Cold & shivery. That’s not just the weather by the way. It’s also me. Being ill is not great. Being away from home and being ill is bad timing. Being ill away from home when it’s freezing cold outside is annoying in the extreme. I’ve sniffed my way though today and can only hope that when I wake in the morning, all my bad microbes will have flown away during the night. I’m not convinced that will happen but I can dream…
My complaints are small ones however compared to the sacrifices made by many on the D-Day beaches of Normandy nearly 70 years ago. Those beaches and the American cemetery above Omaha beach that contains 9,387 headstones were the destination for today. Now back with the students for the rest of our stay in northern France – they all seem to have survived the weekend with their families incidentally – our day started off viewing the record of another great battle at the other end of the 2nd millennium, the Bayeux Tapestry. Much more vivid that I had imagined. It makes the version in Reading museum back in the UK look like a poor quality copy. Which is of course what it is. Lunch was in the tourist trap that is Arromanche-les-bains which, until June 1944 was just a small fishing village. It’s difficult to imagine what the locals thought when they first saw a floating harbour being guided into place and then the arrival of hundreds of thousands of troops and millions of tons of equipment. In the three months immediately following D-Day, little old Arromanches became the World’s busiest port. I suppose as far as tourist traps go, this one on the Normandy coast does at least have a good back story.
The American cemetery was the focus for the early afternoon. I had visited the site back in 2001 but since then an excellent exhibition centre has been built. It tells the story of Operation Overlord in a very personal and accessible way. The big picture is not left out but the focus is upon individuals, their backgrounds, their experiences, their equipment, their triumphs and sadly for many, their deaths. As I coughed and spluttered around the gravestones, my own suffering above Omaha beach on a cold day in late March 2013 was ridiculously insignificant.