Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Day 6 - Normandy France

Today we had a very interesting and emotional day. This was a highlight for all of us.
We traveled from Rouen to the landing beaches of Normandy on the Atlantic coast. We were surprised that we were given a choice of going to either the American or British/Canadian beaches.

After an early breakfast we started out at 8AM with a two hour bus trip early in the morning. Only twelve of us were going to the British/Canadian beaches so it was great and the tour moved really quickly with no stragglers.

Our first stop was at Pegasus Bridge.  As we sat on the bus waiting for the draw bridge to drop we took some photos. It's a shame we weren't let off the bus as we waited and we could have walked over to the Museum.
Pegasus Bridge is a bascule bridge (a type of movable bridge), built in 1934, that crossed the Caen Canal, between Caen and Ouistreham, in Normandy, France.

Also known as the BĂ©nouville Bridge after the neighbouring village, it was, with the nearby Ranville Bridge over the river Orne, a major objective in the opening minutes of the invasion of Normandy.

The sign on the cafe reads "1st house liberated in France".

The Gondree Cafe had been used as an aid post, and the cafe owner, Monsieur Gondree, dug up his supply of champagne from the garden and gladly shared it with his liberators.

Today the cafe has become the first stop for any visitor to this part of the battlefield; it is still owned by the Gondree family, and still a cafe.

The museum was amazing and our guide delightful and knowledgeable. Again, the tour did not allow us enough time to browse around.

Pegasus Bridge was the objective of 6th (Airborne) Division's 'coup de main' force on the night of 5th/6th June 1944 code named Operation Overlord. Three gliders dropped within yards of the target, the road bridge across the Caen canal. Inside were men from Oxs and Bucks Light Infantry Airborne, under the command of Major John Howard. In what has been called some of the best flying of the war, the three gliders came down close to the bridge, and the advanced party under Lieutenant Den Brotheridge stormed the defences.  

Stripes were painted with a mop.

Brotheridge was killed on the other side of the bridge, just short of the nearby Gondree Cafe. With this bridge, the bridge across the Orne secured by another party from the Oxs and Bucks, Howard had achieved his objectives in ten minutes and sent the radio message 'Ham and Jam' to indicate both positions had been taken intact.

7th Para then arrived, and the crossroads in Benoueville were held for the rest of the day, despite attacks from elements of 21st Panzer Division. Lord Lovat's commandos arrived along the road from the direction of Ouistreham, and the link up was complete.

In 1944 it was renamed Pegasus Bridge in honour of the operation. The name is derived from the shoulder emblem worn by the British airborne forces, which is the flying horse Pegasus.

Here are some videos to watch.

The village of Ranville was an objective of 6th (Airborne) Division on 6th June 1944, and was captured by units of this formation on the morning of D Day. The churchyard was used for immediate burials, and some soldiers from 6th (Airborne) were laid to rest at this location as the fighting for the Eastern Flank continued. After the Second World War the site was chosen to regroup burials from this part of the battlefield, and graves were brought in from a number of areas, including: Amfreville, Colleville-sur-Orne, Houlgate, Colombelles and Villers-sur-Mer. The cemetery was finally closed in 1946. A very high proportion of the dead here are men from 6th (Airborne) Division. Burials total 2,562 - contains 2,235 Commonwealth burials  97 of them unidentified. There are also 330 German graves and a few burials of other nationalities.
The graves of 76 Canadians are located in the Ranville War Cemetery near Caen, including nine members of the RCAF, three CANLOAN officers and 57 members of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion. 
In the grounds of the old church are local graves along with soldiers' graves.

Unknown soldier

A German soldier's grave

Then we crossed over to the British military cemetery.

 Back over to the church graveyard.

There are French soldiers buried here who died for France.

We then drove to Arromanches, a small seaside town between the Gold and Omaha beaches for a quick lunch break. We were provided with ham and cheese baguettes. we ate quickly so we could wander around.

Arromanches was selected as one of the sites for two Mulberry Harbours built on the Normandy coast, the other one built further West at Omaha Beach. Sections of the Mulberry Harbour at Arromanches still remain today with huge concrete blocks sitting on the sand, and more can be seen further out at sea.
The Mulberry Harbour was built for D-Day in June 1944. The Mulberry Harbour’s purpose was to ease and speed up the unloading process so that Allied troops were supplied as they advanced across France after breaking out from Normandy. The success of D-Day could only be maintained if the advancing troops were supplied and more men landed. The Mulberry Harbour was one of the greatest engineering feats of World War Two.
There is a large museum dedicated to D Day.

 The Mulberry Harbour was actually two artificial harbours, which were towed across the English Channel and put together off the coast of Normandy. One, known as Mulberry A, was constructed at Omaha Beach and the other, known as Mulberry B (though nicknamed ‘Port Winston’), was constructed off Arromanches at Gold Beach. Put together like a vast jigsaw puzzle, when both were fully operational, they were capable of moving 7,000 tons of vehicles and goods each day.

Each of the two artificial harbours was made up of about 6 miles of flexible steel roadways that floated on steel or concrete pontoons. The roadways were codenamed “Whales” and the pontoons “Beetles”. The ‘Whales’ ended at giant pier heads that had ‘legs’ that rested on the seabed. The whole structure was protected from the force of the sea by scuttled ships, sunken caissons and a line of floating breakwaters. The material requirements for any part of either Mulberry A or B were huge – 144,000 tons of concrete, 85,000 tons of ballast and 105,000 tons of steel.

Souvenir shop with code name of D Day campaign.

We made a photo stop further up where we could look down at the landing beach.

Next we headed to  Courselle-sur-mer where the Canadian Museum is located.
The Juno Beach Centre opened on 6th June 2003. It tells the story of the Canadian landings on Juno Beach on D Day, but more than that it looks at Canada's entire role in the Second World War. From Hong Kong and Dieppe, to the fighting in Italy, and the Battle for Normandy and North-West Europe, the experience of Canadian service men and women is moving related in a number of themed areas. The visit begins in the cinema, which in the darkness looks like the inside of a landing craft. Here you view a short film about D Day. You then move on to see the background to Canada on the eve of WW2, before moving into the areas dealing with the fighting. Throughout there are numerous photos, videos to watch and personal accounts to listen to (everything is in English and French) - presented in an easy and user-friendly way, and making the best use of modern technology. The main visit ends with the 'Some Came Back, Others Did Not' area where you can see items connected with individual men and women who served - and some who died, while above you Canada's Roll of Honour for WW2 scrolls on a massive screen.

Finally, we visited the Canadian military cemetery.  It’s very lovely and very somber at the same time.
It was an unforgettable experience.The guides we had gave us much of the history of the war, and the battles that happened on these beaches, as well as the rest of France. If you are a history or war buff, this is a great place to visit.

After a long day it was time to head back to the boat.


  1. Oh your photos are just awesome to see! I have fondest feelings for cemetery photos though..I found them peaceful!

  2. Have always wanted to visit the beaches of Normandy. Thanks for making it possible.

  3. Visiting these places really makes you think long and hard doesn't it.

  4. Thanks for giving me the link to this post. I haven't read the Pegasus book yet, so I wasn't aware of the significance of the place to the title.


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