We write this journal from our upstairs little room, overlooking a garden courtyard in Bayeux. Dinner is a baguette and cheese with pear, Champagne and lovely French pastries.
Today is a sad day of commemoration mixed with gratitude. We leave Honfleur early and the first stop is Sword Beach after passing miles of pastoral scenery. This is one of the five beached where the D-Day invasion began. The parking lot has a tour bus from England, and one from Germany – how apropos. The lush countryside is pockmarked with bunkers where the German defense forces faced Allied Troops who came to liberate France from the Nazis. Underground, there are staged tableau's depicting, with real memorabilia and uniformed mannequins, what war looked like. The numbers of paratroopers killed in action, and just in landing in the marshes flooded by the Germans, is staggering. The bunkers are realistic with smells, sounds, fear and terror. This beach was the first to be taken by Canadian and British paratroopers dropped behind enemy lines.
The next stop is Juno, the site of the Canadian memorial museum, conceived by two WWII Canadian veterans as a tribute to their fallen comrades. We stand on the beach smelling the strong sea weed and imagining the 6,000 allied forces ships which came in to support the ground and air forces – and the carnage.
The museum has many information kiosks with film footage from the conflict. The feeling of grief is oppressive and we have to stop as it’s simply too much to comprehend.
We decide to stay in Bayeux, the first town liberated after D-Day – one of the few unscathed by that conflict. The town center is full of 13th to 18th century buildings including lots of wood-framed Norman-style houses, and, of course, a Gothic Cathedral. We walk through the narrow high street, grazing on licorice from the local bon-bon confectionery.
One thing of interest is that Mark asks the manager of the hotel why don’t they ask for passports as in the olden days (when we were 16 AND would hold them). His response, “We are open for business”. My oh my, how times they are changing!