Earlier this month I joined up with a group of friends for a trip to Normandy, specifically to visit some of the battlefields and memorials relating to the D-Day landings in 1944. Jane and I have been to Normandy several times over the years, including a stay in a remarkable gite in a converted dovecot near Tessy-sur-Vire.
Travelling with 44 friends in a coach this time, our accommodation was on a larger scale – we would stay in the Chateau du Molay, not far from Bayeux. It’s used for British school trips, so we were fine there, albeit that some of the rooms were short on facilities. Then we visited Arromaches, spent time in its museum, with its displays of Mulberry models, and the view from the front windows of the remains of the actual Mulberry harbour. We got a couple of toasted paninis for lunch, and I renewed my acquaintance with andouille, a local Vire speciality. Actually, I hadn’t liked it last time, but it was fine this time – maybe my palate has changed. A visit to the German cemetery at La Cambe completed our day.
On the Sunday we drove to Omaha Beach, to see the vast US Cemetery, just above the landing beach. As had been intended, it was a moving and impressive reminder of the scale of death on the beach.
Then on to Pointe du Huc, scaled by the US Rangers on D-Day, and here the remains of the German gun positions were left intact, and ground still cratered by bombing and naval shellfire.
Our final stop today was at Sante-Mere-Eglise, where the paratrooper (played by Red Buttons in The Longest Day) dangled from the church tower for ten hours. Our dinner in the chateau that night included snails and frog’s legs. I enjoyed the former, but wasn’t overly enthusiastic about the latter.
Next day we travelled to Caen, visiting Pegasus Bridge,
then to Ranville Cemetery, and finally the Merville Battery, site of a daring raid, and today the venue for very noisy sound and light show inside one of the German casemates. Then on to our Caen hotel, before getting back on the coach for our long drive to Zeebrugge, and the Hull ferry.
Here’s a poem I wrote back in 1998:
A thousand years of enclosures
grows hedges into lines of trees.
A diversity of herbage, shrubbery,
is displaced by roots of oak.
In time a balance evolves,
as trees are strangled by ivy,
sapped by mistletoe, clamped by fungi.
So rows develop gaps,
and colonisers assemble
in a wind- and bird-seeded scramble.
Now cows graze, stockaded,
behind their up-ridged barriers,
distilling meadows into milk,
capturing each petal’s essence
in flavours of butter.
Here two armies killed
across the obstacles;
here men cursed, and tanks crawled
from field to field,
churning the grass to blood;
payment for the cream of Normandy