Mike Strachan’s e-mail journal — Entry #5, from France
Received 28 April 2008
Still in St. Malo early on Monday morning and I have some more time on my host's PC. They have been absolutely great.
I asked the hotel people about colza (corrected spelling) and if it is planted all year in Normandie. No — after colza comes sugar beets or potatoes or grains, then a crop of corn, so it’s fairly well diversified. Back to Bény-s.-mer and the cemetery to look up the names of the 18 Canadians executed at Abbe Ardenne. I am disappointed that only six are listed — two Sherbrooke Fusiliers, three North Nova Scotia Highlanders, one Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry Highlander, and one QOR.
Next I go to meet Nathalie Worthington at the Juno Beach Centre, and she tells me the remaining graves are probably in other cemeteries, but God knows where, and I won't be looking for them. She also showed me the family memorabilia section in the library. I filled out a form for each of my dad and uncle and left a photo of each in their wartime dress uniforms. I promised to send her a copy of the letter of thanks that my dad's regiment got from the commander of the Winnipeg Rifles for their support on D-Day (now I hope I can find it).
Next down to Arromanches I managed to get distant shots of the town, the first cliffs, and the giant caissons in the surf (from the artificial harbour created just after D-Day) before a huge downpour hit. On the way out of town I got a shot of an old house-cum-hotel which reminds me of an episode of the Darling Buds of May when the family had a holiday in France.
At Bayeux I notice from the town sign that it has a long list of villes jumelées (twin cities). Parked next to MacD's to use the loo, so had a burger — CBO, or Chicken, Bacon, Oignons, with medium Coke and fries is €6.60 or about $11.00. The nice thing here is that almost all the servers speak English to some degree.
Then I am parked in the street downtown, next to the building with the Bayeux Tapestry, and it pouring again, but in five minutes it stops. The tapestry is very interesting (€7 entrance fee), made up of about 60 panels which tell the story of William's invasion of England that is very different from the one we hear in school. The story is too long for an e-mail, and I'll save it for home. On the side of a building across the street is a paddle wheel turned by water from a mill pond, and it has obviously been there for a long time.
Now at St. Mère-Eglise with a paratrooper mannequin hanging by its parachute straps from the roof (Red Buttons in the movie The Longest Day). The interior of the church is very dark and sombre. Across the road is the Airborne Museum and is very much worth seeing. It contains the de rigeur Sherman tank, an AA gun, a whole C-47 transport which was actually in the airborne drop, and many, many artifacts, and uniforms donated by veterans of all ranks, often with their campaign medals. Then it's through Ste. Marie du Mont on the way to Utah Beach with its familiar memorials we see in documentaries.
Then the German cemetery at La Cambe where there are over 20,000 graves — very sombre, with black iron cross symbols and headstones that are set in the ground. A peace pavilion is nearby just outside the gate. It is sobering to be at this cemetery, and to remember that there are almost 50,000 German graves in Normandy.
Then to the US Ranger memorial at Pointe du Hoc. There are big concrete bunkers and large shell holes in the ground from aerial bombardment. The Rangers had to scale the heights and capture the place. A backup force failed to arrive (they went to Omaha Beach), and the Rangers had to hold out for two more days until relieved.Next through the very upscale town of St. Laurent-sur-Mer, with people riding horses, horses in the fields, and very nice houses — it is an area of the "horsey set". I see very little colza here — it is mainly dairy and beef cattle and various kinds of horses. Close by is Omaha Beach with the familiar memorials again. One mentions “The Tough Ombres” who went from Omaha Beach to Czeckoslovakia. The French stonemasons misspelled Hombres as Ombres, the French word for shadows, thus the “Tough Shadows”. It is not far to Colleville-sur-Mer and the American cemetery, and it is closed! It has a locked gate and closes at 6 PM. I'm told later it is in a beautiful park-like setting, and they want to keep it clean and undisturbed.
I made it back to the parkade by 9 PM, and after a long day of driving I went for a long walk. This is my last day night in Caen, and tomorrow will be for banking, e-mails, and seeing the Musée de Normandie, and the train to St. Malo.…
So long for now.