D-Day and the Liberation of France
Updated: Jun 7, 2021
The anniversary of D-Day, 6th June 1944, is here again, looking somewhat different in its memorials and commemoration, but unchanged in our important sense of gratitude for al those who served to change the course of the war and our lives today. Just like my VE Day post on the blog here, with its huge visual bibliography of reliable, accurate history books, films and documentaries, so I want to explore a little of D-Day 1944 here today. Scroll down this post to explore these excellent resources (there's plenty of new resources here including Normandy guides).
In Normandy, D-Day is often celebrated through memorial ceremonies and visits to the vast cemeteries. It has also been an opportunity for living history re-enactments of some parts of the Allied Invasion that took place in 1944, such as the 75th anniversary drop zone demonstrations as well as events on the ground including dances, community events and the Normandy for Peace World Forum which usually takes place near to D-Day. (Due to the global pandemic, this year's event will take place in September/October, for more details on the event and the Forum, please visit the Normandy Tourism website.) In 2019 several veterans who did land in Normandy back in 1944 jumped again in infinitely calmer circumstances. Watch Harry Read from the UK and Tom Rice from the USA make their jumps for the 75th anniversary of D-Day. There is also an interview here with Tom Rice from the 101st Airborne Division and more on Harry Read here. If you would like more paratrooper stories, please scroll down to resources on this page.
Wondering why it's called D-Day?
D-Day is a general term denoting a chosen target date for whatever campaign or endeavour is being undertaken enabling a simple countdown to that date. For example D minus 5 is 5 days away from the target date. In France this is known as Jour-J in exactly the same principles. J-5 would be 5 days away from the target date. But in France, D-Day the WWII "event" of 6th June 1944 is known as le débarquement de Normandie. For more on the French elation and importance of this date, see this France 24 summary.
D-Day in WWII
6th June 1944 is probably one of the most well-known dates of the Second World War and in Western history. Around two million troops and personnel were preparing for D-Day including at least 12 nationalities. (The BBC reminds us 'Allied forces consisted primarily of US, British and Canadian troops but also included Australian, Belgian, Czech, Dutch, French, Greek, New Zealand, Norwegian, Rhodesian [present-day Zimbabwe] and Polish naval, air and ground support.') Inspiring books, major films, documentaries and dramatised television shows, D-Day brings together some of the bloodiest battles where Normandy was fought over for another 76 days. There are areas where the story has become a little less than accurate and so I do bear in mind what the historian James Holland states in his excellent Normandy '44: D-Day and the Battle for France,
'Distortions have crept into the story, while a number of assumptions, accepted as fact, have also taken root when even cursory research suggests that, at best, the truth is more nuanced and, at worst, the supposition completely wrong.' (Holland, 2019: foreword)
I have therefore relied on as accurate information as possible, even when it might diverge from the narrative in screenplays, TV series or earlier books. I am not an historian and have provided the sources as part of the visual bibliography at the foot of this post.
When there's not a global pandemic, there are memorials, museums and tours all over Normandy. Have you ever wanted to go on a tour of the landing beaches?
As noted on my last WWII blog post: a brief note on perspectives: I come from Great Britain, born long after the war, a European in nature and a Francophile and so the perspective I have is thoughtful, self-reflexive and somewhat critical but nevertheless a bit British. I explore resources and stories in France and the war in Europe as well as those who fought here during this crucial period. For more on other theatres of war, some of the overview resources can be highly informative but they are beyond the scope of this blog post. I acknowledge the contribution of many nationalities, cultures and personalities who formed the 'Allied forces' and acknowledge the respect they deserve.
Come explore the period with me with the clear voices of the people who truly experienced it.
A Duty to Remember
We will remember them.
The Beginning of the End - D-Day's crucial importance
A turning point in the Second World War and the beginning of the end for Nazism throughout Europe, it was an incredible moment in our collective Western history. It's also a subject that has been much discussed and so this blog post merely touches on the subject overall. I suggest that if you're interested you follow the links below in the "Reading Room" or visual bibliography. I can't possibly cover everything here, but have tried to gather some stories and perspectives to mark the occasion. I am deeply honoured to speak about some of the many, many people who took part in D-Day and the fight for liberating Western Europe. I think of the links in the long chains of people working towards this moment from munitions factory workers, nurses and volunteers to paratroopers, glider pilots and soldiers. I think of the civilians living in occupied France seeing the destruction of their towns and cities, the immense joy of the Liberation.
D-Day on Film and War Correspondents
Very few cameras of any kind went across with the landing crafts, but fortunately some succeeded in capturing footage that helps us piece together more understanding of D-Day and the battles thereafter.
The UK and Canadian sectors filmed onboard landing crafts:
The freedom and bravery of the journalists who covered the War like this never ceases to impress me. Usually unarmed or completely underprepared compared to the soldiers they accompanied, that they managed to capture footage and report back on horrific events, successes and everything in between is remarkable.
Inspired by D-Day and the actions of war correspondents, there is a very special prize given in Bayeux. The Bayeux-Calvados Normandy Award has, in fact, ten different categories of prizes for correspondents. Their website gives us a summary of the creation of the Awards:
'Bayeux, the first town in France that the Allies liberated in 1944, launched this annual international event in the framework of the 50th anniversary of D-Day in 1994. Its purpose is to award journalists from around the world prestigious prizes in four media: the written press, radio, television and photography. In addition to the awards ceremony, the Bayeux Calvados-Normandy award for war correspondents offers a week of exchanges, encounters and debates with the public (young and less young) to take the time to understand international news better.' Due to the pandemic, this year's event will take place in October 2021. Find out more about applications and the process here. (Applications close soon!)
The Beaches and their codenames
There were five beaches that were chosen for the operation, codenamed, from east to west, Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha, Utah.You can view a Google map of the landing beaches and some of the memorials and cemeteries here. Normandy Tourism has an excellent
map and introduction on their website. You can also pickup many guides when in Normandy.
Prior to D-Day the armies were arranged in long formations at camps in the south of England, roughly corresponding to where they were going to be landing across the English Channel. Yet they still didn't know where they were actually going to be going! All across the south of England there were millions of troops with their Nissen huts, stores, trucks and equipment all waiting for D-Day. American, British, Canadian and many other nationalities besides all waiting to take part in one of the largest amphibious landings undertaken. What must many of them have been thinking? A complete mixture of emotions and thoughts as well as trying to not think, is the impression I get from personal testimonials in books like those of James Holland or D-Day Untold Stories. It's often a surprise to those of us from outside the USA that the US Army was segregated at this time. I am gladdened to see so many of those African-American stories becoming more visible, including in Linda Hervieux's book, the trailer for which you can see here. Back in the south of England where many British people welcomed all Americans, 6 June 1944 was a clear day. So many women, of course, were watching, waiting or praying, often feeling hopeless or helpless to assist, act or do something. As Nicholson found in the amazing diaries of women during WWII,
'Sheila Hails, marooned with her young baby in an isolated cottage near Lulworth on the Dorset coast, climbed the cliff that morning and saw an amazing sight:
I went up the grassy hill, and then I stood and blinked. There was an endless queue of ships sailing across the Channel. It was incredible, fantastic really, and I knew the invasion was happening.' (Nicholson, 2011:267)
All landing beach codenames seem etched into our minds. Remembrance and freedom walk here hand in hand. You are never far away from a worthwhile museum, a memorial or a day in a lovely French town in this part of Normandy. So much history and beauty combined.
It's an unforgettable and moving experience.
The beaches of Ouistreham became known as Sword beach and it was the focus of the British 3rd Infantry Division including Royal Marine Commandos and Special Services. The troops ashore at Sword beach were first the DD Sherman tanks at around 07h20 shortly followed by the infantry. They were not met with silence and despite Allied bombing attempts at German positions, the fighting was fierce and the barrage extraordinary with 200 men killed or wounded in a matter of minutes.
Making progress on the beaches was difficult at every point and Sword was no exception. In every sector there were tidal issues, the sea wall and of course some well-developed and coordinated defensive positions along the coast. The next lines of defences, codenamed Morris and Hillman by the British were the further objective. Those were not going to be easy to take.
Holland describes a Corporal Blizzard of the Pioneer Platoon on D-day 'feeling reasonably confident' on the landing craft approaching Normandy. 'Like his fellows in the platoon, he was laden with equipment, including a flame-thrower, his Sten gun, and what were known as 'beehives' - explosive charges that could blow holes in walls and which weighed 60 lb strapped to his back. He was also carrying a Bangalore torpedo - a long pipe filled with nails, shot and an explosive charge. These could be fed into wire entanglements to blow open a path the size of a small room. It was a lot, but Blizzard felt fit enough for two men, not one. All in all he was reasonably optimistic and had been buoyed by the sight of the invasion fleet.' (Holland, 2019: 182-183).
There are more stories such as these from troops at all levels including this one on the BBC History site gathering memories of landing on the Normandy beaches. (Note any links to stories are copyright of the author; WW2 People's War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar)
At Sword beach, there was the scene and extraordinary image of the lone piper playing the bagpipes on the beaches as troops landed. Like the airborne troops, the Commandos were volunteers and had undergone special training 'and were taught to use their initiative and think on their feet. Each man was supremely fit. They thought themselves a cut above the rest and, collectively, they were.' (Holland, 2019: 183). How did this music in battle come about? It appears that some of these units had a few eccentric characters or at least some unorthodox ways of passing the cross-Channel time - one company commander was said to recite passages from Henry V over a loudspeaker, and of course, Brigadier the Lord Lovat, chief of Clan Fraser of Lovat was a proud Scotsman who wore a beret instead of a helmet and insisted that Bill Millin pipe them onto the beaches. Having played on arrival, Lovat asked him to play again and so we have the incredible image of Millin playing the bagpipes amongst such shellfire and carnage.
The piper Bill Millin who recounts the landings here. Of course he also formed part of the group under Lovat at Pegasus Bridge (the Bénouville Bridge taken by the glider pilots arriving in the middle of the night enabled the seaborne invasion troops to make progress across Normandy) scene of The Longest Day. You can find out more about the Bridge and museum here.
Among Lovat's men were two troops of French Commandos under Capitaine Philippe Kieffer, a naval officer who had joined the Free French in 1940. They had trained in Wales and Scotland with British commandos and were the only French troops arriving on D-Day in the seaborne landings. The last surviving veteran, Léon Gautier, from Kieffer's units has been at this year's 77th anniversary weekend of closed (not publicly available) services and commemorations. Find out more here. In previous years, having settled in Ouistreham, he has attended events and organised museums visits and much more. His friendship with a fellow veteran of D-Day who also settled there, a German solider called Joannes Börner was clear to see at the 70th anniversary of D-Day and signified the peace for which we are deeply grateful. You can find out more about Gautier here with pictures from that 70th anniversary.
Juno is known as one of the primary Canadian landing beaches. It is Courseulles-sur-Mer and is renowned for also being the place where the exiled Général Charles De Gaulle first stepped foot on French soil after the D-Day landings, followed by Winston Churchill on 2 June and King George VI on16 June. There is now a Cross of Lorraine on the historic spot. Find out more about those moments of history here.
Much like other beach landings on D-Day, the Canadian troops had much to contend with between drifting off course, sinking tanks and the like, but there was a contrast with the Omaha Beach insofar as the German guns inland were not aimed at Juno and it made for a much quieter reception. But this is all relative! The Canadians did not have anything easy as they advanced as fast as they could across the beaches, scaling the wall and heading for the railway line. A number of men were hit and with mortars falling and bullets hissing past them, they had to carry on moving forwards regardless of their comrades or their fear. Shortly after they had cleared the beaches, Sergeant Charlie Martin of the Queen's Own Rifles instructed his men to "Move! Fast! Don't stop for anything! Go! Go!' (quoted in Holland, 2019: 176) and having lost several men on the way, they cleared the beaches only to find themselves in a mine field. Narrowly missing two close calls with mines in almost as many moments, Martin got them al through the minefield but without his helmet, which was spun round by a stray bullet.
For more personal stories you can hear veterans talking to young Canadians here on CBC and discover more Canadians' stories including first and only female photographer in the Canadian Army during WWII. Karen "Hermie" Hermiston's story is here.
Nowadays you can visit the Juno Beach Centre, the area's only Canadian museum. There is a friendly welcome and many exhibits on Canada's role in the war effort and teh D-Day landings. There are also guided tours.
The centre is also fundraising right now and you can donate or find out more at their website, including how to get a certificated Juno Beach Canada flag. It is also a cycle-friendly museum with plenty to support keen cyclists following D-Day trails around Normandy and further afield. Find out more about the cycle routes and facilities here. I'm not actually digressing here either, as the site reminds me that 'The bicycle is an important symbol of the story told at the Juno Beach Centre. On June 6, 1944, folding bicycles were part of the equipment of some of the Canadian troops landing on Juno Beach. Upon entering the Juno Beach Centre, you will be able to discover one of these bikes with all its history.'
Gold Beach, a short way west of Juno, was one of the main British landing beaches near Courseulles-sur-Mer.
After many years of planning and fundraising, the officially opening of the British Normandy Memorial will take place on the 77th Anniversary of D-Day on 6 June 2021. You can watch the unveiling live here (10h30 BST) and possibly a replay afterwards.
There has not previously been a permanent British memorial in Normandy and from the appearance of the hints released on their website, it looks like it will be beautiful, serene and ideal of quiet reflection and remembrance.
If you too are passionate about supporting the D-Day landing beaches and their memorials, consider giving regularly as a Guardian of the Memorial at the Normandy Memorial Trusts's fundraising pages. They can also accept direct donations and you can find out more here.
For your next trip to Normandy, you can download the App to help you explore the memorial including many of the stories of those whose names are inscribed there.
"Bloody" Omaha was the main US landing beach and the location for huge losses for the Allies. Still known as 'bloody' Omaha, this stretch of coastline between Vierville-sur-Mer, St-Laurent-sur_mer and Colleville-sur-Mer was the scene of brutal fighting. Amongst those prearing to land on this well-defended beach was Corporal Wlater Halloran of the 165th Signal Photographic Company. Unlike those slides already mentioned with enormous packs and ammunition on their person, Halloran had only 'a Bell & Howell fixed-focus single-lens Eyemo movie camera wrapped in protective plastic, a musette bag holding ten cans of film and orange Signal Corps bags in which to send the footage back to England, he was armed only with .45 Colt pistol. [...]' (Holland, 2019: 156). This does not sound like a way to be prepared for what was to come! It is interesting to note the well-defended positions for the Nazis, often portrayed as a huge number of war-hardened elites of the Wehrmacht (Holland, 2019) which is simply not true. Most of the defenders were also young men, terrified and in possession of machine guns firing 23 bullets a second with a strong survival instinct. Terrified or not, opening fire from the bluffs (highly defensive positions) made a terribly short landing for so many soldiers that day. Amongst the shells raining down and the machine gun fire from left and right, Halloran kept on going. Some of the footage he captured that day is the only live footage of men advancing, and being cut down, in this first wave of troops moving in across their landing subdivision on Omaha Beach. The total carnage within the first fifteen minutes is the kind of terrible picture we hold in our minds when we think of D-Day. There were also tanks sinking, men drowning weighed down by their packs, those being hit on the water or sunk in the swell and waves offshore. Of 2,500 casualties at least 1,000 were killed within the first hour. It's a sobering and painful reminder of the sheer horror of war and D-Day's immense sacrifices.
It makes the Rangers landing at Pointe du Hoc even more unimaginable. West of Omaha this was one of the most daring military exploits of the day. US Army Rangers scaled the sheer cliffs (30 metres high!) where the Germans had stationed artillery guns trained on Utah and Omaha beaches. Having moved the guns inland, the Rangers were left to find the guns and take them out whilst repelling counterattacks. The D-Day plan for Pointe du Hoc was for the soldiers, under command of Provisional Ranger Group Commander, Lieutenant-Colonel James Rudder, to use rocket-fired ropes and London Fire Brigade extendable ladders to scale the sheer cliffs on both the site. A similar operation had been undertaken in Siciliy by the SAS, but it still sounds completely suicidal to me! But they had the immense advantage of complete tactical surprise having scaled the sheer cliffs which no one dared presume would be the case. (more details in Holland, 2019)
As dawn spread across the coast of Normandy, 'there was no longer any mistaking the scale of the invasion force out to sea. 'I'm not ashamed to say', admitted Obergrenadier Karl Wegner, 'that I was never so scared in my life.' One of the newly recruited 17-year-old soldiers that had helped to form the 352 Division he [...] was now manning a machine gun strongpoint overlooking the track running off the beach towards the village of Vierville. Having never been in action before, he was terrified about what he was about to face, yet could not help gaze in amazement at what was appearing before his eyes.' (Holland, 2019: 149)
Sadly Omaha continued to be a hard fought section of the landing beaches and sheer hell for everyone involved. For some perspective, you might like the testimonials in this short video.
For more on the Omaha Beach landings there is also more information in this video including the British specialists primarily from the RAF who joined American soldiers in the landings on to Omaha.
In enormous contrast to Omaha Beach, the D-Day landing beach near St-Marie-du-Mont was a relatively lightly defended beach. So much so that the landing groups managed to link up to the 101st Airborne by midday. There are many scenes in Band of Brothers which are connected to this landing group.
Today you can visit the beach and its Normandy Landings Museum known as the Musée du Débarquement de Utah Beach which is located inside the former German command post.
Another remarkable place to visit to understand D-Day and the landings. The museums provides plenty of context and information, as their website states: Built on the very beach where the first American troops landed on June 6, 1944, the Utah Beach Museum recounts the story of D-Day in 10 sequences, from the preparation of the landing, to the final outcome and success. This comprehensive chronological journey immerses visitors in the history of the landing through a rich collection of objects, vehicles, materials, and oral histories.
Admire an original B26 bomber, one of only six remaining examples of this airplane still in existence worldwide, and relive the epic experience of American soldiers through the film “VICTORY IN THE SAND,” winner of a CINE GOLDEN EAGLE AWARD 2012 and the 2013 CINE SPECIAL JURY AWARD for best museum documentary.
If you like uncovering hidden gems, you might like to explore this historian's story of the sixth D-Day landing beach from Roosevelt's own map. Find out more about this mystery in this video.
Whatever your nationality, standing on those landing beaches can be a deeply affecting moment off stillness. Thinking about those thousands of troops from Canada, Britain, USA, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and other parts of the world as they became part of the biggest amphibious invasion ever attempted and its importance in turning the tide of the war. Creating the beginning of the end of the war, Operation Overlord and D-Day started the long journey to the freedom we enjoy today in Western Europe.
Operation Overlord and the Battle for France
Of course, the landing beaches were an incredible part of the story of D-Day. The organisation of shipping alone to allow for such a fleet to cross the enemy-mined waters of the English Channel still seems a gargantuan task to even consider. There were, of course, many other elements of this operation that contributed to the ultimate Allied victory after D-Day not least airpower and airborne attacks. If you have watched the remarkable (and of course very US-centric) Band of Brothers television series (with superb cast, period detail and a great story) you will be familiar with the contribution of paratroopers to the Operation Overlord and D-Day plans. I once went to Upottery in Devon, England to just soak up some of the feelings I thought I could conjure from standing in a small country village that featured in some of the preparations for D-Day. Of course I realise now that I could have chosen from a huge list of places! There is no clear demarcation off take-off airfields or any of the WWII infrastructure, but swathes of the south of England were key in the preparations for the Landings and their secrecy was paramount. Somehow I was just inspired to feel one tiny step closer to those men who stood packed up in 30kg plus of gear to be flown over the Channel, under fire and to land in Normandy. You must have hoped you'd land in the right Drop Zone (DZ) and have some idea of what on earth you were supposed to do when you got there. The stories like these are what makes Ambrose's Band of Brothers book so compelling and why since then I have enjoyed so many of James Holland's books on WWII. Normandy '44 is no exception and provides diaries, stories and sources from Americans, Canadians, French, Germans, an Irish nurse and a New Zealander. Find out more in the visual bibliography below including books, films, audio and more.
Imperial War Museum, UK
Soon after D-Day, as the invading forces moved inland and the Battle of Normandy continued, it was possible to ship across more supplies such as ambulances on the landing craft. As Nicholson observes, 'Wrens like Eda Howes, who had supervised the telephone exchange at Fort Southwick, had a role to play setting up communications. She and two others were shipped across to Arromanches and driven along bomb-cratered roads to their base in western Normandy, where they holed up in an empty medieval house and slept on the floor with their gas-masks as pillows. ATS girls were sent out to Normandy to run mobile army canteens.And WAAF nursing orderlies were put on board Dakotas and flown out to France to escort the wounded back to Britain, frequently under fire. For nurses were, as ever, vital.' (Nicholson, 2011: 273)
The Battle of Normandy of course continued for nearly 100 days and you can explore this remarkable period and its aftermath in many of the museums in the region. From the museum at Arromanches, to those in Bayeux and Caen, you can explore D-Day from many angles. Find out more about these museums in my Instagram series this week @francewhereyouare in my Museums of France series where you can get all the practical information for each museum to bookmark for your trip. (for more on visiting Normandy today, keep on reading...)
For an aerial overview with some historical facts and figures (N.B. I have not checked them for accuracy) to help you picture the D-Day landings you can watch this video:
Visiting Normandy today
One of the most popular tourist destinations in France, Normandy continues to charm new and regular visitors alike. Long beautiful coastline and beaches, rich verdant countryside and charming towns and villages. Normandy has so much to offer any visitor.
If you would like to tour the landing beaches, visit the museums, towns and places where battles and landings took place, it makes for a wonderful and moving trip. There are many tour operators who will arrange all the details for you if you're travelling for a day or two from Paris. If you really want to immerse yourself in the beauty and history of Normandy, I recommend taking longer to explore and take in how much there is here. A car is recommended for these journeys or booking small scale tours. You can also explore on foot or by bike, all of which are linked below.
Tours, Guides and Accommodation
For an overview of all museums, remembrance and cemeteries in Normandy you can always start here at the Tourist Information site. It's packed full of images and links.
If you're driving yourself and making your own itinerary, I recommend the Lonely Planet book on Normandy & D-Day beaches (with suggested itineraries for food, Monet and more in the region if you'd like to combine D-Day remembrance with other subjects). You can find that here. It gives a simple overview of places, and some historical detail. It also provides realistic timescales for not rushing your visit.
Sometimes, the historian and author James Holland does an in-depth tour of the area. There is nothing planned beyond 2021, but it might be worth registering your interest if you're passionate about exploring fully the D-Day landing beaches and sites. Find out more here at Tripsmith.
If you'd prefer a short form tour and are staying in Paris, you can always take a day trip from Paris with transport: The Tour Guy - Day Trip from Paris to the D-Day battlefields
If you'd like to explore your options, Overlord Tours does a wide variety of tours and starting points. Have a look at their wide selection including Jepe tours, American, Canadian and British beach tours.
I have also heard good things about Dale Booth Normandy Tours.
Staying in Bayeux is a great base but you could also consider staying in and around Caen or other small places around the Manche and Calvados départments.
For more inspiration you can find some charming manor houses townhouses and chateaux at Sawday's. Get your own copy here. If you're not familiar with Sawday's, they look for comfort, originality and authenticity and so while there is enormous variety, there's a really personable feel to most places recommended in the guide. If you're not interested in the chain hotels and want something that feels more of its place, then this could be a great starting point! Find out more about Sawday's at their website.
If I can't book direct with an owner, or if I'm booking well ahead of time and need some flexibility, I like to use Booking.com as there is so often a flexible cancellation policy and plenty of information to make your choice. This is especially useful in big cities like Paris, Bordeaux or Nice, but you can be amazed at the smaller places on there too! You can book here at France Where You Are's special link (It supports the blog at no cost to you.)
If you're staying in Bayeux, the tour company often recommended there is Bayeux Shuttle featuring in Rick Steves' guidebooks.
Walking and Cycling around Normandy/D-Day landing beaches
If you would like to undertake a walking or cycling trip to visit some of the towns and beaches, on a D-Day trail, there are guided and self-guided options.
Cycling and walking tours (guided) in Normandy: Battlefield Journey (UK-based tour company)
Freewheeling France has a wealth of resources on cycling routes, tips and bike hire links throughout France. Check out their example routes in Normandy for guided and self-guided trips related to D-Day or note as you wish. I definitely fancy cycling from the D-Day beaches to Mont St. Michel. What would be your dream trip? The Tour de France 2016 travelled from Mont St. Michel to Utah beach and you can follow that route too, more details here. The fascinating Juno Beach Centre has a Maple Leaf trail if you'd like to cycle with Canadian remembrance.
New this year is the unveiling of the extra additions to the cycle route on the Vélo Maritime. Find out more about these long cycle routes and all the amazing sights you can see en route at la VéloMaritime.
There are fat-bike tours some of which have permission to go over beaches such as Omaha Beach (with film showings in bunker and more). N.B. single person bookings are possible. Find out more at Normandy tourism.
Normandy is such a special place and regular readers and newsletter subscribers know that I love it and have done so ever since my first school trip there aged nine. Today I am passionate about all of France but Normandy has a large place in my heart always. Frome exploring the D-Day landing beaches, following in the footsteps of the Impressionists or simply enjoying life in the slow lane to take time for good food, cheese, cider, calvados or apple juice, I love Normandy in every season and in every way! It has bucolic countryside, glorious coastlines and a rich diversity of cultural attractions. Taking time to visit Normandy is always time well spent.
As the Normandy for Peace Forum states,
This conflict gave an edge to what we understand by freedom, which has to be why millions of visitors choose to come and remember those who came from far away to fight and die for our freedom. The Normandy Region has responded to this notion of remembrance by going one step further and creating the Normandy for Peace World Forum, a so-called ‘laboratory of reflection and mediation’, which aims to tackles head-on the major issues of war, peace, freedom and human rights.
To visit Normandy can be many things, but the freedom to choose your itinerary was forged there on those beaches. D-Day was a fundamental turning point in the Second World War and the subsequent Battle for France. Almost three months of fighting marked every part of this region and helped to turn the tide of war. Devastating, remarkable and worthy of remembrance, D-Day makes 6th June so unforgettable. The rich, green haven of Normandy is so tranquil and its peace and beauty reminds us how easily we can turn to turmoil once more. Lest we forget.
Don't go just yet! Please come in to the library and explore some more...
Exploring World War II - the Reading Room
US Memoirs and Accounts
Forgotten stories of African-American soldiers
WWII Historical overviews
James Holland is a master storyteller historian and I have enjoyed many of his books immensely. A masterful achievement is his Normandy '44: D-Day and the Battle for France which features principal personalities from France, Britain, Canada, the USA, New Zealand, Ireland and Germany.
In this remarkable book, Holland presents a broad overview that challenges some of the well-trodden tales we often hear about. The Normandy campaign and D-Day and the 76 bitter days after it are brought to life in stories from a cast of people with eye-witness experiences from resistance fighters to soldiers, tank men and civilians, they are well-represented there. It is an epic tale well worth your time, including many previously unseen sources and testimonies from around the world. Also created into a TV series, available in many regions on Amazon Video.
Normandy and WWII battlefields Travel Guides
Life in Paris and the city's liberation
An infographic visual version of WWII history (in French)
The dark years are also chronicled in a simple format of BD (graphic novel or bandes-dessinée)
In Great Britain / United Kingdom
Winston Churchill's diaries and accounts of the World War in his own words.
Audio CD version:
Juliet Gardiner's seminal and engaging book on wartime Britain
The often overlooked contribution of the women who were pilots, but not treated as such!
Nicholson's superb book full of personal stories and gripping emotional realities of war from all walks of life
A remarkable edited collection of letters home
Recommended Films & Documentaries
D-Day films, TV and more
Band of Brothers is one of those remarkable television series that is thoroughly engaging and worth its big budget! It focuses on the 101st Airborne Division of the American army and has a thoroughly American perspective, but an excellent international cast who give some career-best performances with superb sound editing, special effects and a remarkably touching story. It's human, brutal and immensely engaging. If you enjoyed it, I recommend the extras as the veteran interviews are remarkable and unmissable.
Further than his excellent performance as Dick Winters, Damian Lewis is in a documentary in the US on meeting Dick Winters. Find out more on Amazon Prime (may be US-only)
As well as online archives and collections, you might find CDs at your local library.
Listen to the sounds and voices of D-Day:
BBC War Reports on CD
Sounds on Spotify
Thanks for joining me on the blog today. Let me know if the D-Daylanding beaches hold special memories for your family or community.
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