Going to Normandy and the D-Day beaches was incredibly surreal. To stand on the sand where so many people fought for their country and subsequently lost their lives was something I will never forget. It was never something I thought I would be interested in, but to physically stand there was something else.
We went to as many cemeteries as possible, they’re all silent. Just people moving between the headstones, pausing to read the details, then silently moving along. At the American cemetery the odd grave had flowers laid down but the majority were untouched. However in the commonwealth cemeteries every single grave had flowers and gardeners tending to keep everything neat. It was nice to see people weren’t forgotten, people still remembered what they had each done for us.
The American cemetery was possibly the most intense, it’s almost difficult to take in over 9,000 headstones and you would easily need at least a whole day to get round it all properly. We walked around for a couple of hours but didn’t see every grave, and didn’t stop at as many as we’d have liked to. I physically couldn’t get a picture of every gravestone, it’s like looking out over a sea of white, each one representing a person who laid down their life.
It’s such a weird feeling, standing on the beaches and knowing that you’ll never fully be able to understand the things these people saw and went through. Yes you can watch films and documentaries, and read books about it until you know as much as physically possible, but you’ll never be able to comprehend what happened unless you were actually there. There’s signs and plaques every so often with little details and I remember being completely shocked at one that read
“I started out to cross the beach with thirty five men and only six got to the top, that’s all….”
– Lt Robert Edlin, 2nd Ranger Battalion
In each cemetery we tried to find at least one person with our surnames, we didn’t find any with the same spelling as Ben’s but there were so many with mine. One that really stayed with me was J Rose. I don’t have any reason for it to have stuck, but his was the one I will always remember. “4911764 Sergeant J.E. Rose, Parachute Regiment, Army Air Corps, 8th June 1944, Age 21” 21. Two years younger than I am right now, and that’s if he was being truthful when he enlisted.