Saturday 10 November 2012

Normandy Beaches

We have just returned from the Normandy beaches and with Remembrance Sunday this weekend it seemed appropriate to recall the the incredible events which took place in June of 1944.

Memorials to the allied troops of the D Day landings are to be seen in every village and town and the sense of honour and respect for the liberation forces is woven into the fabric of this part of France even as we approach seventy years after the event.

Much of the coast has been developed in the post war years, but the remains of fortified positions are frequent and a poignant reminder of what the allied troops faced.

There are many visitor centres which detail the events of that momentous day, but for me at least the most moving moment was just gazing out across the beach which is little changed by the intervening years and trying to imagine the scene with the 7000 ships and 130,000 men making up the greatest armada the world has ever known, the audacity of a plan of which the successful execution would lead to the liberation of western Europe and the prospect for failure was unthinkable.

Sword beach where the picture above was taken, was one of the more successful landings, within the day the troops has driven a front 13km wide over 10km inland almost reaching the medieval city of Caen. Very different to the scene at "bloody" Omaha beach which was taken at the cost of over 3000 casualties on the same day.

The bravery and sacrifice of the allied forces who took part in that day, a day which changed the course of European history is to be seen in the many cemeteries where row after row of clean, well kept grave stones reveal all too brief details of the young lives lost. Not so for the 21,000 German troops who died during the battle for Normandy \and for whom understandably there is little trace, but who none the less were husbands, fathers and sons.

It's easy to be caught up with thoughts about the momentous events and the heroism which so many displayed on that day, but lets us not forget that our troops who are serving and sadly dying in Afghanistan today do so with no less bravery and courage.

To all of the men and women who have fought on our behalf in the many wars and conflicts you don't just deserve our respect you demand it, thank you.


  1. I have visited the Normandy beaches a number of times and the various cemeteries also. Arromanches is especially interesting - you can see the remants of the ships and caissons towed from England to make the breakwater around a newly established port - and an excellent museum shows how it all worked.
    As an American it is really moving to see the American cemetery with rows and rows of which crosses and the occasional star of David. When my parents came to visit, my father could not bring himself to get out of the car and see the cemetery.
    And there is a supposedly true story about when DeGaulle, in withdrawing from NATO, ordered all American troops out of France and Johnson's Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, asked if that included all those in the cemeteries.

  2. They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
    Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
    At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
    We will remember them.

  3. I cried when I read this today. Thoughtful and well written. Thank you.

  4. Anonymous - thank you, walking those beaches was a profound and emotional experience for me - I'm glad that in some small way my feelings were reflected in my writing.

  5. Well said Max. Last night with some friends the talk turned to the concept of a just war. Is war ever justified? Was there any alternative to fighting Hitler? Are the present conflicts justified? But no matter what your views on war there is no denying the bravery of those who fight in them for their country. We must never forget nor must we cease trying to find alternative solutions to killing one another.

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