After another great day visiting Juno Beach and Centre, Sword Beach, the Musée du Radar, and the Canadian War Cemetery we awoke on Thursday morning to our last day in France.
We started off the morning with a quick stop at the Site Hillman in Colleville-Montgomery, a village behind Ouistreham that overlooks the D-Day landing beach, Sword. Site Hillman, or Wn 17 as it was known to the German soldiers, was a command and observation post that had great views of the landing on the beaches in front of it- well as long as it wasn’t as foggy as it was the day we visited!
The owner of the land where Site Hillman is located gave the site to the people of the town as a gift that is held in memory of the Suffolk Regiment who liberated the community on D-Day. Today the bunkers are still there and we were able to visit some of the site even though it was early morning and not officially open yet. We didn’t wander too far off into the field because it was really, really foggy but did go inside the bunker that was closest to the parking lot.
Maybe it was the fog, or maybe it was something else, but this was the one and only site in all that we visited that truly spooked me. I had thought often at the sites of the many men that had died on those very spots but never really thought of their ghosts being there. I don’t really even believe in ghosts. But there was something about one particular room of this bunker that gave me a chill and my immediate thought was “what if there is a ghost in there????”. I didn’t stick around to find out and quickly ran back to the other room where L was and decided I’d stick close to him for the rest of our visit to this site!
For the rest of the story about our morning in France I am so happy to introduce you to my first guest poster here at One Trip at a Time…my awesome travel partner, L! And here is where I might get a little mushy on him but not only is he so much fun to travel with, but I can’t thank him enough for being supportive of this little old blogging hobby I seem to have acquired. He reads all the posts, listens to me ramble on and on (and on and on…) about wanting to change this or that on the blog, is willing to help with any of the technical stuff I get stuck on, and then, when he asked if he could write a guest post…well it still makes me smile. He also chose all the photos that go with the rest of the post and they were all taken by him. So without further ado I’ll let L take it away today…
Pegasus Bridge. When we started to play our trip to Normandy, Pegasus Bridge was pretty much the first thing added to the “to see” list. It was planned for the final day as it is on the Eastern edge of the D-Day landing sites and we were traveling West to East. However my sat nav had other ideas, we turned a corner on the first day en route to the hotel and suddenly there it was in front of us- the new Pegasus Bridge, along with the memorial museum on the right and the first building to be liberated on the left as we crossed the bridge. It gave me goosebumps to be driving through the place where 70 years ago such amazing deeds took place and I couldn’t wait to get back and visit it properly a few days later.
And so it was, on our final day in Normandy that we crossed back across the bridge and stopped at the museum. On entering the museum, as with many museums in Normandy, they ask your nationality so that they know where their visitors come from. We asked at a couple of them and found that it was predominantly Americans that visited Omaha and Utah museums, Canadians for Juno, and Brits for Sword and Gold. If you get the chance to go, please visit the whole area. It is fascinating and was, after all, one of the most incredible joint efforts the world has ever seen.
The museum at the Pegasus Bridge Memorial is excellent and filled with memorabilia that relates specifically to Pegasus Bridge. In the centre there is a model of the area around the bridge which shows the path the gliders took. Whilst we were looking at this they announced they were to play a short film, which is well worth watching. We then wandered around the rest of the indoor museum which is packed with photos, models, the original bridge sign, and lots of effects from people who liberated the bridge, together with the story of that night.
It was the 5th of June 1944 and the biggest invasion force ever assembled was poised across the South of Great Britain. Major John Howard of the 6th Airborne Division had been preparing his men for weeks for an audacious, but essential, assault to capture the bridges over the River Orne and River Dives. The plan was codenamed Operation Deadstick and if it failed, it would leave the Eastern flank of the invasion force vulnerable to counter attack from Nazi reinforcements. At 22:56 they took off in six Horsa gliders which were to take them to France towed behind Halifax bombers. The gliders crossed the Normandy coast shortly after midnight and were released from the bombers. The three gliders heading to Pegasus Bridge (then known as Canal Bridge) landed ten minutes after release, the first crashing into barbed wire defenses surrounding the bridge and the other two close behind. After a relatively short firefight, the defensive positions were over-run and the bridge was in Allied hands, securing the Eastern flank and protecting the invasion force across Normandy.
Leaving the indoor museum at the back, the area is completely dominated by the preserved bridge that was captured that night. It was replaced with a new bridge in 1994 and we were very impressed that the original was moved to the memorial and kept for posterity. Unlike so many historical sites, you are allowed to walk on the original bridge from the right hand side and stepping foot on the bridge brought back the goosebumps. You are walking on the ACTUAL bridge that was captured so essentially on D-Day, seventy years ago.
Further back there is a full size replica of a Horsa glider that was used in the raid as well as what remains of the fuselage of an actual glider. It is in quite poor condition, but they are preserving it as best they can. There is also an explanation of Bailey Bridges, these were used to span rivers, which Allied bombing had destroyed, to allow for our reinforcements to cross after we had destroyed the bridge to stop Nazi reinforcements! These bridges were so modular and quick to assemble, they could create spans across rivers in just a few hours which could support the weight of tanks. Bailey Bridges are still used today, so successful is the design.
Within the grounds there are several artillery pieces and a couple of tanks as well as memorials to the men who took part in the raid. One of the most poignant was a memorial to Lieutenant H.D. Brotheridge, the first, but sadly far from the last, Allied casualty to die in action on D-Day. He was leading his platoon across the bridge when he was hit by machine gun fire attacking the defensive positions.
Leaving the museum, we crossed the road to see the markers that signify where each of the three gliders landed. To think that they were powerless and released ten minutes flying time from where they landed, that they ended up so close to the bridge was an incredible piece of airmanship from the flight crews.
Heading back towards the new bridge, one of the defensive guns is still there, “protecting” the bridge, we crossed over to see the building that proudly wears a plaque that it was the very first building to be liberated.
Pegasus Bridge wasn’t quite our last port of call in Normandy, as we visited Ranville to see the church where we found this beautiful stained glass window commemorating the attack as well as paying our respects at Ranville Cemetery to yet more of those who lost their lives in World War II from both sides.
“When you go home, tell them of us and say,
For your Tomorrow, we gave our Today.”
John Maxwell Edmunds, 1916
To follow along on our adventures on our trip exploring WWI and WWII sites of Normandy and Belgium, please feel free to check out these posts:
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