Normandy Contrasts

Today I had a fairly modest goal –
to get to Ranville from Arromanches. Two reasons, to pay my respects at the
British dead at the Cemetery and visit the fairly new Pegasus Memorial. Both
guaranteed to get my arse on the grass, and they did not fail

Every time I step into a British
Cemetery, be it at Al Alamein, Hamburg, Lahore or Crete, my back involuntarily stiffens,
my eyes moisten and I salute the fallen. My pockets also charged with stones
for the few Jewish amongst the fallen. Ranville was especially moving because there
lay paratroopers and glider troops.

The Cemetery at Ranville as in the
other British cemeteries, included the graves of Germans who had fallen. Side
by side they lie. Their gravestones only slightly different to the British
inasmuch as they were not curved at the top but slightly pointed. The SS always
buried their own unless blown to smithereens, so these were ordinary Wehrmacht
troops. Aged 18 to 24. Particularly moving was the churchyard adjacent to the
British Cemetery. A group of 47 British men who had landed on the 6th
were all killed on that or the next day and were buried along the wall of the local
cemetery, along with one German. Placed in the middle of the 42 Brits. Now can
you imagine finding the grave of a single German, let alone hundreds in the
American Cemetery above Omaha?

And then we have the new Pegasus Monument
at Ranville, opened in 2006 by Prince Charles in his Para uniform. Few museums
besides the concentration camps bring one in closer contact with what happened
on the ground a few meters away. The taking of Pegasus bridge by paratroopers
and glider troops, the blowing up of several others and the eventual securing
of the left flank with Sword, of the left flank of Operation Overlord. It
became the pivot around which the invasion swung on its route to Paris. An
Operation of enormous importance to the entire venture, but stuck away in a
tiny corner of the entire invasion strip and visited only, it seemed to me, by
those who know their stuff. No busloads. Sorry, only one. Of French troops come
to study the battle. I had three conversations with men my age. They visit
every year because they have uncles and fathers buried there. And one with a
young French Captain of the paras. He said the operation was” on the syllabus”
and that he was filled with pride to visit the site. Not one single American
that I could spot and I really took my time looking and listening. What a
shame.  I thought that it must just be one
of those days, but I think not.

Driving back to Arromanches the
roadsigns advertising other landings appeared again. There was not one single
advertisement about Pegasus along any of the roads leading to Ranville.
When I reached Arromanches I wanted
to put my theory to the test and drove further west. Within minutes Omaha was
advertised everywhere.

A rich day and a sad day. The Allies being allies in name only.

But my thoughts now hover around one
young man, buried in the little church cemetery at Ranville amidst 47 Brits. His
grave as assiduously attended as any other. One of the unknown. “Ein Deutches
Soldat”. What fate led him to be buried alongside D. Colquhoune, Signals, Airbourne
in a small French cemetery in Normandy?

Howard Gamble

Ranville, 5th July 2011

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