I’ve been reading about D-Day since I was a boy and films like Saving Private Ryan and the TV series Band of Brothers really fired my imagination as an adult. But it’s only when you actually stand there, on the beaches where the troops came ashore, that you can begin to appreciate what happened on that longest of days.
My mate Jim and I drove out from the historic town of Bayeux in France to a strip of the Normandy coast known as Omaha Beach.
Thousands of American soldiers were cut down by German guns as they stormed the defences there on June 6th, 1944. It’s amazing to see just how big the area is. When the tide is out the sand seems to stretch for miles. The cliffs rise up like giant waves and the mind boggles at how anyone survived.
It’s impossible to imagine D-Day as it really happened. Books and photographs give an idea and even Hollywood comes close to capturing it. But a visit to the American cemetery where fields of white crosses honour the dead really brings a harsh truth to light. Beyond all the heroism, the machines, tactics and stories is a massive human cost that is appalling to see. The cemetery is free to enter and a poignant way to end a visit to Omaha Beach.
It’s not all gloomy though. The local community is thriving with big houses covering the ground where German bunkers used to be. Children play on the beach and the sand is very popular with horse riders. Life goes on there, freely. Surely that’s what so many died to bring about.