Researching – It Can Be Moving

Last week, background research took me to the Normandy D-Day beaches. I’d always wanted to go, but it was just one of those visits that never happened. Until now.

Sailing with a friend on a 27’ yacht from England, we arrived, after a brief stop in Cherbourg, at Carentan. This small town is inland from the US D-Day beaches codenamed Utah and Omaha. Carentan is quiet, and much has been rebuilt – it was the scene of a fierce battle involving the US 101st Airborne – the ‘Screaming Eagles’. The drop on the night of 5th/6th June 1944 involved 20,000 paratroops, and the museums (of Occupation, and of Liberation) at Sainte Marie du Mont were very moving to visit.

After Carentan, we anchored for a night in Port Winston (or the remains of it), at Arromanches de Bains. We were lucky with the weather and anchored for a night in this historic Mulberry harbour (Mulberry was its wartime codename).

Mulberry Harbour, Arromanches – picture taken from inside the north caissons July 2011

This artificial harbour was built in a couple of weeks (adjacent to ‘Gold’ Beach in the British Sector), and at its peak was handling 745 truck movements a day, and which ensured that the Allied Forces were able to advance into France with a solid supply chain behind them. We couldn’t land, but we later visited the Museum ‘of the Disembarkation’ at Arromanches, by bus, from Courseulles sur Mer (‘Juno’ beachhead, which the Canadians took). Another very moving experience. The Museum was very busy, with many nationalities apparent, and the awe in which it was held was amazing. It was encouraging to see school parties there. The harbour was a massive and innovative engineering feat, all built in secret and towed across the English Channel in pieces. The museum models and audio/visuals were very good, and well worth a visit.

I’m planning to go to on to ‘Sword’ Beach and hopefully visit a British War Cemetery in the next couple of days.