The next milestone since the D-day invasion in 1944, is the 70th anniversary in 2014. As each year passes, there are fewer veterans alive and the 70th anniversary may be the last time we see some of these great men attend the celebrations in Normandy.
A few months ago, whilst taking a walk on Utah Beach, I had a conversation with an English gentleman about the D-day landings. He was asking questions to some of the other people who were looking at a monument and as I knew the answer to his question, I enlightened him. What struck me about this man was his sheer ignorance of what had happened here. Having grown up on a diet of war films, action man and airfix models, I assumed that everybody had a vague idea of what happened in Normandy. How wrong could I have been.
It turns out that this man had come to see what all the fuss was about and found it hard to believe that people would actually visit places like this. At the time of this conversation, the D-day museum at Utah Beach was being extended and the new wing was due to open in the spring of 2011. Although this man wasn't nasty, the statements he made were, in my opinion, disrespectful. His response to the extension of the museum was that they probably needed to fill it with "tatt" to attract more tourists. Was there some truth in this statement? Probably yes if it meant attracting people like him!
Normandy is a special place and it is hard to imagine what happened here all those years ago. There are enough reminders but without them, and the knowledge of what happened here, yes, you could be anywhere. What makes this part of France special is the history. It is easy to overlook things, especially when you live here; but what happened here, changed the course of history.
Although we are relatively new to the area, we are doing our best to honour the memory of the brave soldiers who liberated France and the rest of Europe. In the short space of time we have been here, we have had the honour of meeting many great people. What makes those people great is the determination they have in doing their bit to preserve the memory of World War 2. Sure it is true that many need to make a living from it, as we do, but it is a lifestyle choice. The choice we have made is to pursue a passion and to share that passion with people who come to Normandy.
Paul Woodage is a good example of one of those people. Although I have not had the pleasure of meeting him yet, he came to Normandy to establish Battlebus. He successfully ran the Normandy battlefield tour bus company for many years and from comments littered everywhere on the Internet, he has shared his knowledge and passion with thousands of tourists from all corners of the world. I am not sure if he has been honoured in some way for his efforts, but in my humble opinion, people like him should be. Without that sort of passion, will the memory of D-day fade? In the opinion of the gentleman on Utah Beach, it probably has already and we are clutching at straws to make a living from what interest is left.
So the big question is: are we clutching at straws? In my opinion no! We are doing our bit to preserve the memory of D-day and if you would like to come and have a D-day beaches holiday, we would be more than happy to welcome you to our home.
For the record, Paul has now discontinued the Battlebus service and is now doing private tours. His website is called D-day Historian and if you are planning on visiting Normandy, his services come highly recommended.