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Juno Beach - Now and Then

Courseulles-sur-Mer, Normandy. August 2018

 

I sit on the beach, absently raking fingertips through the warm sand while listening to the cheerful clamour all around. My fellow holidaymakers laugh, squeal, shout to one another, their shrill cries mingling with the raucous shrieks of the gulls wheeling and swooping overhead.

My gaze fixes on the waves lapping the shoreline. Each gentle splash and foaming spray is followed by the lulling jingle of shells and stones rolling back and forth under the swell. A child yelps as she finds a pretty shell among the broken remnants in the shallows. Turning, I see children running or digging with plastic spades, building sandcastles while parents watch with eyes as sharp as the greedy gulls.

I spot a couple basking in the sun, eyes closed. They lie close, skin touching skin, fingertips entwined. I smile.

Adjusting my sunglasses, I scan around. The beach is packed: mile upon mile of playful, stress-free people enjoying a beautiful, bright summer day. The scene is serene, peaceful, and as I sit observing, I become aware of a growing hunger growling in my stomach, triggered by the smell of donuts, pizza and burgers. The delicious scents of an appetising multi-cultural cuisine float on the air along with multi-national chatter: French, Italian, English, German…

Along the promenade, flags of all nations flutter from tall white posts and to my left, the French tricolour stands side-by-side with the distinctive maple leaf of Canada. Bigger than the other flags, they attract my eye as they flutter in the breeze, proudly guarding the memorial they flank.

And I imagine how different this scene was in June, seventy-four years ago. This same stretch of beach equally packed with people – and yet, horrifying worlds apart. The smell then was the acrid stench of smoke and diesel fumes. The shouts were urgent; the cries, those of pain. The gulls had gone, frightened away by the constant roar of machinery, the crack of rifle fire, thunder of bombs. The sea crashed ferociously upon the shore, whipped up by a summer storm. Fearsome waves battered the beach, the wild water tainted with blood.

I shiver in spite of the heat. Being here is bittersweet. The battle on these beautiful golden sands claimed so many and it’s because of their sacrifice that I can sit here now – that we all share this beach, together.

 

Tuesday, June 6th, 1944

The Allied infantry began landing on the Normandy beaches at 6:30 am and by midnight, over 150,000 British, US, and Canadian troops had landed. Despite the impressive numbers, D-Day was a massacre. Around 9,000 Allied soldiers were killed or wounded along with a further 4,000 German soldiers. Furthermore, it is estimated that between 15,000 and 20,000 civilians perished during the Normandy campaign.

 

 

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