Poignant and precious: How to live out the nation’s greatest story for D-Day 75
This year marks the 75th anniversary of perhaps the most important day in modern British history: D-Day.
It is difficult to imagine the sheer scale and human expense of the operation that would eventually turn the tide of the war in Western Europe, though we are surrounded with poignant and precious artefacts – both in Britain and in France – that are not only easy to discover, but truly bring to life the story of June 6, 1944.
This 75th anniversary offers the perfect opportunity to discover the story of D-Day first-hand, and here’s how to do it over five days, split between both sides of the Channel.
Day One: IWM Duxford and the American Air Museum, Duxford
One hour north of London, this historic airfield was in use during World War I but earned its wings, so to speak, when it became the base for the 82nd, 83rd and 84th US air squadrons in World War II. Today, all but one of its original hangars still stand – the one missing was blown up during filming for Gus Hamilton’s Battle of Britain film.
While the site is quiet, almost tranquil today, in the early hours of June 6, 1944, it would have been alive with the roars of engines, with gliders and bombers taking off in a seemingly endless stream. Many of the aircraft that flew from Duxford can now be seen inside the American Air Museum, built on the site in 1997.
To make your visit to IWM Duxford truly special, look out for the Daks Over Duxford event on June 4-5 to get a glimpse of what the skies over Normandy might have looked like 75 years ago.
How: Tickets for IWM Duxford cost from £18 (£20 on the day) and include entry to the American Air Museum, Historic Duxford and the Airborne Assault Museum. Visit iwm.org.uk/visits/iwm-duxford.
Day Two: HMS Belfast and Churchill War Rooms, London
The battle may have been fought in Normandy, but it was orchestrated from Winston Churchill’s command centre beneath Whitehall, which has been delicately preserved and transformed into an IWM museum.
With a guided tour, you’ll have the chance to pace the corridors and explore the rooms from which Churchill and his staff sent their orders to the front. You can tour everything from the conference room, to Churchill’s bedroom and, my personal favourite, the Map Room. Note the pinholes still left in the wall – every one of them tells a story.
Notoriously reckless, it was only thanks to King George VI’s intervention that Winston Churchill didn’t hop aboard HMS Belfast and join the D-Day assault himself. But you can live out his fantasy today, by exploring this marvellous battleship moored outside London Bridge Station, dipping and diving in and out of the bridge, the engine room, the crew’s quarters, even the six-inch cannons – which, on D-Day, fired around 4,000 shells at a rate of 96 per minute.
Day Three: Mémorial Pegasus Museum and the Caen Memorial, Normandy
Travel in comfort on an overnight ferry from Portsmouth to Caen, a journey not dissimilar to the one the landing craft would have taken on the morning of June 6, 1944. But while today it’s possible to book a bedroom with en-suite bathroom (from just £85; brittany-ferries.co.uk), the soldiers at that time would have barely had space to stand amongst the equipment they had to carry. The seas on the night of June 6 were notoriously choppy – so you can imagine the soldiers wouldn’t have had much sleep.
Make your first destination in Normandy Mémorial Pegasus, home of the original Pegasus Bridge. Allied paratroopers fought a bloody battle in the middle of the night to capture this crucial crossing over the River Orne and Caen Canal. The bridge itself is riddled with bullet holes from that fateful night.
From here, move on to the Caen Memorial Museum. It is easy to forget that D-Day was only the first day in the month-and-a-half-long Battle of Normandy, a battle which would result in the almost total destruction of Caen. This striking museum walks visitors through the background to the war, culminating in an exhibition that conveys the immense sacrifice made by the citizens of Caen.
Day Four: Bayeux War Cemetery, Bayeux
As a hospital city, Bayeux managed to avoid heavy bombing and fighting. Today, it is home to the largest World War II Commonwealth cemetery, which features the graves of British, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, Polish, South African, Russian, French, Czech and German troops. Immaculately maintained and overlooked by the stunning Bayeux Memorial, this is an important destination for anyone wishing to understand the cost of our peace.
Of course, 900 years before D-Day, another great battle helped to shape the course of British history, and its 70m-long hand-woven record is synonymous with the town of Bayeux. So, while you are here, take the opportunity to enjoy a 25-minute-long audio tour of the Bayeux Tapestry Museum – a salient distraction.
How: Tickets to the Bayeux Museum from €9.50/£8. Visit bayeuxmuseum.com/en/the-bayeux-tapestry.
Day Five: The German Battery and Arromanches-les-Baines, Longues-sur-Mer
Scars of the war are dotted all over Normandy, but none are quite as well preserved as this stretch of the Atlantic Wall, Hitler’s so-called impenetrable coastal barrier, which ran from Norway to the border of Spain. The first thing you’ll notice about these concrete pillboxes is the ingenuity of their design – their two-metre-thick walls of reinforced concrete made them virtually bomb-proof. That, plus of course the gigantic guns, still standing, which were capable of firing a 45kg shell up to 20km once every 10 seconds.
Just down the road, finish your tour at Arromanches-les-Bains. This quiet fishing village became the site of the British Mulberry harbour, from which millions of tonnes of supplies poured into France, sustaining the Allies’ invasion. The sheer scale of this operation comes alive in Arromanches’ beautiful Musée du Débarquement, where visitors can see scale models of the Mulberry harbour, while also gazing out to sea to glimpse the decaying remnants still there to this day.
How: Tickets from €8.20/£7. Visit musee-arromanches.fr.
For more information about D-Day in Normandy, visit normandydday75.com.
The Press Association
Latest posts by The Press Association (see all)
- Bakewell Sponge Cake - September 17, 2019
- Strictly Come Dancing 2019: The full list of couples - September 16, 2019
- What is biochar and why should we all be using it in our gardens? - September 16, 2019
- Figs are in season – here’s what to do with them - September 16, 2019
- In Pictures: 35 photos to mark Harry’s 35th birthday - September 15, 2019
Leave a Comment!
Community Terms & Conditions
These content standards apply to any and all material which you contribute to our site (contributions), and to any interactive services associated with it.
You must comply with the spirit of the following standards as well as the letter. The standards apply to each part of any contribution as well as to its whole.
be accurate (where they state facts); be genuinely held (where they state opinions); and comply with applicable law in the UK and in any country from which they are posted.
Contributions must not:
contain any material which is defamatory of any person; or contain any material which is obscene, offensive, hateful or inflammatory; or promote sexually explicit material; or promote violence; promote discrimination based on race, sex, religion, nationality, disability, sexual orientation or age; or infringe any copyright, database right or trade mark of any other person; or be likely to deceive any person; or be made in breach of any legal duty owed to a third party, such as a contractual duty or a duty of confidence; or promote any illegal activity; or be threatening, abuse or invade another’s privacy, or cause annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety; or be likely to harass, upset, embarrass, alarm or annoy any other person; or be used to impersonate any person, or to misrepresent your identity or affiliation with any person; or give the impression that they emanate from us, if this is not the case; or advocate, promote or assist any unlawful act such as (by way of example only) copyright infringement or computer misuse.
Nurturing a safe environment
Our Silversurfers community is designed to foster friendships, based on trust, honesty, integrity and loyalty and is underpinned by these values.
We don't tolerate swearing, and reserve the right to remove any posts which we feel may offend others... let's keep it friendly!