In 10 days camping near the D-Day Invasion Beaches of Normandy, you can’t help but learn something about the invasion. The invasion was split onto 5 beaches, 2-American, 2-British and 1-Canadian (Juno Beach). I am sad to say that the Canadians took the highest percentage of casualties and deaths. Of the 306 landing craft that we sent onto Juno Beach, 90 were destroyed before ever reaching Norman ground. Note the Canadian flag in the diagram above. D-Day was well before the red maple leaf became our flag.
All throughout Normandy you see flags flying, often a group of flags representing the Liberators. In Juno Beach you will see the French and Canadian flags together. The Canadian flag flying everywhere certainly made Mike and I feel welcome. All of this is commemorating an event that happened almost 80 years ago. On a lighter note, we had the best mussels we have ever eaten in Juno Beach. Mussels seem to be on almost every menu. Mussels and Fish & Chips are the two meals that come from the sea that my husband will willingly eat.
Mike and I really like the self-guided audio walking tours for various cities. There was a driving version of this for the D-Day Invasion Beaches which we followed. We split it up into a few days to have time to visit a couple of the smaller museums. I am really not into history in great detail but the two museums we chose were very nice. Obviously we went to the Canadian Museum on Juno Beach which was quite well done.
We went to a second museum in Arromanches, the Musée du Débarquement which was all about the phenomenal portable harbours that the British built called “Mulberry Harbours” where some of the remains can still be seen today both on land and in the water. The British knew that they needed a harbour to bring supplies to their troops once they landed and starting liberating towns enroute to Berlin. As they found out with the disaster at Dieppe in 1942, the Germans had the main harbours extremely well protected. Churchill brought forward the idea of creating a portable harbour for the Allies to use. This had never been done before or since and Mike and I found it quite fascinating. The British basically created a 1-mile breakwater by building floating large concrete boxes they towed to Normandy together with sinking a lot of large ships. Inside this calmer 1 square mile area, docks or roads were built to allow ships to be more easily offloaded. Within the portable harbour were about 10 km of floating “roads”. The huge concrete pieces, some 5 stories high, were all built in England, towed over to France and then sunk to form the breakwater. Supposedly the Germans saw these large concrete objects as they were being towed across the Channel but didn’t know what they were for.
There were two of these harbours built. One for the Americans and one for the British and Canadians. These were assembled in France in just over a week following D-Day. Incredible! The bad news is that on June 19 there was a horrendous gale and the American Mulberry Harbour was destroyed. The Americans had to largely go back to the old way of doing things: landing ships on the shore, grounding them, off-loading the ships, and then refloating them on the next high tide.
We were told that Bayeux and Honfleur were the only two towns in Normandy to have been completely spared from destruction. In the Bayeux Cathedral you will find the flags of their “Liberators”. This Cathedral is said to have been built extremely quickly. It took 27 years from 1050 to 1077 which was remarkable. Mike figures that every large church is an on-going permanent restoration project which must constantly require large sums of money.
We were told by another camper that we had to visit a small museum in Bayeux to see the Bayeux Tapestry, almost 1,000 years old. I wasn’t particularly interested but the more I looked into Bayeux, the more I found that everyone seemed to think you needed to visit Bayeux Tapestry Museum. Mike was less keen than I was but I talked him into it and I am glad I did. The tapestry is 50 cm high by 70 m long (20” x 230 feet). We were not allowed to take any pictures, which makes sense. You don’t want to take a chance on flashes going off in front of something as fragile as this. We were given an English audio guide that described each of the 58 scenes to us. You can explore the tapestry online but the audio guide was much better than the online text.
The story told by the Bayeux Tapestry begins in 1064, when Edward the Confessor, King of England, instructs his brother-in-law Harold Godwinson to travel to Normandy in order to offer his cousin William the succession to the English throne. When the old king dies, Harold has himself crowned instead of the Duke of Normandy (William the Bastard). Hearing this news, William decides to cross the Channel in 1066 to reclaim his throne. This of course culminates with the Battle of Hastings, the decisive battle between Norman and Anglo-Saxon troops. From that point on, William became known as William the Conqueror.
According to the museum, the Bayeux Tapestry is an account of the medieval period in Normandy and England like no other. It provides information about civil and military architecture, the armour worn and seafaring in the Viking tradition. Through the great number of items depicted, it also gives details of everyday life in the 11th century.
The audio and the display were very well done. We saw a similarly laid out tapestry in a church later on. Without having an audio guide we barely glanced at it.
Below is Honfleur, the lovely waterfront town that actually survived the invasion intact.
On one of our self-guided audio tours we visited Villers-Bocage. It was 90 per cent destroyed and the remaining 10% was all damaged in WW2. Most of the damage was done by the Allied bombings following D-Day. Being liberated can really do terrible things to a town. This town, and others that we have seen, were all reconstructed along the same historic town plan that existed prior to its destruction but with adaptions for traffic such as wider roads.
While Mike and I were wandering around one town we came upon a wonderful pair of black swans with extremely red beaks. Each swan had two distinct white marks/feathers near their tail. Until then the only black swans that I had ever seen where dancers like Veronica Tennant and Karen Kain in Swan Lake. These two were lovely.
The other day we drove past a golf course that looked unusual to me. Now I know nothing about golf. The only time I was on a golf course was when my father used to take us tobogganing. At this course the only green to be seen was in the area around the holes. I am not sure if this is normal here or if it is the result of the massive heatwaves and drought France and most of Europe has endured this summer.
Yesterday Mike and I rode our bikes along the shores of the English Channel to the town where William the Conqueror departed on his journey to England. It was extremely windy and I believe that is very common. We were surprised not to see a single windmill, even far out into the sea. I am sure that there are windmill farms along the coast somewhere but we haven’t seen any yet.
One day, we were driving near the town of Lisieux when we saw some tall spires not very far away. We had to make a quick detour to get a better look. We discovered a huge Basilica that we hadn’t known anything about. It was pretty amazing and the inside was covered in huge mosaics as well as the required stained glass windows. As I was writing this I checked into the church. Apparently there is more than 2,000 m2 or 21,500 sq ft of mosaics. What a great find to stumble upon.
We camped near Caen. 80% of this city was completely destroyed following the D-Day invasion. Caen was an important Allied objective as it was an essential road hub. The Germans defended this stronghold with all their power. Instead of one day it took six weeks of fighting and heavy shelling to liberate Caen. At dawn on 18 July the Allies dropped 6,000 tons of bombs over Caen and the town was liberated the following day. According to the internet, thousands of citizens and 30,000 Anglo-Canadian soldiers were killed. As is to be expected, not every local felt that the destruction of their city and the number of deaths was a good thing.
As we toured towns in this area I couldn’t help but keep thinking about Ukraine. In addition to the the loss of lives and life changing injuries, the Ukrainians themselves have had to destroy some of their gorgeous historic buildings that the Russians have taken over. How terrible that must be. I so wish that we had seen Ukraine when we were in that part of the world. We were heading in that general direction when we needed to turn around and meet up with friends in Croatia. We had heard lovely things about the beautiful cities of Ukraine. I am so sorry that we missed seeing the cities and meeting the people. Our thoughts and best wishes go out to the citizens of Ukraine