Normandy D-Day 75th Anniversary
When the invitation came for us to be in Normandy for June 6th 2019 staying with a French family we were thrilled. Five years ago my husband Rich was flying in the skies in a Lancaster with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. This time we would be on the ground experiencing the atmosphere with the local population. It was an opportunity not to be missed.
Serving military personnel from the UK, US, Canada and all over Europe came to represent their regiments and walked proudly in the streets soaking up the atmosphere as we did. All the principal roads in Normandy were closed on June 6th to allow presidents and prime ministers to attend the publicised events at Ver sur Mer, Colleville and Bayeux. But the most poignant events took place in the villages where often more casualties occurred than on the beaches. The Mayor and children from the local school would stand side by side with the military representatives whose predecessors liberated their families seventy five years ago. With a local driving permit in hand we could head out on the empty roads, witnessing the chairs and flags in front of each memorial waiting for that special moment.
At Arromanches, standing on the sand with the remaining Mulberry harbours in view, we watched the military parade of vehicles move quickly off the beach as the tide rose.
Hundreds of people were dressed in 1940s civilian and military costumes allowing us all to embrace fully the atmosphere of the day. Heading up to the cliffs, a Dutch military band played as we enjoyed our picnic.
A group formed nearby. Girls dressed in D-Day uniforms sang all the well-loved songs. A camera drone flew overhead. Two coaches escorted by motorcycles roared up the road to stop close-by where Normandy veterans slowly disembarked. Some were walking unaided but many with families and carers in attendance.
Jardin de la Mémoire
The stunning Jardin de la Mémoire had just been installed on top of the cliff three days previously by the Royal Engineers, having been displayed at the Chelsea Flower Show, and was being inaugurated. With haunting wire figures emerging from the sea facing commemorative stones and flowers, the garden is a beautiful work of art.
Seated on the stones, carved with soldiers phrases, the veterans came to have their moment of remembrance in a moving service.
We were proud to be there, so close to them, to talk to them and be grateful.
As we opened our car door to head home, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Dakota and Spitfire flew directly over our heads. Serendipity indeed and a fitting climax to an unforgettable day.