I went up to Normandy and stayed overnight in Bayeux for a Canadian and British D-Day Tour. Firstly, although I’ve been warned not to mention this publicly 😉 , I received great service at the train ticket counter (it may have been his first day on the job but he was very helpful, patient with my crap french and friendly – who knew people who work for the train service could smile?!?) It’s about a two hour train ride to Bayeux.
I stayed at the loveliest B&B! Francois was very helpful when he emailed me and his wife Isabelle is a dear. Francois covers the internet end of things and does speak English. Isabelle does the actual running of the B&B and speaks no english. However, we managed to get everything across to get me set up that night – she is so friendly and helpful! The room had a separate entrance from the house and it attached to a lovely garden.
The room was gorgeous. Beautiful stone walls, a lovely furniture and the bed – oh, how I’ve missed feather pillows! I love feather pillows -the coolness as your face settles into the softness…..aaaahhhhh. And the bed was very comfortable and I slept like the dead. And the bathroom…..I wanted to take that bathroom with me. Clean, roomy and oh, so lovely!
In the morning, I was served a great breakfast – boiled egg, cheese, croissant, bread, jams, yoghurt and some really, really great coffee. Isabelle even came in a braved a conversation with me – I lasted a full five minutes! I was pretty proud of myself since I hadn’t even finished the coffee yet!
The weather was rainy and cool but not as bad as Paris had been the day before! There were five people on the tour and the guide. We travelled around the coast by Caen and Bayeux where D-Day had taken place. We went to three beaches, Juno, Gold and Sword (I think). We visited the famous Pegasus Bridge and in total made over 17 stops of Canadian military history. We saw tanks, bunkers, guns, and the blockades that were used as well.
At the abbey, we met a wonderful Frenchman who had been there during the war. He took over 1/2 an hour to speak to us and tell us what he saw that day. You could still see the tears in his eyes a few times. He still lives across the road from the abbey, as he did as a young man. Canadian prisoners of war were held in one of the buildings there. One night the Nazi’s received orders that they didn’t have room for more prisoners. They took this to mean that they were to kill their current prisoners to make room for more. There were twenty men held there.
As they were called up to the garden, a Nazi would shoot them as soon as they were past the door. Realizing that they were going to die, two tried to escape. One was shot quickly but another escaped, ran into the fields and managed to make it to safety. The Nazi’s buried the men in the field. At the end of the war, only 18 bodies were recovered. One was still missing. The gentlemen who spoke to us told us that his wife planted tulip bulbs one year. There was an odd place where they were not growing. He dug up the ground and found the skeleton of the 19th body. The Nazi’s had buried him in the garden.
We also visited one of the two Canadian cemeteries. It was very sad and overwhelming to read the names, ages and epitaphs of the men who died during the war, leaving families and friends behind. Over 4500 Canadians are buried in either that cemetery or the one past Caen. There are over 9000 Americans buried in the area and 6000 British. There are also hundreds and hundreds of soldiers with no grave.
“He will be as mourned today as much as the hour that he passed.”