Usually, you can tell how much I like a place when you weigh up the number of times that I have been to a place. I can be a creature of habit. I like returning to places that I like. Obviously, this can be difficult with some of the more far-flung places that I have travelled to. However, there are some places on this planet that I just cannot get enough of and I would happily spend hours just sitting (or standing) and exploring or just milking in the atmosphere.
Ever since I was a young lad and our family camping holidays often had up stopping along the Normandy beach coastline, I have been fascinated with what happened at D-Day and beyond. I have visited this area many times and each time I have made sure that I have time to explore the various museums and places that have been made famous by the stories and exploits through June 1944. I revel in discovering a new display or place that I have not been to before. But, there is also a list of a few places that I just have to visit again and again. I really could not tell you how many times I have been to the place of Pointe du Hoc on the cliff edge of the Omaha beaches – its probably about 10 times. I went as a child and now have brought my own children to run through the artillery blasted landscape.
Pointe du Hoc (made famous in the classic war film ‘The Longest Day’) was a major target in the early hours of D-Day due to the location of the massive 155mm German guns that were built into the cliff edge. The guns were protected by 100m high cliffs and the plan was for the US 2nd Ranger Battalion to scale the cliffs using ropes, grapple hooks and ladders (some ‘borrowed’ from the London Fire Brigade’) to scale the cliffs and ensure that the guns remained inactive.
The area is now preserved as a memorial to the battle for Normandy and many of the bomb craters (from the naval bombardment prior to the start of the battle) have been retained and you can still see many of the fortifications that the Germans had built as part of their Atlantic Wall.
The whole area is now under the management of the American Battle Monuments Commission and visitors are invited to explore the fortifications and casemates that were built for the guns. The reality is that this is one of a number of different battlefield sites that I love to visit including the guns as Maisy Battery and Longues sur Mer, the Omaha beach US cemetery and some of the small locally-owned museums in the area that display different artefacts from the time. Even though I am a geographer, this area has always sparked my interest in history and in particular military history and movements. I have always been fascinated about the decisions that were taken to use the lie of the land (including old holiday maps and more recently taken covert photographs) to decide how to quickly and decisively gain a foothold in Europe that would eventually lead to vistory in Europe.
(c) T Manson, 2021. All images copyright by the author