D-Day has been commemorated on 6th June for 68 years now as Normandy remembers its liberators – there is a deeply-held conviction that there is an absolute duty of remembering those who sacrificed themselves to free France and Europe from opression. The men and boys from England, America, Scotland, Australia and Canada who played such a huge part in the history of France, Europe and indeed the world. It is because of them that today we have the freedom to think, speak, live, work and travel as we do.
Here in Normandy on a day-to-day basis we are reminded of the events on the summer of 1944. From Utah-Beach to Ouistreham via Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword beaches, our Towns including Sainte -Mère-Eglise, Saint-Lô, Falaise and many others, the memorials and museums, or the cemetries at Saint-James, Ranville, La Cambe, Cintheaux and Colleville. More than 112 towns and villages of the 648 in the Manche were officially declared disaster areas (more than 30% destroyed. More than 50,000 homes in the department were uninhabitable plus 1,400 public buildings, 42,000 businesses and over 11,000 farms. The 2 1/2 months of battle are among the most important events in all the history of the region and the Allied landings in Normandy were one of the key events in World War II. Our coast , towns and countryside are battle scarred with blockhouses, batteries, bridges, fortresses and harbours.
It is part of our history and heritage. School children are taken to the museums and war cemetries to get a sense of the full scale of this tragic period in history.
Today history meets tourism – In the Hague and Islands Coast there are some blockhaus remains. Sortosville-en-Beaumont has a German radar station which is well-preserved. At Néhou there is a Sherman tank and memorial plaques and information boards.
In the South Manche Avranches has a tribute to General Patton and at Pontaubault you can see the famous bridge crossed by the Americans on July 31st 1944 on their way to Brittany and western France. Further on there is the American cemetry at Saint-James and a Germain cemetry at Huisnes-sur-Mer.
Around Cherbourg there are still some blockhouses and anti-tank walls left of the Germa Festung (fortress). The Museum du Roule is there to explain the role of the Cherbourg harbour in the Allied victory (although there are no traces of the harbour itself). During the Journées du Patrimoine (in September) you can visit Brécourt at Equeurdreville where former navy oil reservoirs dug into the rock were turned into a V1 rocket launcher by the Germans.
In the Val de Saire there is a series of blockhouses in Gatteville-le-Phare which have been converted into weekend homes or haylofts. On the eastern edge of Saint-Pierre-Eglise there is a radar station. Looking over Port-Lévi to the right and Cherbourg harbour to the left there is a whole series of german blockhauses and batteries, some hidden in the bushes, some contributing fo the motocross circuit.
On the East Coast, dominating the east of the Cotentin there were 2 large German coastal batteries at Azeville and Crisbecq which have been restored and opened to visitors. At Quinéville there is a museum devoted to everyday life in France during the occupation and the Landings and the liberation of the Cotentin.
In Central and East Cotentin there are monuments or museums but various reminders that the war passed through including a plaque and grave of General Leclerc’s 2nd Armoured Division.
In the South Marais, marshland region, a Bailey bridge can be seen at Saint-Hilaire-Petitville (follow the canal from Carentan harbour). The Dead Man’s Corner museum at St-Côme pays homage to the American paratroopers.
In the Saint Lô and Coutances area, the Manche’s maryred region, it is difficult to find any house dating from before 1944 after the destruction of Operation Cobra.
Most of the sites and museums relating to the history of the Normandy Landings are concentrated in the sector between the beach at Sainte-Marie-du-Mont (Utah-Beach) and the marshes areound teh village of La Fière. For the 65th anniversary of D-Day an open-air museum was opened at Sainte-Mère-Eglise – it is an 11 stage 51km trail that can be followed in your car and the start (or destination) of each stage is a historic site of the Landings.
Every year there are commemorative events. Here is a selection -
1st until 8th June
Photo exhibition “Our Dear Deceased US Veterans” in Amfreville, Salle des fêtes
2nd until 9th June
Reconstruction of US military camps in Sainte Mère Eglise and Sainte Marie du Mont Utah Beach and D913
Tuesday, 5th June
11 a.m. : Ceremony in Chef du Pont
12:00 : Lunch in Chef du Pont by Comité des fêtes
4 p.m. : Ceremony for the 50th anniversary of the 1st stone of the Airborne Museum in Sainte Mère Eglise- 5.30 p.m. : Ceremony at the Signal Monument in Ste Mère Eglise
8.30 p.m. : Ceremony at Utah Beach, Ste Marie du Mont
Evening : 50th anniversary of the Utah Beach Museum : opening of the museum, ceremony, military music and firework. Landing Museum, Utah Beach.
Wednesday, 6th June
9.30 a.m. : Ecumenical cérémony in Sainte Marie du Mont church
11 a.m. : Ceremony, Sainte Marie du Mont Utah Beach, Stèle Angelo Chatas
5 p.m. : Ceremony in Sainte Mère Eglise, Borne 0
8.30 p.m. : Concert for Peace, Sainte Mère Eglise in the Church
Saturday, 9th June
10.30 a.m. : Religious Ceremony, Flowers, Angoville au Plain church, 101stAirborne Monument
With thanks to La Presse de la Manche – the roads to Freedom and Visit Normandy.
Photograph Judy Mansfield, first used in N4Normandy November 2010.