On the D-Day beaches

by Dave Allan-Petale

I’ve been reading about D-Day since I was a boy and films like Saving Private Ryan and the TV series Band of Brothers really fired my imagination as an adult. But it’s only when you actually stand there, on the beaches where the troops came ashore, that you can begin to appreciate what happened on that longest of days.

My mate Jim and I drove out from the historic town of Bayeux in France to a strip of the Normandy coast known as Omaha Beach. Thousands of American soldiers were cut down by German guns as they stormed the defences there on June 6th, 1944. It’s amazing to see just how big the area is. When the tide is out the sand seems to stretch for miles. The cliffs rise up like giant waves and the mind boggles at how anyone survived.

A German bunker on Omaha Beach – they were angled across the beach to create a killing ground for the machine guns they housed

It’s impossible to imagine the events as they really happened. Books and photographs give an idea and even Hollywood comes close to capturing it. But a visit to the American cemetery where fields of white crosses honour the dead really brings a harsh truth to light. Beyond all the heroism, the machines, tactics and stories is a massive human cost that is appalling to see. The cemetery is free to enter and a poignant way to end a visit to Omaha Beach.

A monument honouring the US National Guard; built on top of a machine gun bunker where fire killed many US soldiers

It’s not all gloomy though. The local community is thriving with big houses covering the ground where German bunkers used to be. Children play on the beach and the sand is very popular with horse riders. Life goes on there, freely. Surely that’s what so many died to bring about.

Omaha Beach was split into many sections with troops assaulting each part at the same time – a common description in many memoirs is that it was as though hell had been unleashed

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