Nov. 1, 2015

London in a Day

Saturday the 23rd was our last day.  We took the Eurostar From Paris to London through the chunnel and we were there in 2 1/2 hours.  Our two stops were the Tower of London and the Churchill War Bunker which were good choices for us given the theme of our entire trip.  

Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, known as the Tower of London, is a historic castle located on the north bank of the River Thames in central London.  We think of it as the "tower aspect" where political prisoners, cast off wives and other "enemies" of the crown were held and sometimes executed.  But it is really the royal palace and fortress built by William the Conqueror in the 1070's. Built from luminous Caen stone, William's "White Tower" was extended and strengthened by his successors – most notably Henry III and his son Edward I - throughout the Medieval period. By 1350 the Tower had taken on the impressive form we see today.  There is much to see here, everyhing from torture rooms to armor to the original Crowns and the Crown Jewels (priceless!).  I liked the grounds and how good a shape it is in.

After waiting line in the rain (naturally) our last stop was the tuor of Churchill's War Room (or bunker). This was built under WhiteHall near 10 Downing Street in the basement just after WWII had begun.  It was kept as a secret for most of the war, Churchill and his War Cabinet with their support staff worked there every day through the entire war.  Many lived there as well (Churchill only slept there a few occassions).  What makes this tour so special is that it is in exactly the condition it was when the war was over in September 1945.  Documents, letters, maps, pens pencils, everything is as if they are returning to take up on their work tomorrow.  For any student of WWII and the British war effort this is a must see.  An addition since I was last there in 1994 is a separate small Churchill museum exhibiting his life story.

Nov. 1, 2015

Museum of the Army Napoleon's Tomb

We returned to Paris on Thursday the 22nd.  Evening dinner was at an Irish pub across the street from the hotel watching the baseball playoffs on our iPad (why not?!) On Friday we spent most of the day at the Army Museum a few blocks from the hotel followed by some shoping at Toys 'R Us (Dylan) and other shops (Monika).  

The Army Museum at Les Invalides was originally built by Louis XIV as a hospital and home for disabled soldiers. It now houses the Tomb of Napoleon and the museum of the Army of France. The museum has a huge collection of military paraphernalia dating from antiquity to the present day.  Lots of armor and early fire arms on display. The Musée de L'Armée was established in 1905 by merging the Artillery Museum and the Historical Army Museum. It contains 500,000 objects, including weapons, armour, artillery, uniforms, emblems and paintings.

The other big attraction is the magnificent Tomb of Napoléon; Napoléon passed away in 1821, on the island of St Helena, where he had been in exile since 1815. His remains rested there until 1840 when King Louis-Philippe ordered the emperor’s body be returned to France.  The museum has a large walk through exhibit of France's "modern" wars, Franco-Prussian in 1870, WWI in 1914 and WWII in 1940.  This is the best part of the entire museum, a great hands on and visual history lesson.

The Tomb of Napoléon, designed by the architect Visconti (1791-1853). It is made from red porphyry with a green granite base and circled by a crown of laurels and inscriptions of the great victories of the Empire. The body of the Emperor was laid in the tomb on April 2nd 1861. (see pictures in Photo Album)

Oct. 31, 2015

British Cemetery at Bayeux

Our last stop on Wednesday was the The Bayeux War Cemetery, the largest WW II cemetery of Commonwealth soldiers in France.  The cemetery contains 4,648 graves mostly of the invasion of Normandy. Opposite this cemetery stands the Bayeux Memorial with more than 1,800 casualties of the Commonwealth forces who died in Normandy and have no known grave.  In addition to the Commonwealth burials, there are 466 graves of German soldiers.

It is a beautiful site and unique in that the grave stones are in regtangular garden plots with flowers and greenery, as in a British garden.  Compared to the grave stones at the American Cemetery, the ones here contain more details, including a personal inscription from the soldier's family.  The gravestones are in the process of being replaced with hardier ones as after 70 years many are deteriorating.  As it was in the American cemetery, the walk though here is very emotional.  It brings one closer to those heroes from 70 years ago.  It is so fitting they are at rest in the land they liberated.

Oct. 31, 2015

Bayeux Cathedral and Tapestry

On Thursday the 22nd we did the last part of our Normandy tour visiting the Cathedral at Bayeux and the 950 year old tapestry on display acrros the street. Bayeux Cathedral was the original home of the Bayeux Tapestry.  and is a national monument of France.  The Cathedral was consecrated on 14th July 1077, by Bishop Odo of Conteville, in the presence of his illustrious brother,William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy and King of England. It is believed that Odo commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry. The masterpiece from the Middle Ages was probably intended to be hung in the cathedral nave. The tapestry is 70 meters long, and tells the story of William the Conqueror.  The scenes in the tapestry are part history and part propaganda (those who win write the history).  

Bayeux and the Cathedral was spared any damage from WWII.   

Oct. 29, 2015

Sword, Juno and Gold Beaches

 Later on Wenesday we continued to Sword, Juno and Gold beaches, the British and Cnadian landing sites. The British landed on Sword at 7:25 a.m., around the same time as at Gold but before Juno. Although moderate fire greeted them, they soon secured beach exits. Moving inland, they connected with the airborne units but faced relatively strong resistance in farmyards and villages. In a late afternoon counterattack, German forces made it all the way to the beach in one location, only to be turned back. The Allies would not be able to unite all five D-Day beaches until June 12.  

At Juno, Allied landing craft once again struggled with rough seas, along with offshore shoals and enemy mines. Upon finally disembarking, Canadian soldiers were then cut down in droves by Germans firing from seaside houses and bunkers. The first hour was particularly brutal, with a casualty rate approaching 50 percent for the leading assault teams.  After fighting their way off the beach, however, German resistance slowed immensely, and the march into the interior went quickly. In fact, the Canadians advanced further inland than either their American or British counterparts.  Remarkably, at Juno today is a beach house that contained German gun emplacements, called the Canadian House which is a private residence (see picture in photo album)

British troops landed at Gold, the middle of the five D-Day beaches, nearly an hour after fighting got underway at Utah and Omaha. The Germans initially put up robust resistance, but unlike in sharp contrast to Omaha, an earlier aerial bombardment had wiped out much of their defenses. British warships also proved effective. The cruiser HMS Ajax, sent one shell through a small slot in a German artillery battery’s concrete exterior (still there on the beach see photo).  Again unlike the killing field at Omaha, Within an hour, the British had secured a few beach exits, and from there they rapidly pushed inland. They also captured the fishing village of Arromanches, which days later became the site of one of the two famous Mulberry artificial harbors used by the Allies to unload supplies.  Off of the beach today the remains of the huge concrete cassons sunk to make the harbor are just offshore