Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Normandy D-Day beaches - Day 3 of Cosmos Tour

After our breakfast we took off to visit the Normandy D-Day beaches. Our first stop was at Pointe du Hoc. This was the bonus sight as a replacement for Deauville as this area is not covered in the normal Cosmos Tour.

This part of the Normandy beach is where portion of the opening battle of "Saving Private Ryan" is supposed to have taken place. We were the first visitors and the sight was eerily quiet apart from the howling wind as we made our way to the coast and the bunkers. The craters or depressions were caused by the heavy bombings and the scares of war are left for all to see.

This was the most spectacular part of the beaches with rugged coastline and steep cliffs. It was very windy and then it started to rain which added to the atmosphere. Imagine all the soldiers fighting for their lives in the treacherous weather and this reminds us of the cruelty of war.

At the end of the bluff is the US Ranger Monument, the "Dagger".

We went inside the main bunker used by the Germans. We can imagine the loneliness of the German soldiers holed inside for months waiting for something to happen.

From here we drove pass the Omaha Beach and stopped at the American Cemetery and Memorial at Colleville. We first went to the semi-circular Memorial when details of the D-Day landing are shown on the walls.

In front is the reflecting pool

and beyond is the cemetery with 9,000+ marble crosses and occasional star-of-David tombstones of fallen US soldiers. This is just like scenes we see in movies (like The Omen and Saving Private Ryan) but this time it is poignantly real.

Most of the dead are named with details on the marble tombstones but a few are buried unknown who perished on the Omaha Beach beyond.

After the cemetery, we then visited the Visitors Centre. This is managed and manned by the US and we went through a security check before entry. This has exhibitions giving an overview of the invasions with video clips and a film in a cushy theatre. There are many memorabilia of the soldiers who fought in the landing.

In hindsight, I would think that it will be a better experience to visit the exhibition first before going to the Memorial and Cemetery.

The next stop is at Arromanches or more well-known as Port Winston where the artificial harbour called Mulberry was built to stage the Normandy landing. The town itself is small and we had a simple lunch in one of the creperies.

We then headed to the harbour down the road and you are reminded everywhere that a battle was fought here with all the weaponry on show, even near a carousel. You will notice that the Union Jack is displayed prominently since this is the British theatre of the Normandy landing.

The most eye-catching and stark reminder of the landing are the block remains of the artificial harbour (the Mulberry) that littered the beach and also far out at sea.

 A lady was also trying to leave her mark on the Normandy beach.

That was my last impression of the Normandy beaches before we headed for another reminder of another much older invasion, this time that of the Battle of Hastings at Bayeux. 

Ronald Kwok

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