Normandy’s Northern Coastline – Understanding D-Day
I grew up hearing stories of my mum's older brother fighting in France with the British-Canadian troops during World War II, but I never imagined that one day I would have an opportunity to see those battle sites myself.
On a family trip to France, during the time when our teenage daughter was studying WWII history in school, we decided that it was the right time to visit Normandy for a D-Day tour. There are a variety of ways to tour the D-Day sites - we chose a private guide who drove us from one site to another whilst sharing his in-depth knowledge of WWII history and the Allied invasion.
British, Canadian, and American troops came ashore at five separate landing beaches during the early morning hours of June 6, 1944 as part of the Allied invasion of Western Europe. We chose to visit the Canadian landing site, Juno Beach, which is also the location of La Maison de Queen's Own Rifles – the first house liberated on French soil.
Walking the beach in the fog, I couldn’t help but imagine what it must have been like on that morning more than 70 years ago as thousands of soldiers, like my uncle, came ashore not knowing if they would live to see the sun set. The Allied efforts to destroy the Atlantic Wall and push back Nazi forces were key to the outcome of WWII. Exploring the Landing beaches and sites of the Battle of Normandy, one can’t help but wonder what kind of world we would live in today if they had not succeeded. Later that same day we paid our respects at the Canadian War Cemetery. I will never forget how it felt to walk silently among the graves with tears streaming down my face as I reflected on the loss of life – so many of the soldiers were not much older than my own teenage daughter.
We also paid a visit to the Juno Beach Centre, Canada’s World War II museum, in Courseulles-sur-Mer. The first exhibit is a haunting multi-media presentation in a simulated landing craft, where images and voices convey a strong sense of how it must have felt to be a soldier heading for the shores of Normandy on D-Day. We then explored exhibits that were both informative and heart-wrenching in their portrayal of Canada’s role in the War, life on the home-front, the sacrifices of Canadians, and Canada’s role in post-war peacekeeping missions. Our youngest daughter, only 8 years old, was thoroughly engaged during our visit to the Juno Beach Centre as there were interactive exhibits and a quiz for children that adapted the museum’s content for a younger generation.
Following the D-Day landings on 6th June, the Battle of Normandy continued for another 100 days. There are many historical sites in the region that provide further insight into the Allied campaign here. Museums and sites farther inland, at Mont Ormel and Berjou, tell the story of decisive battles as Allied troops advanced towards Paris.
As we were travelling with children, we appreciated the variety of fun family-friendly activities in the region that provide a welcome break from the intensity of visiting D-Day sites. Our daughters enjoyed a day in the picturesque town of Bayeux where we visited the famous Bayeux Tapestry. Stitched in the 11th century to celebrate the Battle of Hastings and conquest of England by William the Conqueror, a visit to the tapestry is a great way to absorb another key event in history. Claude Monet's lovely gardens at Giverny are also nearby and there are many family-friendly seaside beaches in Normandy as well.
By the end of the visit, each member of our family had developed a better understanding of what happened on the beaches of Normandy in 1944 and how those events changed the course of the war as well as a deep sense of gratitude for the sacrifices made.
It was a holiday that we will never forget.