October 26th, 2016

Favourite place: Visiting the beaches of Normandy

Favourite place: Visiting the beaches of Normandy Favourite place: Visiting the beaches of Normandy
Updated: 1:20 pm, Jan 01, 2016

IT‘S about this time of year many of us start dreaming of distant shores and summer holidays.

In recent years the ‘staycation’ has become popular with many opting to forgo jetting off abroad in favour of a destination closer to home.

They say travel broadens the mind. True – but you don’t necessarily need to travel thousands of miles to find that special somewhere. All of us have been to a place which has struck a chord for one reason or another, the memory of which stays with us for a variety of reasons – as our reporting team discovered when they pondered on a place which meant something to them.

RICH in history, and somewhat untouched by modern hands, the beaches of Normandy will be a place I will never forget.

I inherited a interest in the Second World War from my dad, whose hobby-turned-career in military research had led to our house being a mini-library for militaria.

The sacrifice paid by so many in theĀ  name of freedom on the beaches of northern France on D-Day remains just as important today 71 years on. It could be argued more important.

My family has travelled to see the beaches for ourselves many times – the stage of Operation Overlord, the eventual turning-point for the Allies.

As you would expect, there are many museums and memorial sites dedicated to the brave men and women involved in the battles of June 1944, but as for the beaches themselves, they are immaculate and relatively untouched. Upon setting foot on the first beach, code-named Sword, a few moments of silence made me appreciate the importance of where I stood.

Walking on the same sand where so many British troops fell is a little haunting, as the setting now does not reflect the horrors they faced.

But having the chance to pay respects to that generations is something I would suggest no one should pass up.

There’s always something we add to our list of sites every time we visit, and exploring each one only adds to my admiration for those who fell and those lucky enough to return.

There is the Mulberry Harbour, an incredible feat of British ingenuity, the American cemetery at Omaha, a hugely poignant place, and the stunning views across the bay from Cherbourg from where the troops landed.

There are gun battery bunkers, cemeteries and other reminders of the brutal conflict that took place on these shores, but the towns dotted along the northern coast are delightful. Quiet, picturesque and offering some fine French cuisine.

The residents are always incredibly hospitable, especially to the waves of tourists in the summer time, and getting the chance to speak to locals with stories from their parents and grandparents was fascinating.

When we arrived in Colevillie-sur-Mer, little did we know we had stumbled upon the ceremony in remembrance of Bill Millin, famous British Army bagpiper. He had valiantly defended the Ox and Bucks light infantry unit as they held a key position on D-Day, Pegasus Bridge. Millin’s bagpipes can be found in the museum at Pegasus Bridge itself, with the bullet holes across the instrument. Bill Millin is one of millions affected by the events of the Second World War and it was a honour to stand with the small crowd on a cold afternoon in remembrance.

The memories will stay with me forever, and it won’t be long until we take our next trip across the channel.