Contemplating History on the D-Day Beaches

Posted on 06. Mar, 2014 by in Destinations, Europe Travel, France

d-day beaches

“You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The  hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.  In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.“

― Dwight D. Eisenhower

Anyone who’s ever met me could probably describe me as being talkative. And they would be right — I do love a good chat, and I need a great deal of bad vibes in order to completely shut down. Or incidentally, shut up.

But not on that day.

When I finally set foot on the infamous D-Day beaches in Normandy on that misty summer day, all I could hear were whispers. Flies would have probably stolen the show had there been any nearby. And yet, despite the heavy atmosphere and the almost macabre fascination these types of places convey, I kept moving towards them, in an almost lulled manner. The Operation Overlod, as the Allies called it, was my only focus.

d-day beaches

The sun wasn’t shining very brightly behind the condensed clouds, as if it was too humble to shine upon such a dark place. While some war heroes see these beaches and the nearby cemeteries as shrines to the gallant dead and a reflection of their country’s successes, others, like me, simply cannot find a bright side.

War isn’t something to be commemorated with pride, in my mind. Neither by the axis nor the allies.

I wouldn’t say visiting memorials, cemeteries and other World War II sites relates to noir travel as much as it relates to education. People of all ages need to be reminded of how far a group of people can go to validate their opinions and set things in motion, and how destructive the human nature can be at times. I don’t think anyone can fully grasp the extent of war until they actually stand in the very place where deadly battles happened.

I have very little faith in human nature and I am too cynical to believe we will never declare war again. But sometimes, I like to think that with just a little bit of luck, we might.


D-Day Beaches: Where to Go

Omaha Beach, Colleville-sur-Mer

This is where the Allies had the most difficult landing assault of D-Day, because of 150 feet tall bluffs that overlook the beach, which were, of course, skillfully fortified by the Germans, which took advantage of their position to kill hundreds of soldiers on the wide open beaches. Omaha Beach is held especially dear in the hearts of American because of the intervention of the US 29th Infantry Division soldiers.

American Cemetery, Colleville-sur-Mer

d-day beaches


Right next to Omaha Beach itself, the 172.5 acre cemetery contains the graves of 9,387 American soldiers. One of the most iconic and photogenic sites of the D-Day beaches, it features countless rows of perfectly aligned headstones. The beaches can be viewed from the bluffs above, and there is a path down to the beach as well.

The Landing Museum, Arromanches

The museum is dedicated to British ingenuity, and further explores the feat of technology accomplished by the British in building and setting up the artificial harbour for the landing. It is also home to an impressive scale-models of the floating docks, a 75-foot section of the Mulberry floating bridge, an American half-track and a Higgins boat.

La Pointe du Hoc

d-day beaches

This site is slightly different than the others by its sheer nature, which consists of rocky headland towering over the beaches, and where bomb and shell craters still remain today. History buffs know that La Pointe du Hoc paints an especially courageous picture, considering how the Americans who climbed up the rock walls and eventually captured the bunkers only to find out the Germans weren’t armed at all.

Juno Beach, Courseulles-sur-Mer

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This is commonly referred to as the Canadian beach, because of the intervention of both the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division and the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade. It is also where troops faced the strongest resistance save for Omaha Beach, because of sturdy German fortifications, complete with concrete emplacements, pillboxes, fields of barbed wire and mines. Courseulles-sur-Mer town centre is also home to a Sherman Duplex Drive (DD) tank, which was recovered in 1970 from the sea and restored.

D-Day Beaches: Good To Know

  • Most of the sites have a dedicated museum; allow yourself time to visit them, as they provide valuable insight and historical videos on events that led up to D-Day, and how they shaped today’s society.
  • I strongly suggest travelling to and within Normandy by car, but those with a tighter schedule should look into the many guided day trips that leave from Paris every day (I heard good things about this one).
  • Most of the beaches, museums and sites are free to visit, with a few exceptions.

Have you been to the D-Day beaches in Normandy? Is this the kind of place you would include on your travels?


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7 Responses to “Contemplating History on the D-Day Beaches”

  1. martin Cody

    06. Mar, 2014

    one of the most moving places i have ever been .

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres

      07. Mar, 2014

      Same for me, Martin. Even though I am Canadian, the American Cemetary moved me the most by its sheer size and layout.

      Reply to this comment
  2. Alan Marsh

    06. Mar, 2014

    A very moving account, and much appreciated.
    The sacrifices made on all our behalves should be a lesson to us all in the future, and must not be forgotten - ever.

    I have a couple of links, which I hope you do not mind me posting, of my own journeys to France.

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres

      07. Mar, 2014

      Thank you for your kind words, Alan. Indeed, the beaches are a place of remembrance and a good lesson for us all. Thank you for posting your photos!

      Reply to this comment
  3. kayla

    08. Mar, 2014

    I have been to 2 of the D-Day Beaches: Omaha and Gold. I love history and I want to see the others one day as well. Especially Juno since I am Canadian. I really enjoyed the other beaches. I think the American’s did an amazing job with the memorial at Omaha, it was incredible to see. I actually have 2 blog posts about the beaches I visited.

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie-Eve Vallieres

      09. Mar, 2014

      I think the American memorial is quite fantastic too, even tough I’m not American. Such a peaceful, tranquil place.

      Reply to this comment
    • Ajay Rao

      24. Mar, 2014

      @ Kayla, is it possible for you to email me the blog link of your visit to the D Day beaches to my email @ Love history as well.

      Reply to this comment

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