Friday 31 August 2007

France - Episode 5

I have always wanted to see the beaches of Normandy, France and pay my respect and give my thanks to all those mothers, daughters, wives and sister who gave their sons, fathers, husbands and brothers to the cause. I learned by reading and television and films that these beaches were hard fought and I could only imagine what it must have been like.

Our first stop was at the German War Memorial. These were enemies but also sons, fathers, husbands and brothers who similarly fought and fell. Just for the wrong side. They were still loved. And still missed. Our visit was made all the more necessary when Sebastian asked where we were going and I told him. He replied "But they were Germans." Already his sharp little mind had formed a prejudice. I explained to him that during a war there are always at least 2 sides. One side will be the victor and one side will be defeated but they all are human beings who had someone who loved them at home and they deserve to be recognised as fallen. What they did was wrong. But I felt it was important to see that war is bad all round. The graves of the unknown soldiers are marked "Ein Deutscher Soldat" - One German Soldier.

We then headed for Omaha Beach. We had a slight misstep with the sat nav when it took us beyond where the street signs were instructing us to depart the motorway only to discover that the road layout had been changed dramatically since the sat nav map was updated and we had to come back on ourselves quite a bit.

This meant that we were running up against that French lunch hour thingy. You gotta eat between 12 and 2 pm or you just don't eat. So we stopped off at Arromanche which I must say wasn't in the list of top 10 things to see but food trumps sight seeing every time.

It proved to be quite an educational stop. Arromanche was 1 of 2 ports erected immediately following the D-Day landings to bring supplies to the troops. It was made of 146 cement caissons towed across the channel from England. through this port passed 2.5 million men, 4 million tons of equipment and 500,000 vehicles. It helped cement (no pun intended) just how big the invasion was.

After suitably admiring what is left of the port we stopped off for our lunch at what can only be described as the French version of Denny's. I had mussels with creme/white wine sauce & chips. The children and Marc had croque monsieurs and ham and chips. Abby stayed true to form and ate just her chips. Seb loved the ham!

We then carried on with our original plan and headed off to the American Military Museum at Omaha Beach. The drive was fascinating as one imagined these roads being marched by the troops and the villages being freed by the Allies.

The museum was brilliant. Poignant and sad but also demonstrated the bravery and courage using films and artifacts of real people some who lived to tell the tales and others who died on the battlefields. The artifacts included ration kits, shovels, helmets, field phones. This made it all very real, especially for Sebastian who had just studied WW2 at school last year.

My favourite part was the beautiful infinity pool that looked out over the beaches and met the sea. Omaha Beach is a gorgeous sandy expanse upon which you cannot simply imagine the death and destruction. That is, until you enter the cemetery.

There you are confronted with the graves of 9,386 American soldiers. 14,000 soldiers have been repatriated to the USA since the museum was built. Sebastian stopped in his tracks as he gazed out over the white crosses and stars of David. he asked me if these were the soldiers that died in the War. I explained it was only some of them and that many many more had died. He sat down and cried.

We sat and talked a bit about war and why it is bad and how it should always be avoided but that these men who had fallen were doing the right thing, their duty and that sometimes war is a necessary evil. He then explained to me that there must surely have been another way. I hope he carries that view throughout his life.

After spending a bit of time wondering around the cemetery and the various monuments we headed off to play and fly kites on Omaha Beach which would be strange if it wasn't such a glorious beach. The weather was lovely and sunny. Abigail immediately headed off to the waves as Marc and Seb got out the kites. It was a great couple of hours.

We headed back to the gite (after a fun stop at the fresh fruit & vegetable stand) where we met up with Sean & Helen who had left the museum early (but went and played on Omaha Beach as well). We had a BBQ and the children went for a swim.

The adults stayed up well into the night playing a rudely named card game taught to us by Helen. She won every game and it appeared the rules kept changing. But we did have quite a bit of wine to drink so who knows. Another night of laughs!


Janell said...

I enjoyed seeing these beaches at peace through your eyes. Until now, I'd only seen them through the eyes and stories of the men who survived the battles.

Anonymous said...

I know exactly how you must have felt talking to Sebastian, I had a similar talk with my son. He was 3.5 when his dad went off to war the first time and unfortunately it seems he will have to witness it again. It is definitely a hard thing!