On the 69th anniversary of D-Day, I guess it’s appropriate to post about an enjoyable interlude we had this week en route to Cherbourg to catch the Irish Ferries boat back to Ireland.
As usual, we had some time to kill and decided that a walk on a beach followed by lunch would do the trick. Utah Beach is a nice place to visit and boasts a fine flat sandy beach, which probably contributed to its selection for D-Day, so we headed there. About 5km from Utah Beach, we passed through the small village of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, which was captured by the U.S. 101st parachute division on D-Day and found that the whole village seemed to have been taken over by people dressed in 1944-style uniforms together with a huge selection of vintage military vehicles. The collection included a German Kubelwagen, something that you don’t see that often in comparison to the frequent sightings of World War II U.S. equipment such as Willys Jeeps.
Our original intention was to return from Utah Beach to Cherbourg via Sainte-Mère-Église, another of the famous D-Day locations and home of the Auberge de John Steele (named after the paratrooper who was caught on the steeple of the village church and heavily featured in the film “The Longest Day”), where experience tells that an excellent lunch is served. However, curiosity took us back to Sainte-Marie-du-Mont where we stopped to find out what was going on.
The first thing to say about the village is that it boasts an extraordinary church that is well worth visiting in its own right. Dating back to 1060, this church has seen many historical events, including those of D-Day where the Germans used its steeple as an observation post until they were dissuaded to leave by some well-aimed artillery (the steeple was repaired in 1946). But in this case the action lay all around the church where tents had been set up to emulate what might have been the scene on or soon after D-Day. A first-aid post was available together with a military police tent and many other “pup” tents as used by individual soldiers. I was interested to find that the majority of the people who were acting as U.S. soldiers (paratroopers, rangers, and plain old infantry) were French, Belgian, or Dutch.
The smell of barbecue seems to complement the Glen Miller and other hits that were being played over loudspeakers. Normally I stay well clear of barbecue pits as their output can play merry hell with my stomach. But hunger is a great motivator and we purchased some sausages (made locally, or so the sign said) in baguettes. The sausages were thick and long and might not have been cooked to the degree preferred by the food safety people (the vendor had some trouble with his charcoal) and the accompanying frites were greasy, not to put too fine a point on it. But eating in the open air surrounded by militaria and people obviously happy to be engaged in a historical re-enactment made the food disappear fast. Our stomachs have only just recovered!
Coffee beckoned before leaving, so we went to the Creperie Montoise, facing the church, and had some excellent crepes. It would have been nice to have had more time available to learn more about why Sainte-Marie-du-Mont had been taken over, but tide and ferries don’t wait.
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