After an eventful ferry journey from Poole to St Malo, we arrived at Eco Gites of Lenault at 10.30pm and were so tired we literally fell into our bed once we had settled the kids for the night and decided to stay on the farm and relax the following day.
By Monday however, we were keen to get exploring the area we were staying in. Hubby has been looking forward to this trip for the last seven months and had drawn up an itinery of places he wanted to visit, grouping them together by the closest so there wasn’t too much travelling for the kids.
Our first stop was the town of St Mere Eglise, the first town to be liberated in 1944 and which was also made famous by the paratrooper John Steel who managed to land on the church when his chute got caught on the steeple. He hung there while the fighting continued on the ground for two hours before being cut down by the Germans, taken prisoner and later released by the Americans. An effigy of John Steel is still seen on the church.
The Airborne Museum is directly opposite the church and helps you understand D-Day from a paratroopers perspective. Inside the first building is a replica of an American WACO glider which you get to climb inside and see pictures from D-Day itself. The C-47 building shows you a replica of the British C-47 plane and has models of all the airborne troops in their uniforms.
By far our favourite building though was Operation Neptune building where we got to join in the nighttime embarkation of a C-47 aircraft in England, then drop into the square of Sainte-Mère-Eglise in the midst of the fighting and take part in the operation. It was dark and noisy but the kids were not phased by it at all and seemed fascinated by what went on.
After the Airborne Museum we headed to Utah Beach which was the first of the two American landing zones on D-Day and about 20 minutes away by car. As soon as we arrived we were struck by the importance of the location as it had several memorials to those lost, as well as the Utah Beach D-Day Museum.
We let the kids run up and down the sand dunes to burn off some energy before we headed inside to the museum to warm up. The Utah Beach Museum recounts the story of D-Day in 10 sequences, from the preparation of the landing, to the final outcome and success. It is a really comprehensive chronological journey that covers the history of the landing through a rich collection of objects, vehicles, materials, and oral histories. I was horrified to learn that the boots the Germans wore were lined with jewish hair, not wool and have to admit that the little ones and I concentrated on the magnificent B52 bomber whilst Hubby and Kian looked into all the facts of the Operation Overlord.
Our final visit for the day was the family favourite and a bit of light relief – Pointe du Hoc. Which commands a great view of two of the D-Day landing beaches – Omaha and Utah.
The point stands on cliffs between 85 to over 100 feet high at whose base was a very small rocky beach that offered no protection. Because the point was positioned on near impregnable cliffs, the Germans had concentrated their defenses in anticipation of a ground assault from inland and above the cliffs were heavily fortified concrete casements interlaced with tunnels, trenches, and machine-gun positions around the perimeter which are still there to be explored today. The US Rangers surprised the Germans and scaled the cliffs to take control of this vital area on D-Day.
The kids loved racing up and down the hills created by shelling, exploring the bunkers and poking their heads out of the gun pits. It is also a stunning piece of coastline with a stack of rock protruding out from the sea.
Our first day of exploring the history of Normandy was fascinating and Isaac and Eliza both learned so much from the museums and exploring where the battles took place. I just wish their great-grandparents were still here so they could explain what it was like to fight in the war.