Travels

D-Day minus one

Wednesday 5 June 2019

In the time it took to get the water pump fixed yesterday, all the places on the aire were taken, as I expected. Plan B. I made use of the funky washing machines in the supermarket car park again and kicked on for another couple of hours, aiming for the site at Saint-Honorine-des-Pertes near Omaha Beach.

As I got closer, I doubted I would find a pitch. Campsites had sprung up everywhere and seemed to be full, and not just of motorhomes. It was as if D-Day had happened again in the few days since I was here. Roads, lay-bys, car parks and campsites were filled with every variety of American WW2 vehicle; lorries, ambulances, amphibious vehicles and countless jeeps; most carrying people in full uniform.

They appear to be amateur enthusiasts from all over Europe. Boys and their toys.

There have been WW2 planes flying over and I’ve just seen a parachute drop of a dozen or so drifting towards the beach.

Fortunately there was one pitch at the site last night, and a friendly welcome as the guy running the campsite recognised me from last week. He squeezed me in front of a Dutch couple who weren’t particularly happy, but after I chatted to them about my dash to Amsterdam and touring their country last year we were on good terms. I was relocated when a pitch was freed up today.

I returned to the American Cemetery this morning. With my event manager head on, I was interested in the set up for Trump’s visit,

but I also walked the full cemetery this time. It is huge.

They are adding flags to the graves.

Trump wants to visit the graves of Roosevelt’s two sons, but it’s not about Trump. It’s about these guys.

From the list of battles on this veteran’s jacket, he was fighting from at least July 1944 until January 1945, the Battle of The Bulge – the Americans lost 95000 in that campaign alone, and he’d already survived several major conflicts.

I saw him again later, still speaking to journalists.

He was telling them how people fundraised to send him and how he “didn’t ask for any of this” – the attention – and how grateful he was that everyone was showing such interest in remembering those who had died. He kept repeating how lucky he was. Nobody would argue with that.

Juno, the Canadian beach, is the big event tomorrow. The British cemetery in Bayeux is another focus. I should perhaps have gone to a British event but this was closer to my onward journey.

This and other areas across the Normandy Beaches are in lockdown tomorrow, I couldn’t go anywhere if I wanted. I’ve never seen so many police motorcyclists, convoys of them on the roads last night and today. Given the recent terror attacks, and the high numbers of VIPs (and Trump) in the region, I wouldn’t want to be trying to negotiate with police at a roadblock. I’d expect short shrift.

There are also a huge number of civilian motorcyclists, members of Hell’s Midlife Crisis mostly. More boys and their toys.

The atmosphere is great; very friendly, locals decorating their houses, flags everywhere. There is a sincere welcome here. Across Normandy, the events of D-Day, and the months of liberation that followed, are being embraced, respected and celebrated.

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