Normandy: D-Day Beaches, Part 2

After a 4 month delay, I am finally getting back around to posting on my trip to France last fall. Actually, I was prompted to do so by a friend who recently came back from France and the fact that I have several upcoming trips in the next couple of months and I need to stay ahead of the game. So on to Mont Saint Michel, Paris and Versailles. But first, a final post on the Beaches of Normandy.

Following our visit to Juno Beach, a guide recommended that we include Gold (British) and Omaha Beach (American) as part of our Normandy itinerary. The first is unique for its Mulberry Harbour while the second is home to the US Cemetery.

Gold Beach: Heading westward from Courseulles-sur-Mer, the land begins to rise gradually as you approach the town of Arromanches-Les-Baines, where Gold Beach is located. The town itself is situated in a cove with steep bluffs funneling down into the town from either side. British troops trying to penetrate the town would have been subject to heavy cross-fire, contributing to the exceptionally high number of casualties experienced compared to Canadian troops during the initial landing.

The town itself if very charming, if not touristic. The most notable feature is the remnants of the Mulberry Harbour out in the water. Following the ill-fated Canadian raid on Dieppe in 1942, Allied commanders recognized that it would be difficult to take a natural port from the Germans. To overcome this, British engineers devised artificial harbours which could be towed across the English Channel from Great Britian. Although damaged in a heavy storm shortly after D-day, the harbour played an integral logistical role in supplying Allied troops in the weeks and months after the landing and are still visible today, some three-quarters of a century later.

The slow rise up to the bluffs at Arromanches-Les Baines

A first glimpse of the Mulberry Harbour

A more realistic view of what the British soldiers would have faced…

Looking down on picturesque Arromanches-Les-Baines

Walking along the beach in Arromanches-Les-Baines

Omaha Beach: After picking up lunch in downtown Arromanches, we headed to Omaha Beach near Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer. The French countryside was simply stunning on the drive between the two, bathed in the warmth of the late-morning sun.

Similar to Gold, Omaha is dominated by high bluffs overlooking an impossibly picturesque beach. Here to, Americans suffered heavy casualties in the early dawn of June 6, 1944. The difficulty of the task assigned these soldiers was impressed upon my father and me as we walked down the steep hillside to the beach below. The only other people on the beach were an older couple lost in silent reflection, a common trend when visiting an emotionally-charged site such as the Landing Beaches.

Despite the beach and Visitors Center at Omaha, the most moving feature is the US cemetery. Although much less intimate than the Canadian cemetery, it’s size and scale shocks you into realizing how many people lost their lives with over 8,000 Americans buried here.

The bluffs overlooking Omaha Beach

The impossibly picturesque Omaha Beach. American Rangers scaled the cliffs in the distance with heavy casualties

Lost in reflection…

Overlooking the cemetery at Omaha Beach with my parents in the foreground

Row upon row…

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Postscript: Reflecting back on my childhood, I remember an older man who landed and was wounded in the Normandy invasion. He never talked about his experiences. I now know why. The experience was too painful with too many friends lost during the hell of battle, too many horrors witnessed during those weeks and months. It was their burden to carry for the rest of their lives and a heavy one at that.

I count myself lucky to be among only a small percentage of Canadians who have had the opportunity to visit a region where so many people played such an important role in altering the course of world history and making the world a better place. If only the cost hadn’t been so high…

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About Canadianindenmark

A Canadian expat working in the biotechnology industry in Copenhagen, Denmark
This entry was posted in European Travels, France. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Normandy: D-Day Beaches, Part 2

  1. Elisabeth says:

    Great writing. Really enjoy these posts, and your take on the world!

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