Normandy

Often our posts focus on oddities we encounter when traveling, such as yesterday’s train woes or the fact this trip seemed ill-starred to begin with given the flight cancellation. But today was one of those days that affirms why we travel. Our main reason for coming to Bayeux was to see the tapestry and to visit some of the D-Day battlefields. Today’s D-Day tour did not disappoint.

We booked our tour with Overlord Tours, one of the larger operators in the area. Originally we went for one that focused on the American landing beaches of Omaha and Utah, but we had to rebook when the dates of our trip shifted and that was filled for today. So instead we we went on one built around the 101st Airborne’s Easy Company, focus of “Band of Brothers.” It might have been the better choice as we learned more about some of the pivotal battles in the days immediately after the initial landing. And in the end our guide threw in a stop at Utah Beach that wasn’t on the original itinerary. And both tours include a stop at the American cemetery. You could spend a couple days doing D-Day related touring but if you only have a day, this is a good tour.

In the top photo we are at Point du Hoc, where the Army Rangers famously scaled limestone cliffs under heavy fire to take out gun batteries that turned out to be decoys. No matter, they ultimately found the guns inland within days and destroyed them. One of the fascinating things throughout the region is how it was reshaped by the war. Bomb craters that have become mini retention ponds in farmers’ fields, for example, or debris from exploded bunkers that have been left where they landed. Also interesting is the number of monuments or other reminders of what the Allies accomplished in the early days of the invasion. It’s likely one of the few places in the world that have new stained glass windows in old churches featuring paratroopers.

The above is in St. Mere Eglise, while the one below is in a more obscure village called Angoville-au-Plain. There a couple of medics with the 101st Airborne tended to 80 wounded soldiers, mostly Americans but also some German soldiers and one injured local boy. They did it as the village changed hands repeatedly. You can learn more about their story here. When Robert Wright died a few years ago he asked that half of his ashes be buried in the church yard. It’s quite a story.

The following is a memorial to Dick Winters, a principal protagonist in the “Band of Brothers” story that was erected after his death.

I could go on, but the point is that it is well worth the journey here. We had some tough weather in the morning, with rain squalls and chilly temperatures until skies cleared midday, not unlike the weather on D-Day itself. But we came prepared with rain gear and we have to say visiting in the off season had its benefits. The roads and towns aren’t jammed and the restaurants are mellow, which we suspect is not the case in the summer. And Bayeux is a good place to stay. Compact but with several good restaurants, worth a couple nights stay. I will wrap with a view of the Bayeux cathedral at night. It was consecrated in 1077 under the reign of William the Conquerer. Pretty cool.

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