After 48 hours or more of traveling from Calgary to France, I arrived in Caen on the train. I got off the train and saw my mum poking her head up and down searching for me in the arriving cars. MY PARENTS were expecting me on this particular train and were waiting on the platform. The Little Blue Dot was easy to find. We caught up as we waited for the bus to take us to our vacation rental. They had been travelling since 05 May.
For the next few days, we tooled about the D-Day beaches. We spent a morning at the Juno Beach Centre (the beach where the Canadians landed). Impressive. Definitely impressive. I loved the interactivity of the displays. The most memorable display was the video interviews with the veterans all of these years later and their personal stories.
They talked about sitting at the hulls of the ships in the hours before the landing and exchanging contact information with everybody in sight–in case they didn’t make it on land. They talked about talking to the soldiers who knew they weren’t going to survive the day because they were in the first wave of attacks.
They talked about how they liberated this house (the first house to be liberated on 06 June 1945)
and how they continued marching inland to Caen and Paris. As they marched, they liberated more and more of France, but it was a continuous effort. One soldier told of how after 55 days straight of liberating, they marched into a village. As the allied soldiers, they were usually welcomed. The men and women of the village were grateful. This one time though. This last time, this soldier remembered that some children were running towards them to greet them and welcome them to their village. But the soldiers had been marching for 55 days straight. They hadn’t been washing. They hadn’t been showering. They hadn’t been shaving. They were wild. They looked wild. And they probably smelled wild. This soldier remembered the looks on the children’s faces as they turned away, scared, and ran home. Humbling to been rejected after what they had just been through, but understandable.
We also went to the ceremony on D-Day and were able to meet and greet about twelve veterans. Here’s a picture of my Dad talking to them about their experiences. Notice he’s wearing a blue beret?
After the ceremony, we found a side café for a beer and lunch. My dad ordered jambon and frites. AND that’s exactly what he got. A slice of cold ham (like luncheon meat) and some fries. He also wanted gravy, but well…that particular café didn’t have gravy (and I actually doubt that any such French café would have the kind of fries and gravy that we have over here in North America–think poutine! mmmm). Regardless, while we were eating, we think it was a veteran soldier bought my dad a beer. And when he was leaving , he came over and thanked Dad (and his countrymen) for their efforts and sacrifices in liberating this area of France.
I am truly humbled by history.
Later that week, we were getting set to watch the fireworks along the 85 kilometers of coastline and Dad went to get some beer for us. He was waiting in line or something and this wee little girl ran up and tugged on his pant leg and started talking in French. Dad didn’t understand, so he just reached out and patted her head. And her parents appeared and whisked her away—probably scolding her for talking to strange men.
He turned back to order the beers and felt a tug on his pant leg again. The little girl was back, trying to ask him something. This time when her parents arrived, they were laughing. “She thinks you are Father Christmas,” they explained.
After the week in Normandy, we all managed to get ourselves back to Paris and get sorted in our own directions. I left my parents at the Gare de L’Est and found my way out to Brittany to visit a good friend from my year abroad in university.