I passed through narrow village streets that
seemed to be commonplace in this part of rural France. The US
cemetery was closed, a sign that I should have set out earlier if
I were to pay tribute to the American soldiers. (It is open till
except on Christmas and New Year’s Days.) This cemetery is on a
cliff overlooking Omaha Beach, and the Memorial of the Gardens of
the Missing is one of the most beautiful structures for the US
Undeterred, I went down to Omaha Beach, finding
weather that was not unlike what the invading forces would have
encountered: grey and depressing. I was seeing this in colour, but
the grey tones were identical to what was in the film version of
The Longest Day.
I wrote in an email to my father that evening,
‘I can appreciate why the film was in black and white: not only
for art, but because the grey, drab colours are really what the
beach is like. Everywhere else in France it is sunny and relatively
colourful but here it is flat and grey.’
|In many respects the
staff—Madame and her two waitresses—seemed to mirror
the long-running British sitcom ’Allo ’Allo!
As a postscript to this, I later saw Saving
Private Ryan, which despite the verisimilitude of the battle
did not reflect the location was convincingly. In any case, the
Allieds were fairly close to being sitting ducks for the Nazis as
they drew near this beach. Europe would probably have German for
its national language if not for what happened 60 years ago; the
world was fortunate to have had a President who acted, rather than
ignored, an Axis attack on American soil.
With the addition of the US
military to the armies that were already fighting Hitler’s menace,
World War II ensured the freedom of all Europeans, including the
many Germans who objected to Nazism. It would be worth a return
to Normandie, if only to pay respects to the US
forces that I was unable to visit.
HE TOWN nearest here is Port-en-Bessin, the first fishing harbour in Lower Normandie. Sixty years ago, it was an important military supply port. Brochures
here proudly reminded visitors that it was the first town to be
part of PLUTO (Pipe Line Under The
Ocean), which brought fuel to the armies from offshore tankers.
Highlights here include a museum, the Musée des Epaves sous-marines
du Débarquement, which features remains from warships sunk
on or around D-Day. There is a film show on here, too, although
I was more keen on getting dinner.
On the rue du Nord, I found the King Hotel a reasonable
place to stay. American Express was not accepted, but I had sufficient
cash (€35 for a double
room, with a car park. However, in this small town, street parking
was not impossible, and luckily so, since there were only about eight spaces for
the King’s 34 rooms). The telephone connection in the suite was
rather poor and I could not use my calling card; connecting to the
internet was a joke. The television didn’t function properly without
a remote. But it was a bed (albeit not that firm) and shower—and a place to put down my
bagages before dinner. I couldnt hear the neighbouring rooms, which was another bonus, but that seemed more through fortune than design at the King.
The neighbourhood seemed pleasant, too, and it was not a bad deal for a no-star establishment.
Down the road from the King was Le Vauban, a small
restaurant that I chose because of its speciality: fish. However,
this is Port-en-Bessin: everybody’s speciality is fish. I
did not regret the choice: it was a nice establishment and I took
the last table. The menu with plenty of dishes with what the chef
called a Normandie sauce on them, though for me my choice of veal—I
decided to be daring—seemed a trifle salty. The service was faultless:
these folks were used to tourists, and in many respects the staff—Madame
and her two waitresses—seemed to mirror the long-running British
sitcom ’Allo ’Allo!.
I had not gone off my habit of collecting matchbooks
and matchboxes from places I visited, but sadly, they were not available
here at Le Vauban. At under €15,
it was a worthwhile meal, meaning my stay in Port-en-Bessin was
The next morning, I decided to go jogging and
essentially found friendly locals willing to say a ‘Bonjour.’ Not
many jogged here, so I was obviously a tourist, but the town was
coming to life: fishermen were already out, while delivery-men did
their rounds. The King was slow to get its breakfast ready: I could
have spent a lot more time taking in every street of Port-en-Bessin.
At the King, I bumped into a couple of 50-something
New Zealanders who happened to be holidaying, although they now
lived in Europe. They were still getting in as I planned my departure,
and noted that the check-out staff were less friendly than the check-in
ones. However, I was still delighted from the friendliness of the
other locals, who wanted me to leave with a good impression of their
home. They succeeded: as I drove Normandie’s coastal route toward
Dieppe, I remembered the bright side of Port-en-Bessin, and even
the King Hôtel, rather fondly. More importantly, I enjoyed
the freedom for which hundreds of thousands of our armed forces
fought. We have a lot to be thankful for.
Jack Yan is founding publisher of Lucire.
Port-en-Bessin, the first part of the former pipeline for the Allied
troops after D-Day. ABOVE, FROM TOP:
Gates to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, closed after
5 p.m. Another view of Port-en-Bessin. Omaha Beach: still greyand
easy to imagine how many gave the ultimate sacrifice.