RAIN!!! Finally!!!

It started raining last night and it’s been raining most of the day. This is the first time it’s rained here in 154 days! This broke the previous record of 145 days with no rain, from about 40 years ago.

Enjoy!

Armistice Day/Veteran’s Day

Not far from Paris is the small town of Meaux. This is where the Museum of the Great War is located.  (For more information, please visit their website www.museedelagrandeguerre.eu/en.html.)  Everything in the museum came from a single private collection of World War I memorabilia.  The tour in the museum starts with the end of the previous conflict between France and Germany in 1870, and ends with the Treaty of Versailles in 1918.  Plan on a few hours at the museum to learn about the causes and effects of the war.

There were several causes of the Great War, among them the alliances that formed in Europe between England, France and Russia to confront Germany; also, there was an alliance between Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Italy.  Some other causes were the assassinations of Jean Jaurès, the leader of the French socialists, and the Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand and his wife Isabella of Sarajevo.  The killing of Mr. Jaurès made it easier to rally the French workers to the national cause of war against Germany. The assassinations of the Crown Prince and his wife gave the excuse to declare war on Serbia.  Not long after, Russia mobilized their troops followed by France.  Germany declared war on Russia and France, then invaded Belgium which brought in England.  Germany then called on its alliance with Sarajevo and Italy, and boom.  All of Europe is at war.

The war raged for three years before America joined the fight.   It was the sinking of the Lusitania that was the impetus for joining the war effort.  Before that, America was refusing to join the war.

There was a huge push to produce more food, while consuming less and sending the surplus to save the French people.IMG_3916.jpg

The war quickly became stuck in the mud and trenches.  Conditions were bad at best and appalling at worst.  To give you an idea of what the trenches look like, there is a mock-up in the museum:IMG_3963.jpg

Above the trenches was “No man’s land”, or the space between the enemy trenches.  Many trenches were just yards apart, usually slightly further than one could throw a grenade. IMG_3969.jpg

To give you perspective from the trenches, sometimes soldiers would see this over the top of their bunker.  Not something to be happy about.IMG_3976.jpg

There was a large human cost to the war as well.  Thousands came home “shell shocked”, what we call PTSD today, and many thousands returned from the war wounded and maimed.  A new medical science had to be developed to cope with the injuries, and that is the field of prosthetics.  Every conceivable form of prostheses had to be developed for these former soldiers to even cope with life after the war.  Here is an image of the myriad forms of prosthetics developed.

After four long years of battle, the war ended on November 11, 1918, and the armistice was signed at 11:00am that morning, this became known as Armistice Day which we celebrate as Veteran’s Day today.  The treaty of Versailles was signed a few months later officially ended the war and set the stage for World War II.  Germany got the short end of the stick in the Treaty, they had to pay reparations to the rest of Europe, and rebuild their country at the same time.  This devastated their economy and allowed a young radical named Adolf Hitler to gain power in the country to rebuild the military, which was banned under the Treaty.

IMG_4097.jpgThis monument was built by the American Friends of France in 1932, and it was dedicated to memory and silent voices of those who gave their lives in the Battle of Marne, in September 1914.  This monument sits behind the Museum of the Great War.

A few miles away at Chateau-Thierry stands the American Memorial to the Great War. IMG_4114.jpgThe inscription reads: “This monument has been erected by the United States of America to commemorate the services of her troops and those of France who fought in this region during the World War.  It stands as a lasting symbol of the friendship and cooperation between the French and American Armies.”  The figures were sculpted by Alfred-Alphonse Bottiau, and represent Marianne (symbol of France) and Columbia (symbol of America) clasping hands to represent the lasting friendship between the two nations.

This monument was erected in 1930.IMG_4150.jpg

Underneath the monument is the American museum dedicated to the service of American troops in France during World War I.

A few kilometers away is Belleau Wood, the location of a fierce battle between the Americans and the Germans.  It is now the location of the US cemetery for World War I soldiers.  Sadly, we arrived just as they were getting ready to close the gates for the day. IMG_4228.jpgEvery soldier buried here received the Purple Heart individually, to their families posthumously, but there is one here for all the soldiers.IMG_4246.jpg

A stone’s throw from the American cemetery is the German cemetery for the Battle of Belleau Wood.

The white crosses in the background is the American Cemetery, and the German cemetery in the foreground.  Over 8,000 men are buried in the German cemetery, and about 67,000 men are buried in the American cemetery.

It was a very humbling experience to visit these locations and learn the history as it really happened.  My goal here is to convey a sense of history that normally isn’t discussed or viewed.  It’s my wish that everyone could visit these monuments, museums and cemeteries to gain a better understanding of our history so we don’t repeat it.  It’s also my wish to pay homage to these men for paying the ultimate sacrifice to pay for the freedom that exists in the world today.  I also wish to honor all those who have served and are serving in the Armed Forces today.

Happy Veteran’s Day,

Kelly

Paris Revisited

I have a few more planned posts of Normandy that I’m skipping by request from a friend to “get to Paris!” These posts are to revisit Utah Beach and Omaha Beach; also, for Point du Hoc, Longues sur Mer, Saint Mer Eglise, La Fiere Bridge and Pegasus Bridge.  I will publish these in the near future, so keep an eye out for them.

After arriving in Paris (and a lengthy stay at the police station-see my post Paris, and a Lesson Learned for details), I was able to explore the city with my friends as planned.  I was able to see the Eiffel Tower at a distance, but never got close.  I also wanted to photograph the Tower at night, but apparently they turn the lights off at 1:00am, so I missed it.  Although as compensation, we drove around the Arc du Triumph about six times while raising a ruckus.

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Not far away, is Napoleon’s Mausoleum and Tomb, these are next door to the Military Museum.  I will have a post on the Military Museum at a later time as well.

IMG_3557Napoleon’s Mausoleum IMG_3562Napoleon’s Tomb

Looking toward at the Military Museum and Napoleon’s Mausoleum:IMG_3585

By the way, the police station is under the far right side under the park.  Going the other direction is the River Seine and its magnificient bridge.IMG_3579

The River Seine, with the Eiffel Tower in the background:IMG_3588

No visit to Paris would be complete without visiting the Louvre.  We had actually planned it for this day since it was open later than normal, but that was scrapped because of the visit to the police.  On the second to last day in France, we were able to make it to the Louvre but they closed at 6:00pm, and we didn’t arrive until about 8:00pm.  It’s still an amazing place.

IMG_3788IMG_3808The Louvre is extremely large, this is inside one of its courtyards.

After leaving the Louvre, it’s easy to get lost in traffic even with a GPS unit, and what do you see when you get lost in Paris?  Why Notre Dame of course.  I was hoping to visit this magnificient edifice but that was dashed when it caught fire earlier this year.

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Paris is an amazing city.  There are many interesting things to see.  If you do visit, secure all belongings and don’t carry too much cash, especially on the subways.

Enjoy,

Kelly

Mont Saint Michel Revisited

I know it’s been several months since I’ve been to France, and a few weeks since I last posted.  First, my apologies.  I have so many posts that I have wanted publish, but I haven’t been able to sit down and write them.  Here is such a post.

IMG_2398I’ve done some research on Mont Saint Michel Abby, and it was first constructed in 800 AD by the Romans as a military outpost.  Later, it became a hallowed shrine by some monks from Ireland.  Within a few centuries, it was rebuilt as a Catholic Abby.

During the 100 Year War, it was fortified to withstand the sieges that happened here.  During this period the outer defenses were constructed around the village.  During high tide, it’s completely shut off from the mainland.

In the early 1700’s it fell in decline and was pretty much abandoned by the monks, so Napoleon took it over and converted it into a state prison facility for political dissidents.  By 1847, it was falling into neglect and disrepair, so Victor Hugo spearheadded a movement to save the Abby from desolation and destruction.  By 1900, it was again occupied by monks as a monestary.

I have been wondering why it wasn’t destroyed during World War II, and in my research, I found that it was occupied by the Nazis for almost the entire war.  There was a garrison in place to monitor radio communications, but that was pretty much it.  They revered this Abby so much that they were adamant that nothing happen to it.  It became a relaxation resort for German officers and their families during the war.  At the end of the war, an American journalist and another American soldier drove up to the gates of the Abby to visit it, and the German soldiers there immediately surrendured and the Abby was liberated.

I read somewhere that the treasures from this Abby were taken to Saint-Lo for safe keeping in the church there.  Sadly the city was devestated by the Americans to force the Germans out and all treasures were destroyed.  The treasures of Mont Saint Michel were ancient texts and writings.  However I haven’t been able to verify the accuracy of these events regarding the treasures of Mont Saint Michel.

During our visit, we were able to go into the village a bit, and wander about the outer wall.IMG_2537

The inner gate that looks like it could close off and defend the village and Abby at any time.  Inside, there is a weighted wall and portcullis that looks operational, along with a drawbridge.

Other views of the Abby from along the wall.

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Our visit the the Abby was at 10:00pm, just before sunset at 11:00pm.  Looks like we might not make it back to the mainland with the tide coming in…

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It was an enjoyable adventure, and if you ever get the chance to visit this amazing place, DO IT!!

 

Enjoy,

Kelly

Grandcamp-Maisy, France (Maisy Battery)

Imagine, if you would, a small idyllic town on the coast of Normandy about halfway between Utah Beach and Omaha Beach.  It has a nice pier, harbor and access to the English Channel.  This town is known as Grandcamp-Maisy, France. IMG_3621IMG_3627IMG_3628Not too far from town there are several farms.  Looking across these fields, it looks lovely, peaceful and a place you’d likely want to hang out for a while looking at the ocean.

IMG_2232You might want to look a tad closer, because there is something here that shouldn’t be.  Do you see it?  If you look closer, you’ll see a bit of concrete sticking out of the ground.  But then you turn around and look the other direction, and you’ll see something very strange.IMG_2231

Is that really there?  Yes, it is.  You’ve stumbled upon one of the most heavily fortified bunkers of the German Army, known as Maisy Battery.  This site was extremely top secret during WWII.  It was built in secret by prisoners of war from the Eastern Front in 1941-1942 as part of the Atlantic Wall defense system, and they were likely executed afterwards, but there’s no information on that.  Maisy Battery is thought to have been used to shell Utah and Omaha Beaches during the invasion.  However, both beaches are almost impossible to see from the observation mounds at the site.  It’s more likely used for shelling the ships to keep them away from the shore to stop an invasion.

IMG_2205 The people in Grandcamp-Maisy had no idea what was here, and they weren’t allowed into the area at all.  This site has 2.5 kilometers of trenches (over 2 miles), 4 large 155mm guns, several 2.5cm flak guns, bunkers, mess hall, and a field hospital.  The mess hall was completely destroyed in the bombing raid, and the field hospital was partially destroyed in the bombing raid and is now inaccessable.

IMG_2345IMG_2216These are the trenches in Maisy Battery.IMG_2144Maisy Battery had four of these 155mm guns.IMG_2153Staff BunkerIMG_2157Inside the bunker

The site also has a radio communications bunker that is surprisingly intact.  Normally they’re bombed out from shelling either by ship or by bazooka rockets.

IMG_2191This site has something that was only found in one other spot in Brittany, a RADAR Flak Control Center.  This was used to analyze incoming airplanes all along the French coast and sent out communications to flak guns up and down the coast shooting down Allied aircraft.

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What’s interesting to note, or disturbing to note depending on who you talk to, is the Ranger task force that was sent to capture Point-du-Hoc was also ordered to capture Maisy Battery, but they never did. They stayed at Point-du-Hoc guarding the road.  The radar site and flak guns at Maisy Battery were likely shooting at the aircraft that were dropping the 81st Airborne and the 101st Airborne.IMG_2323

Finally on 9 June 1944, the Rangers captured this battery and took dozens of German soldiers as prisoners of war. IMG_2129
Soon after the war was over, Maisy Battery was classified top secret and buried by the US government, literally buried.  It was covered by earth and smoothed over and returned to the citizens of Grandcamp-Maisy as farmland.  For 60 years this site was erased from the history of D-Day and all memory of existing.  Why?  No one knows for sure.

It wasn’t until 2006 when an avid military collector was looking through a pair of pants from WWII, and he found a map of the area that was only designated “heavy resistance”.  He looked into it further, purchased the property that was on the map and started digging.  To date, his team has unearthed a large portion of the Battery, trenches and bunkers.  Today, the Maisy Battery is open to the public and self tours are available.  It is now in the condition that the Rangers left it 75 years ago.

There is more to this story that is still unfolding.  Maisy Battery was recently featured on the Science Channel, part of the “Secret Nazi Bunkers” series.  For more information, please visit www.maisybattery.com

Enjoy,

Kelly

101st Airborne Memorial

After a long day of visiting the American Cemetery, the D-Day Experience, and other places around Normandy, we visited the 101st Airborne Memorial.  It’s on a corner next to a field that used to be Brecort Manor, away from town where they dropped behind enemy lines to secure key intersections, bridges and towns.  IMG_2097

We also visited Dick Winter’s Leadership Memorial, which was not far away.  IMG_2106

Right after we got there, a group of soldiers from the 101st Airborne arrived.  We talked for a while and had a wonderful conversation.  I was honored to take a portrait of one of the soldiers.  I’ve been looking for a way to get this image to him, but I have no contact information.

IMG_2101I hope he is able to see this post and if he does, please contact me for a high-res image that I will email.

Normandy American Cemetery and Museum Colleville-sur-Mer, France

I’ve been wanting to post this for a while now, but life seems to be getting in the way (that and my internet connection is extremely slow). I also know I’ve had a couple of posts already about the American Cemetery in Normandy, located on the bluff overlooking Omaha Beach. At the visitor center, there is an amazing museum that has artifacts and comprehensive displays of the history surrounding D-Day and what the costs were.

However, it was quite crowded there a couple of days before the 75th anniversary of D-Day, so we had quite a walk to get to the museum and cemetery. Along the way were vintage WWII vehicles, and a person well known for helping defeat Germany in the war, none other than Winston Churchill, of course this is a re-enactor, but hey, he looks the part.IMG_1986IMG_1991

The displays in the museum start with the occupying of France by Germany, how the French people were treated, and the Allies’ goal of liberating France.

It also has a replica of the Czech hedgehogs designed by Rommel as part of the “Atlantic Wall”. There were several layers of defense put in place all along the coast of the English Channel, here specifically are the coastal defenses.

The French Resistence played a major role in helping the Allies get intelligence about the occupying forces, their movements, etc., and they had to risk their lives to do so.  Even owning a radio was forbidden.

Did you know there was a training exercise for D-Day?  It was called Exercise Tiger, which had heavy casualties causing the US military to take actions for training so the actual invasion would be successful.

Operation Titanic was designed to take the focus off of the paratroopers landing in France, it consisted of dropping exploding dummies among troops to confuse the Germans.

There were displays of several US troops and their stories.  Here are three.

Hundreds if not thousands of civilians were also killed on D-Day and following the Allies’ arrival into France.  Saint-Lo was totally destroyed by air bombings in a matter of hours.  It was such an important crossroad that it was necessary to create a gap in German defenses.  I’ve read somewhere that the treasures from Mont Saint-Michel were taken to Saint-Lo for safe keeping but were destroyed in the bombings; however, I haven’t been able to verify that yet.

The human cost of the invasion was extreme: approximately 8,500 US and Allied troops were killed, wounded or went missing in action on D-Day alone.  Approximately 225,000 Allied troops were killed during the Normandy campaign, and about 18,000 French citizens were killed during this time as well.  The Germans suffered approximately 400,000 casualties during the liberation of Normandy.

Which brings us back to the American Cemetery.  In our history of engaging in war on foreign soil, we were never there for conquest or gain, only for freedom and liberation; all we ever asked for were plots of land to bury our gallant dead.

Bayeux Revisited

Bayeaux is a small city about 17km from the Normandy coast.  It is a beautiful place with narrow cobblestone streets.  The homes are reminiscent of old France.

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IMG_1965Bayeaux is a very old city, dating back to the 1st Century BC, known as Augustodurum when it was part of the Gallo-Roman Empire.  The city became part of the Roman Empire in the 5th Century.  It was later occupied by the Vikings from the 9th Century AD to about the 10th Century AD.  It was liberated by the Normans in the 12th Century, and was under the rule of William the Conqueror’s half brother Odo, Earl of Kent, who was instrumental in the construction of Notre Dame Cathedral de Bayeux and dedicated the Cathedral in 1077. IMG_1977

I can’t decide whether I like the black and white image of Notre Dame better, what do you think?

IMG_1977 bwBayeaux was then conquered by King Henry I of England after his father’s death in 1087 (Henry I was the son of William the Conqueror), and the city didn’t gain independence from England until 1450 by Charles VII of France.  It then prospered and grew to the present day.

During World War II, Bayeaux was the first city of the Battle of Normandy to be liberated.  On 16 June 1944, Charles de Gaulle made the first of two major speeches in which he made clear that France sided with the Allies.

IMG_1949The city was virtually untouched during the Battle of Normandy, since the German forces were fully involved defending Caen from the Allies.  The Bayeaux War Cemetery has the largest British cemetery dating to World War II in France.

On 5 June every year, at 1530 hrs (3:30pm for the rest of us), the Royal British Legion National attends a beating retreat ceremony at the cemetery.

On 6 June, at 1015 hrs (10:15am), there is a remembrance service in the Notre Dame Cathedral.  This year, French President Emmanuel Macron and British PM Theresa May were in attendance.  We happened to be there about an hour or two before their arrival, but we were unaware of this, so we left for Omaha Beach.

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I think that soldier in the far right corner is giving me a strange look, trying to decide what I’m up to, I guess.IMG_3553.JPGThis soldier was in the right place at the right time, since he looks to be joining his counterparts behind him in the window, smelling the wonderful food.

Enjoy,

Kelly