even have shouted, “HEDGE!” as she did so. Do you see the abuse have to put up with?

There will be more of our Normandy adventures to follow on several other long-winded and rambling blog posts….