I highly recommend a visit to Normandy to explore the history of the D-Day and Normandy Invasions during World War II. Not only will it be moving, it will also be educational and fascinating. June 6, 2016 will be the 72nd anniversary of the D-Day Normandy Invasions by the allies.
Normandy Invasion 1944
On June 6, 1944, the combined forces from the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States and 9 other countries began the liberation of northwestern Europe which was occupied by the Nazis. They covered an 80 kilometre stretch of coastline and named the 5 sectors Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword Beach. It wasn’t until June 12 that all 5 beachheads were connected. This is after approximately 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel (with 875,000 men finally landing by the end of June). On D-Day alone, approximately 10,000 allied troops were killed.
According to ddaymuseum.co.uk: “Over 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded or went missing during the Battle of Normandy. This figure includes over 209,000 Allied casualties, with nearly 37,000 dead amongst the ground forces and a further 16,714 deaths amongst the Allied air forces.”
On June 6, 2004, France hosted the 60th anniversary celebrations and a commemorative ceremony, attended by Queen Elizabeth II and 18 heads of state and it took place in Arromanches-Les-Bains. Soon after this celebration, I had the opportunity to visit the area and celebrations continued throughout the summer.
An exerpt from the 60th anniversary Arromonches ceremony:
Visiting the D-Day sites, museums, and beaches was extremely educational for someone who was born well after World War II. The visit was more than I ever expected. Much time and effort has been put into the artifacts and multi-media displays and they help explain what led up to the war, the Normandy invasion, and the end of the war.
Memorials and Museums
Bayeux: Memorial Museum of The Battle Of Normandy
While many associate Bayeux with the Bayeux tapestry (which is 230 feet long and depicts William The Conqueror’s invasion of England in 1066 and is definitely worth seeing), the Memorial Museum presents the issues and events, in chronological order, of the Battle of Normandy. Bayeux Museum
Caen: Caen Memorial
The Memorial in Caen is considered one of the best World War II museums in France with an emphasis on war and peace in general. The D-day Normandy invasion is also covered.
Arronmonches: D-Day Museum
At Arronmonches, the D-Day Museum was the first one constructed after the war, in 1954. On the beach there are still the remains of a temporary pier or artificial port, called a Mulberry.
Courseulles-sur-Mer: Juno Beach Centre
As a Canadian I wanted to see the Canadian museum, the Juno Beach Centre which opened in 2003. The webpage, www.junobeach.org, notes: “The Centre pays homage to the 45,000 Canadians who lost their lives during the War, of which 5,500 were killed during the Battle of Normandy and 359 on D-Day.”
One of the things I wanted to see at the centre were the “commemorative bricks” sponsored by financial supporters. These are engraved plaques with the person’s rank, name, decorations, unit, and dates of service or the name of the donor. I was able to find the school that my nieces attended as their school, Holy Trinity had made a donation. My friend Laurie found the plaques of the relatives of friends so seeing these made the visit even more meaningful.
What was most moving, however, was a visit to the cemeteries which were beautifully landscaped. I was struck by how young so many of the soldiers were: as young as 17 years of age.
This is a cemetery primarily with Canadian soldiers who were killed in the early stages of the Normandy invasion
- 2044 Canadian graves
- 1 French graves
- 3 British graves
This is an American cemetery and Memorial which is on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach.
- 9387 American graves
Bayeux has the Bayeux War Cemetery and it is the largest Second WWII cemetery of soldiers in France
- 4648 graves of soldiers from 11 countries (including those from Nazi Germany, and Russia)
The Ranville War Cemetery contains predominantly British soldiers
- 2151 British graves
- 399 graves of other nations (Canada, France, German and 5 others)