Visiting The D-Day Beaches in Normandy

Visiting The D-Day Beaches in Normandy

Did you know that when the Allied Troops landed on the D-Day beaches, they were accompanied by a bagpipe player? Private Bill Millin, also known as Piper Bill, was ordered by the British commander, Brigadier Lord Lovat,  to play the bagpipes to keep the soldiers’ spirits up.

Piper Bill

Traditionally, Irish and Scottish troops had been lead into battle by bagpipes.  The War Office though had stopped the custom because so many pipers had been slaughtered during World War I.  Lord Lovat ignored the orders though for his own battalion, the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, the only Scottish battalion on D-Day.  Lovat ordered Piper Bill to play because as far as he was considered the English War Office orders didn’t apply to the Scottish.  Piper Bill was the only piper on D-Day.

Piper Bill, only 21 years old, landed on Sword Beach, dressed in the kilt his father had worn in World War I, armed only with his bagpipes and his traditional black knife tucked into his kilt-hose.  He later admitted he was really cold because he wasn’t wearing underpants as was the usual custom of kilt-wearers.

While soldiers were falling under gunfire all around him, he kept playing and marching up and down the beach.  Later he was told the Germans didn’t fire at him because they thought he was crazy and felt sorry for him.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHLMI3Oga1A]

Piper Bill played his pipes for another 4 days before eventually his bagpipes got destroyed by shrapnel.  Piper Bill survived the war and lived until 2010.  There is a statue of Piper Bill on Sword Beach.

Piper Bill Statue

The story of Piper Bill was one of the many stories we heard last year in June when we went with my son’s Boy Scout troop to visit the D-Day beaches in Normandy.  On the 70th anniversary of D-Day, many commemorative events were scheduled for the summer of 2014.  The Trans-Atlantic Council of the Boy Scouts joined in these events to ensure a future generation duly remembered the sacrifices of their grandfathers.

The D-Day Beaches

On D-Day (June 6, 1944) 156,000 Alied troops battled their way onto the French mainland onto 5 separate beaches.   The British and Canadians invaded at Sword, Juno and Gold beaches.  The Americans invaded at Omaha Beach and Utah Beach.

The D-Day plan of attack

The D-Day plan of attack

Piper Bill landed with the British troops at Sword Beach which was chosen because of its nearness to the city of Caen.  This city would be important for the Allies to capture because all the main roads in the area ran through Caen.

The Canadians landed at Juno Beach in order to establish a link between the two British landing spots of Sword and Gold. The Juno Beach Centre is Canada’s museum for the 45,000 Canadians who lost their lives fighting in World War II.

Visiting the D-Day Beaches of Normandy
The British also landed at Gold Beach to establish a Mulberry Harbour off its coast. The Allied forces needed to unload supplies for the landing troops but the Germans held all the ports.  A Mulberry Harbour was a feat of engineering whereby prefabricated concrete sections were towed to Normandy and assembled on-site to create a port the size of Dover in England.  Today you can see the portions of the pre-fabricated sections still left off-shore Gold Beach in the picture below.

Gold Beach

Gold Beach today

The wide, sandy D-Day beaches are beautiful today.  You can see, however, how easy it would be for the Germans to pick off the Allied troops as they landed.

Omaha Beach

Omaha Beach

Thousands of soldiers were indeed shot dead by the German troops.  The statue, Les Braves by French sculptor, Anilore Banon, commemorates the more than 9000 soldiers who fell on Omaha Beach.  The stainless steel arms rise up to the sky symbolising hope, freedom and brotherhood. The American cemetery at Colleville-sur-mer overlooks Omaha Beach.

Les Braves Memorial

Why Visit the D-Day Beaches?

The 70th commemoration of D-Day in 2014 probably marked the last time that a significant number of World War II veterans would be able to attend such an event.  With the passage of time, the events of World War II are receding into the mist of history.

Until we visited the beaches, we had not fully comprehended how difficult the landings would have been or the courage it took to march into near-certain death.  Our children definitely gained a better understanding of World War II and the horror of war by visiting the battle sites of Normandy.

 

There are some excellent memorials, museums and monuments on the Battle of Normandy being maintained by a dedicated team.  It is good for everyone to remember that freedom comes with a price tag.

 

Resolving to Travel

Resolving to Travel

My New Year’s resolutions tend to fall by the wayside quickly.  Usually by January 2nd.  So, can a resolution be something you are going to do anyway? We travel a lot and it’s fun trying to narrow down the options of where we want to go.  So, I’m resolving to set out some of our travel plans.  I think of it as a win/win.

world travel

Here are some places that have caught my fancy and I’m lining up the options for Mr. N and me to discuss.

Val d’Isere, France

We’ve been skiing at Val d’Isere with friends the last 2 years.  We liked it so much we are going again!  Skiing can be a bit of a hassle with young children so we are sticking with the tried and tested.

val d'isere

Normandy, France

We are planning on going this year to Normandy for the 70th anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy.   The commemoration will occur from June through August with a series of fireworks, parades etc.  This event may also be the last major anniversary attended by soldiers who were present for the actual battle.

d-day anniversary kiss

photo: www.the70-thenormandy.com

Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, USA

We also spend time at our summer house in the USA when we are not renting it out.  Summer wouldn’t be the same for our children until they get their fix of this idyllic island.

vineyard sign

Bucks County, Pennsylvania, USA

No doubt, we’ll spend time with our friends and family up and down the East Coast of the USA.  My parents have retired to a particularly beautiful part of Pennsylvania which is only over the border from Southern New Jersey. I love the rolling farmland and national parks a fairly short drive away (for the USA).  For example, on Christmas Day we went to Washington Crossing Historic Park.  They had a re-enactment of George Washington’s famous crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas Day 1776 which I will write about later.

washington crossing

The Outer Banks, North Carolina, USA

One trip we are planning is renting a house with friends in the Outer Banks, a series of barrier islands of the coast of North Carolina.  We will definitely visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial and my airplane-mad son will be delighted.  On a remote sandbar in North Carolina, history was made when an aircraft made its first flight in 1903.  Populated with wild horses, scenic drives, beautiful beaches, the Outer Banks are a very popular American tourist destination.

mustangs

OK, that’s as far as I have gotten.  I’m going to wait to spring my wish to go to Egypt on Mr. N at a later date.  I’ve wanted to go for ages and the children have now studied Ancient Egypt at school. I think they would love to see for themselves all the cool things about which they have learned.  Mr. N is understandably worried about the safety issues of travelling there at this time.

So, what are your travel plans for this year?  Have you thought that far ahead?