Omaha Beach, Normandy

Omaha Beach was one of the five beaches that had to be taken on D Day, 6th July 1944. That task was given to the 1st and 29th Infantry Division of the US Army. To say they took a hammering is an understatement, and General Bradley saw the very grave situation, and one stage nearly abandoned the operation. The grit and determination of his men paid off and they took the beach, but the amount of casualties and dead was tremendous, around 2000 men. A great sacrifice was made that day.

Whilst on that beach, I saw American families turn up, and the emotion was visible on their faces. It is almost a spiritual experience for them, and a form of pilgrimage. The dead are remembered, not only by the few that survived, but by the local population , and the French in general. Just next to the beach, there is the American War Cemetery at Coleville sur Mer. The prisitne graves serve as a reminder to those of us that didn’t experience what they did: the horrors of war!

I remember seeing footage of an old veteran who landed on Omaha, saying that the greatest reward they had, was to see children playing on that beach now, enjoying the peace that was earned by those men who lay down their lives on that same beach all those years ago.

I’ve decided to share photos of both the beach and the cemetery with you. The camera used that day was the Canon 6D Mark II with the 16-35mm Canon lens.

Commonwealth War Cemetery, Ranville

In my last article I talked about Normandy and the battle to take Pegasus Bridge, and in this article I want to talk about the soldiers that didn’t come back. Ranville is a town, not too far from Pegasus Bridge and the men that fell in that engagement are buried in the Parish Churchyard. Just next to the chuchyard is a Commonwealth War Cemetery.

The cemetery contains predominantly British soldiers killed during the early stages of the Battle of Normandy. A large proportion of those interred were members of the British 6th Airborne Division. These places are always very moving, even more so when one looks at the ages of some of those that died in June 1944. My son is 20 and the same age as so many of those soldiers.

Even when dead they are still on parade in ranks with perfect dressing. They died as soldiers and even in death they remain soldiers. When you look through the photos you will notice certain anomalies. One was a tank crew that was buried together, as a crew. One is a grave of a German Jew who escaped to join the British army, and was given a pseudonym so if he was captured his name wouldn’t betray him, One grave is of a parachutist and his dog who were buried together.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Extract For the Fallen, Laurence Binyon

Pegasus Bridge

This is the first in a series of posts about Normandy, and now you know where I went on holiday this year! Having lived in France for so long Normandy conjures up images of apples, cider, Calva, and Normans amazed by the fact that you can actually eat apples and not just use them to make alcoholic drinks.

It conjures up images of rain for the French, and I jokingly remind them that the British go there for the “good weather!” It conjures up history by the bucket load, William the Bastard, who became William the Conqueror, and the Bayeux Tapestry which is 1000 year old propaganda, and sparked off a rivalry between the two countries, which lasted for centuries, and still does especially when we beat the French at rugby. It conjures up images of landings made by Allied troops on the 6th of June 1944, to free France and Europe from Nazi occupation and tyranny.

This article is about one of the places where one of those battles took place. Please take the time to click on the various links to Wikipedia to learn more about the operations and people involved. Thank you.

To some Pegasus Bridge might mean nothing but to others it means the end of Nazi occupation in Normandy, France. Madame Arlette Grondée is the same age as my mother and witnessed the Second World War first hand. On the night of the 5th of June, just before midnight, three gliders containing airborne troops landed just across the canal from where her parents ran a café. That café is still there and so is Madame Grondée. I know, because I asked her for a photo and she very kindly agreed. It’s not every day that one meets a legend, and part of history.

I visited this area as a boy and I lust have been the same age as my daughter is now when I was last there. But as an adult, the whole thing has an other dimension to it. The bust of Major Howard (Company Commander of “D” Company, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, and part of the 6th Airborne Division) is on the exact site where the three gliders landed. It’s literally on top of the bridge!

Operation Deadstick was a success and a vital victory in the D-Day Operations. The dead were buried in the Parish Cemetery in Rainville, and amongst them is HD Brotheridge, the first British causality of the actions in Normandy. To the left of his grave is a plaque put up by the Grondée family in recognition of his sacrifice.

The tools of the trade that day were the Canon 6D Mark II, and the Canon 16-35mm lens.

Certain images from this gallery can be purchased for a limited time here