Before the holiday was over we visited Swords beach, the site of the British and Canadian D Day landing forces. These days it’s just a beach. The sun sparks of the gently rolling tides and the peace is held by the distant misty grey of a blue, sun drenched early summer day. Standing in the shadow of the memorial to Piper Bill, a girl on a cycle rolls past me down the deserted promenade, the sea to her right and sea front homes on her right. I follow her, watching as she passes the collection of bright white surf board sails and the distant sound of voices.
I think back and imagine how it was, casting a grey veil over my vision and superimposing the black and white stills of soldiers in uniform and the noisome mayhem of a war beyond the reach of my lifetime.
WW2 has left an indelible mark on Normandy. Major towns such as Liseux and Falaise suffered devastating bomb damage, not to mention the trauma of German occupation.
Quite rightly the people of Normandy have invested as much in retaining the memory of this part of their history as their Medieval heritage. Lest we forget, means as much to the French as it does the English who make the pilgrimage to follow in the footsteps of their relations and py homage to the lost.
I really can‘t do this topic justice in a couple of paragraphs. I need to go back to Normandy to stand in the fields of white crosses and visit some of the many museums dedicated to the Invasion and liberation in WW2.
Driving around the D roads, the backdrop of fields is occasionally interrupted by Villas and grand houses, sometimes appearing as if straight from the pages of a fairytale nestling among trees. Each imposing and individually charming, some half-timbered with high gables, towers with tall spire roofs or round stone towers and conical roofs they echo the dreamy spires and towers of the religious buildings.
On the road atlas for Lower Normandy, among the huge numbers of black circles with crosses signifying churches, there are more than a few red oblongs signifying chateaus. Although there are some open to the public, the ones we came across often seemed to be homes, if very grand ones. Some owing more to the shuttered windowed Caen stone houses in Erne than the Palace of Versailles. Often they hid behind enormous ornate ironwork gates on the edges of the villages with sweeping drives, or were gloriously isolated in the countryside at the end of long avenues of trees
Normandy makes it easy to let your mind wander and be lost in the dreamy romanticism of a past that’s fallen into legend and could so easily be a fairytale. In the timeless villages and tiny hamlets I could as easily imagine the shuttered windows looking out on a Medieval landscape of knights and fair damsels as the tanks of the WW2 liberation rolling through the narrow roads past the steadfast Norman church and apple orchards in full bloom.
Holiday over we said our farewells and set off back to the Ferry harbour in Caen. Sitting in the lines of cars waiting to board we whiled the time watching the big screen sun drenched images of smiley young folk on push bikes and places we didn’t get around to visiting.
Next to us a group of late middle aged bikers, tinkered with their touring bike accoutrement and stroked their grey beards, bending over to peer in covetous appreciation of each others bike related widgets. A tall slender guy with tufts of silver hair poking out from under his red beret said suddenly, ‘Ah well we’ll soon be back in Blighty’ as if being away from his castle had been something of a trial. I don’t suppose we Brits will ever change.
We will go back to Normandy to learn more of a history not so far in the past and visit the places on the big screen we missed. Only next time I’ll take the time to learn some French.
By the way, the Channel Caen side smells of fish and is not entirely unpleasant
Au Revoir mon ami
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Joan of Arc at the Siege of Orleans By Jules Eugène Lenepveu (French, 1819-1898) – uploaded by Tijmen Stam (User:IIVQ) – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1663843