Review week 2 – Europe Remembers on tour! in Normandy

Following a successful tour in the UK, the Europe Remembers’ Team headed to Normandy for the 75th anniversary commemorations of the D-Day landings in June 1944. Over the week, we had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to partake in these special anniversary events. We also hiked the Normandy portion of the Liberation Route Europe’s International Hiking Trail that will launch next year in Berlin. Consider showing your support today to help make this hiking trail a reality by making a small donation to our crowdfunding campaign.

Day 1 Sainte-Marie-du-Mont to Saint-Côme-du-Mont: Utah Beach & Airborne Landings

On Monday, June 3, we started the first day of our hike at Utah Beach D-Day Museum (Musée du Débarquement) in Sainte-Marie-du-Mont. Utah Beach was the westernmost allied landing beach, assigned to the U.S. 4th Infantry Division. The landing was quite successful thanks to the U.S. 101st Airborne Division who were able to prevent any significant German counterattacks. We had the opportunity to present a copy of Rough Guides: Travel the Liberation Route, available now for preorder, at the Utah Beach Museum.

From Utah Beach, we visited the memorial to one of these brave paratroopers, Major Richard D. Winters, who was immortalized in the hit television series, Band of Brothers. Our next stop was Notre-Dame Church in Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, location of intense fighting between U.S. Airborne troops and German soldiers, who used the tower as a lookout. Numerous bullet holes can still be seen inside the church today.

At the church of Angoville-au-Plain, we met a group of reenactors from the Netherlands. The Americans established a makeshift hospital in the church. Bloodstains on the pews are still visible today. We concluded our hike at Dead Man’s Corner in Saint-Côme-du-Mont. It was here in a house that the German Paratroopers established a command post, which was then taken over by the Americans on June 8th. Today the house can be visited as part of the D-Day Experience Museum, a unique interactive museum that allows you experience first-hand the history of D-Day including a flight simulation on a C-47 aircraft.

Our final stop for the day was at Camp “Geronimo” in Sainte-Mère-Église. Here a vast collection of WWII vehicles was on display with parades and reenactors.

Day 2 Grandcamp-Maisy to Port-en-Bessin-Huppain: Omaha Beach

On Tuesday, June 4, we began the day in the town of Grandcamp-Maisy where we visited the Maisy Battery – a gun battery that had been buried for 63 years hidden in the trenches. Today it is open to the public.

We then left Grandcamp-Maisy to hike towards our first destination – the famous Pointe-du-Hoc. It was here that the 2nd U.S. Ranger Battalion scaled the 30-meter cliff faces to capture the German artillery battery – that, in fact, were empty. Here we encountered several American soldiers from the modern-day U.S. Ranger battalion who were displaying the techniques the rangers used on D-Day.

Next, we arrived at Omaha Beach, which is probably the most famous of the five D-Day beaches. Here the Americans experienced the highest rate of D-Day losses, with 4,700 killed, wounded or missing. We visited a German bunker and Les Braves Omaha Beach Memorial – a modernist artwork that represents “The wings of Hope”, “Rise, Freedom!”, and “The Wings of Fraternity.”

After 33.8km we ended the hike in Port-en-Bessin-Huppain, then headed to the Château Bellenau for a reenactment of its capture by Allied forces on D-Day.

Day 3 Arromanches-les-Bains to Lion-sur-Mer: Gold, Juno & Sword Beaches

On Wednesday, June 5, we had a marathon day covering the final three beaches of Gold, Juno, and Sword on the final day of our hike. We started the day in Arromanches-les-Bains that was part of the British sector of Gold Beach. Here the British constructed one of two massive artificial harbors that became known as Mulberry Harbor or “Port Winston.” These artificial harbors were crucial for the unloading of supplies, military equipment, and troops until Allied forces could capture port. The British constructed these harbors in various locations in the UK, including Portsmouth, then floated them across the channel and put into place in Normandy. The Americans had a second artificial harbor at Omaha Beach, but unfortunately, a storm destroyed it a few weeks after D-Day. At Gold Beach, we caught up with Alan King, a British veteran with the Royal British Legion, who had a message for young people that, “It was very difficult what we went through. You’ve got to live it. You can’t describe it. You can’t make a film about it.”

From Gold Beach, we made our way to Juno Beach and the Canadian sector. We visited the Juno Beach Centre and the Canada House, the first building to be liberated on D-Day. At Juno Beach, we had the chance to visit with Vanessa Zappi, a Canadian tour operator working with Education First Tours, a partner of the Liberation Route Europe Foundation. She is visiting Normandy with a few thousand American and Canadian students who are partaking in the 75th anniversary ceremonies. Her Canadian students joined a special procession with French students numbering 359 to represent the number of Canadians who died at Juno Beach on D-Day. We concluded the hike in Normandy at Sword Beach in Lion-sur-Mer. Here, British, French, and Polish forces landed with the aim to establish a beachhead and later liberate the city of Caen.

In the evening, we watched one of the historic flyovers of Daks over Normandy. Hundreds of paratroopers flew in Douglas DC-2/C-47 Dakotas from Duxford Airfield in the U.K. to the historic drop zones in Normandy. Later, we joined the mayor of Ouistreham, Romain Bail, and former NATO General, Wesley Clark, for the Liberty Concert Normandy featuring the Dutch group, Zazi for an evening of classic WWII songs with a modern twist.

Day 4: 75th Anniversary of D-Day

Thursday, June 6 marked a special day as the 75th anniversary of the Normandy D-Day Landings.  At midnight, we partook in the ceremony at the Pegasus Memorial, the vital bridge crossing the Canal de Caen captured by 6th British Airborne Division. We woke up early to watch the sunrise at the Omaha Beach and to take the opportunity to reflect on the memory and sacrifice of those who died for freedom and liberation on this historic day. There was also a small ceremony involving 14 DUKW amphibious vehicles used during D-Day who came ashore in a “v” formation to mark the moment the invasion began at 6 am. We had the opportunity to ride in one of these DUKW vehicles later in the day. We concluded the day with a visit to the Ranville Cemetery, a British Commonwealth war cemetery in Calvados.

Day 5: Tribute Ceremony to Czech Soldiers in Arromanches

To mark our final day in Normandy, we attended a special ceremony in Arromanches recognizing the role Czech soldiers played during the D-Day landings. Here a special plaque was installed in tribute to these brave Czech men who landed in Normandy in late August 1944 and later helped liberate the French city of Dunkirk.

Rémi Praud, the managing director of the Liberation Route Europe, expressed the significance of being in Normandy this week: “Europe Remembers On Tour in Normandy has been a great success. We hope that our videos and social media activities were able to give those who could not participate a glimpse of what happened during this 75th anniversary. We met dozens of people who, in their own way, are working to keep this history alive and to make sure that we don’t forget the significance of D-Day.”

In August, Europe Remembers on Tour will be in Paris for the 75th anniversary of the liberation. You can follow our journey via our social media pages @EuropeRemembers. Be sure to check out the Liberation Route Europe’s YouTube channel for the latest videos from our tour. Europe Remembers is a campaign of the Liberation Route Europe to commemorate and celebrate 75 years of freedom in 2019-2020.