The next day I drove my brother to the Calvados Department where the temperatures were almost freezing! The strong winds did not make things any better and so we had to bundle up like Eskimo babies just to keep warm. Our first stop was Arromanches-les-Bains, a modest seaside resort which owes its fame to the gigantic landing operation which took place in June 1944. In the roadstead of the little port are the remains of a Mulberry harbor, the most extraordinary industrial and maritime achievement of the war. Arromanches harbor was chosen as the landing point for Mulberry B for British troops, while Mulberry A for the Americans was taken to Omaha Beach. More about Arromanches can be read here at my posting from 21 NOVEMBER 2009. The establishment of these artificial ports meant the laying of 146 Phoenix caissons, representing 500,000 tons of concrete (each one was 7 meters long, 20 meters high and 15 meters wide; 33 jetties and 16km of floating “roads”. Mulberry B at Arromanches, later known as Port Winston, enabled 9,000 tons of material to be landed each day. Several Phoenix caissons are still there today. Nearby is the Musée du Débarquement. It contains a collection of models, photographs, dioramas, arms and equipment of the Allied forces. Sadly, it was closed when we arrived because it was still so early in the morning. Our next stop took us directly to Bayeux, the first French town to be liberated (7 June 1944) and was fortunate not to have been damaged during the war. Along the Quai de l’Aure one has a fine view of the river, the water mill in what was once the tanning district. The arched bridge, the old fish market and the towers of the cathedral in the background. Notre-Dame Cathedral still keeps watch over this charming, old-fashioned town and the Bayeux Tapestry presents its unique record of the events of 1066 to the visitor. The Bayeux Tapestry is displayed in the Centre Guillaume le Conquerant in an impressive 18th century building, which was a seminary until 1970. It is displayed under glass around the walls of the specially designed Harold Room. The origins of the tapestry are unknown. It was probably commissioned in England soon after the conquest from a group of Saxon embroiderers by Odo of Conteville, Count of Kent and Bishop of Bayeux, to adorn the cathedral he had just had built. It appears in the cathedral’s Treasury Inventory for 1476. In the 18th century it was wrongly attributed to Queen Matilda. The embroidery is in colored wool on a piece of linen 50cm high by 70 meters long. Click HERE to see the tapestry in its entirety. The work is the most accurate and lively document to survive from the Middle Ages and provides detailed information on the clothes, ships, arms and general lifestyle of the period. The illustrations give a very realistic account of the events of 1066. From the initial rivalry between Harold and William to the conquest and final Norman victory the story is told in 58 detailed scenes. The English are distinguished by their moustaches and long hair, the Normans by their short hairstyles, the clergy by their tonsures and the women (three in all) by their flowing garments and veiled heads. Here are several photos I took with scene descriptions.
--Here Guy brings Harold to William, Duke of the Normans.
--Here Duke William and his army come to Mont-Saint-Michel and cross the river Couesnon. Duke Harold gives proof of his courage and strength by rescuing two Normans from some quicksand; he carries one on his back and drags the other to safety with his right hand.
--Here Duke William’s soldiers do battle with the men of Dinan. Two soldiers with torches are trying to set fire to the fortress. Above right is Conan; on the tip of his lance hang the keys to the city, which William receives on the tip of his own weapon.
--The appearance of Halley’s Comet (in the upper border) causes great consternation among all who see it. It was visible in England from February 1066 onwards, reaching its maximum brightness at the end of April. This comet was regarded as an ill omen and it inspired terror. The presentation of Harold to his people is thus directly followed by the suggestion that his coronation took place beneath an ‘evil star’. The new King is clearly also perturbed by the comet. Harold sits listening, head to one side, as a man addresses him. The Tapestry seems to imply that they are talking about the impending invasion by a Norman fleet, for beneath the King’s feet we see ghostly ships in skeletal outline.
--Here Duke William crosses the sea in a great ship and arrives in Pevensey. After a delay of two weeks, the ships crossed the Channel on the night of 27/28 September. The bulk of the army was Norman, though Bretons, Flemings, Frenchmen and Italians also took part. The ‘great ship’ is the Norman flagship, the Mora, with a wooden human figure mounted on her sternpost.
--The Tapestry shows the Anglo-Saxons forming a shield-wall and repulsing a cavalry attack on two sides. We thus see Harold’s troops for the first time; they are armed and armored in the same way as their opponents, but they fight only on foot. The lower border now fills with casualties.
--Duke William tips back his helmet to show his face. The man riding ahead of the Duke is possibly Count Eustace of Boulogne. A long line of archers in the lower margin accompanies the renewed cavalry charge.
Notre-Dame Cathedral is a fine Norman Gothic building. Only the towers and the crypt remain from the original church, which was completed in 1077 by Odo of Conteville, King William’s turbulent companion in arms whom he eventually had to restrain. The portal of the south transept is pure in style; the tympanum over the door shows the story of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was assassinated in his cathedral on the orders of Henry II. The well-lit nave is a blend of Romanesque and Gothic dating from the 13th century. The St-Pierre chapel in the north side contains this beautiful altarpiece called a retable depicting the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There are some chapels along the south side of the cathedral that still contain 15th century frescoes. Beneath the chancel is the 11th century crypt, which is divided into three small chambers, each of which contains six bays of groined vaulting. Above the decorated foliage of the capitals are 15th century frescoes (restored) of angel musicians. Just outside the cathedral is the rue Bienvenu with a beautiful timber-framed house decorated with wooden carvings inspired by religion and legend. Across the street we decided to have a typical Normandy lunch at the Au Louis d'Or Crêperie. Each of us chose something different and which we then shared while downing bowls of apple cider. Unfortunately we did not have time to wander the streets of Old Bayeux because we were in a hurry to get to the American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer. After visiting the brand new Visitor’s Center and Museum, we walked down to Omaha Beach along a small path, which winds down the cliffside. After making it back to the top again we explored the vast cemetery with its 9,385 Carrara marble crosses. I’ve written about this place before in blog postings from 18 JAN 2010 to 22 MAY 2010. Check them out for more photos and a better understanding of what can be found in the cemetery. The American Battle Monuments Commission has a great site with even more information. This final picture is of the monument erected just outside of the cemetery to the US 1st Infantry Division. Running out of daylight, we hurried on to La pointe du Hoc. The Jurassic limestone plateau ends in a tall cliff (over 30 meters) dominating the lower rocky shoreline at Grandcamp. The Germans heavily defended la pointe du Hoc; their observation post covered all that sector of the sea where the American invasion fleet appeared on the morning of 6 June 1944. As the troops landing on Omaha Beach would have been particularly vulnerable to attack from this battery the American commander ordered a naval bombardment in which the Texas fired 600 salvoes of 14-inch shells. The 2nd Battalion of specially trained Rangers captured the position by assault at dawn on 6 June scaling the cliffs with ropes and extendable ladders but not without heavy losses – 135 Rangers out of 225. It took the full force of the commandos of the 116th Regiment of the US infantry, assisted by tanks, to subdue the German defences. You can read more at my blog posting from 3 JANUARY 2010. The gaping craters and battered blockhouses give some idea of the intensity of the fighting. A slim granite column on the edge of the cliff commemorates the battle. Our last stop for the day was in La Cambe. This is the final resting place for over 21,500 German soldiers who fell in the fighting of 1944. You can read more about it on my previous posting from 22 MAY 2010. The only photo I took on my brother’s final day was this one in my living room. That morning I had to get up very early to take him to Caen to catch a Brittany Ferry for Portsmouth. We had a fantastic time together and I can’t wait for him to visit again.