Normandy, France

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Today is Remembrance Sunday, a day to reflect and commemorate our military and civilian servicemen and women who have contributed to war and conflict. A British tradition I do not ever want to see fade out!
A few years ago on this very weekend, we travelled to the Normandy Beaches after Finn decided to interrogate his Great Grandad (my Grandad) for war tales. Pops was in the Navy, and I recall the story of him being on his ship in Italy as Mount Vesuvius erupted, and how a submarine could have been right in front of them and no one would have noticed as they all stood there on the deck watching something so magical before their very eyes! Another time his battalion had to abandon ship due to Nazi bombers overhead. Instead of instantly following commands, Pops ran to his bunk to grab the white handbag he had purchased for my Nan. A bag she gave me before she passed away. It still has the watermarks of the sea salt on the lining.

The Normandy Landings are possibly one of the most iconic land storms of the war as British, American and Canadians joined forces to attack on 6th June 1944. Codenamed D-Day the allies managed to misinform the Germans of their route of attack and the airstrike a few days previous further cemented the Germans confusion over where and when an attack would take place. Sadly this confusion was short-lived as the D-Day landings came and the horrendous bloody battle unfolded. Through choppy sea and bad weather, the heavy German resistance prevented the success of the main objective of the landings. However, the Normandy beach storms gave a steady foothold for further invasions. Later this led to the liberation of Paris and the surrender of Germany in France not long after.

We did a 6 day trip spending one day at each beach and local surroundings before our final day at Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. We staggered our journey along the coastline from Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and finally Sword Beach.

Probably known for its many invasion mistakes from sea and sky; paratroopers dropped inland behind enemy lines, but due to the dense marshland, many drowned or were shot mid-jump. Those who did make the landing were often outside of their designated drop zones, heavily weighed down by their packs and were often captured. Those that were successful simply had to improvise their attack but luckily for them, due to the strong current from lousy weather, the sea landings had gone off course by a mile or so and were further along the beach than intended resulting in the area being less protected, and enabling them to meet with the misguided stranded paratroopers.

The bloodiest landing of them all. Omaha Beach was severely underestimated with how protected the beach was by Army intelligence and therefore the first wave of attack resulted in just 2 of 29 amphibious tanks making it to shore. The mass german machine gun fire wiped out the initial landing crafts. It was only when troops along from Utah and further down from the main landings of Omaha managed to scale the beach to take out vital artillery mounts, resulting in a gap for the beach raid to take place at night but at the cost of many, many men.

This was the British beach and the central beach of the 5 landings. With the tide on our side, we managed to successfully storm the beach despite the resistance of the German military. With the success of the earlier airstrike which wiped out a number of the German resistance stations, as well as the British warships, tenacious attack methods enabled successful landings and allowing troops to push inland. This secured the beach exits as well as capture a small village enabling supplies for a future attack.

Famously noted for extensive mines, the Canadians surged onto Juno Beach but in the utter confusion of the violent German onslaught, Canadian tanks inadvertently mowed down many of their own injured soldiers. Within one hour, over half of the landed troops had been gunned down. Despite this, they battled on with massive grenade attacks and were the only landing troops to advance further inland than both the Americans and us British, capturing several villages as they went.

The last of the beaches to be captured was attacked around midnight by British and Canadian air troops. Just like Utah, they dropped behind enemy lines and were able to capture and secure several bridges occupied by the Germans. Sea attack later stormed the beaches in the early hours of the morning and the low defence of the beach resulted in a relatively easy capture. That was until they moved forward inland where the farms and villages were heavily guarded with strong resistance. By June 12th all five D-Day beaches were united.

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The cemetery covers 172 acres and is the burial site of 9,385 people who lost their lives in those D-Day landings. 1,557 missing peoples names are inscribed on the great white wall. It’s a peaceful reflection of the real complexity of the attack and just how difficult capturing the beaches was. The perfectly aligned crosses marking each and every person and the calm nature gives you the position to reflect, whatever your age.

Lest we forget.

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