In case you missed all the hints in the previous post, last Friday, we returned from a fourteen day trip to England and France.
The Engineer has two aunties who retired to France with their husbands, and we’d been meaning to visit ever since. When I discovered the Women’s World Cup was being played there, we decided 2019 was the year. Plus it was the 75th anniversary of D-Day, and there were some planes we wanted to see land in Normandy 75 years after their original flights there.
We were bumped up to economy plus on our flight – the second time ever this has happened in over thirty years of travel back and forth (thank you, Virgin Atlantic!) There was copious alcohol to be had, and for some reason, I felt obliged to say “Yes, thank you” each time it was offered.
Anyone who knows me well knows I rarely overindulge because I hate the way I feel the next day. Add in no sleep and an eight-hour flight, and well, I was feeling a little rough when I began to sober up (with a fresh new day to enjoy the process – ugh!).
Anyway, I remember the food on the flight was delicious. So delicious, I apparently had to take a picture of it.
Yes, even the cheesy thing was good, though I can’t recall what it was.
Or maybe I was just impressed with having actual flatware and glasses. At any rate, it was clearly important to me at the time, so I’m sharing.
And, naturally, we couldn’t cross the Atlantic without popping in for a visit with the rest of my husband’s family, so we started by landing in London, renting a car, and driving up to the Midlands for a visit. It was especially nice because we got to see some relatives we haven’t seen in quite a while.
I had done a family tree and history of my father-in-law’s family, discovering in the process that there were several publicans among them. One of the pubs was still a functioning pub, so we went for a look. It was once a coaching inn, not very old by English standards, only from sometime in the 1800s. The pub is called the Bulls Head, in Blaby, if you’re ever in the neighborhood. It’s been tarted up, but here’s a picture of the oldest looking bit. Not a big place, but the beer was good.￼
Then it was back to London for an overnight and off to Paris via the Eurostar from St.Pancras station.
A little over two hours later, we were in Paris. From there, we had to make our way from Gare du Nord to Gare Saint Lazare via the Metro. The magenta line to be exact. At Saint Lazare, we caught the Intercite’ to Caen.
Here’s a map I marked up to show the major places we went. We were in Caen because that’s where the “Daks Over Normandy” were landing, and we wanted to see them. In particular, we wanted to see “That’s All Brother.” This particular airplane led the US forces for the D-Day invasion. It was sitting in Oshkosh, awaiting a conversion to turbo, where an aviation historian located it just six months before it was scheduled for the process (which Wikipedia says uses only 30% of the original plane, with th rest being scrapped). Here’s a link to the whole article:https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/That%27s_All,_Brother
Familiar with the plane’s story from our yearly sojourn to Oshkosh, it was there we also heard of the plan to fly as many Daks (DC-3s) to Normandy as possible for the 75th anniversary.
We were in! Tickets went on sale February 1, and I purchased them that day, after checking back many times to make sure they hadn’t been put up early. I also hoped to purchase a ride in one of the planes, as advertised on the website, but the link never materialized, and when I emailed to ask about it, they were somehow all sold out.
I won’t belabor the point except to say the event was a disappointment. The planes were parked quite a distance behind the fence – so far, you couldn’t make out the nose art or N-numbers. There were no placards telling about the planes’ histories as I’ve seen at most air shows and fly-ins, and no one around to ask. If you look at the pictures below, you’ll see how far back the fence and spectators were from the aircraft.
Organizing an event based so heavily on volunteers is surely a mammoth challenge, so I won’t speculate what happened, but this certainly wasn’t what we came to Caen to see. Fortunately, Caen had other attractions. The war was hard on this city, and its citizens do not forget that history. Below is a picture of a memorial to the British regiments that liberated Caen. Behind it, you can see part of an enormous and ancient structure, William the Conqueror’s Chateau, built around 1060.Within its walls is the tomb of the unknown civilian, dedicated to the civilians killed during the bombing that followed the landings at Normandy. Some estimates place these losses of life at several thousand, with 35,000 left homeless. (These figures are for Caen alone. The toll throughout Normandy was much higher.)
“One journalist remarked about what he saw of the city after its liberation, ‘The very earth was reduced to its original dust.'” (Quote is from “Romanticizing D-Day Ignores Thousands of Civilian Deaths” by Marc Workman in The Daily Beast, https://www.thedailybeast.com/romanticizing-d-day-ignores-thousands-of-civilian-deaths).
We were wandering around the castle (chateau means castle, which I didn’t know before going to France) the morning after we arrived and stumbled upon the yearly memorial service for the victims. It was moving to hear the words of a woman survivor, twelve at the time of the bombings, read aloud in French and English and followed by an excerpt of a diary written by one of the English liberators.
There were English soldiers there, representing those who were involved, and Scottish pipers, as well as schoolchildren singing the national anthem of both France and England. Most poignant of all were the old soldiers, one of whom had to be helped away to a seat because he couldn’t stand for the whole ceremony.
I know it’s a cliche, but you would think after so many years of innocents suffering, we would find a way to stop fighting.
There were poppies growing wild everywhere, and they always remind me of that poem, “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae. It was written after WWI, but remains a sorrowful reminder of the losses of war beginning “In Flanders fields the poppies blow, Between the crosses, row on row …” If you’ve never read it, go here: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47380/in-flanders-fields.So when I saw this poppy crushed in the dirt of Normandy, it seemed a symbol of how we’ve treated the sacrifices of those who came before us.
Update: We saw “That’s All Brother” at Oshkosh again this year.
As you can see from the photos, the view was much different.