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4 Over-the-top at Overlord

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    4 Over-the-top at Overlord

    We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the Windows buffet on deck 9, but the word buffet barely does it justice. There are lots of criticisms of the buffets on the mainstream lines, and sometimes with good reason. If anything speaks to a lack of a premium or high-end experience on ‘standard’ lines, it’s wandering round an over-full room full of partially occupied tables, whilst balancing a tray of rapidly cooling food in an atmosphere not dissimilar to a works canteen. Not Good.

    On Azamara, though there are fewer serveries the whole atmosphere is as far from works canteen as a finely calibrated espresso is to a builder’s mug of tea. They’re different experiences, and by golly we’ve grown to like this one. Everything looks fresh, and is presented as if they were watching for you coming and put it out just before you turned the corner. Egg dishes are cooked to order, and in a bewildering range of options.

    Double over easy’ called the waiter to his colleague ‘and sunny side up on Danish’’

    It sounded like a Scandinavian weather forecast, but the food coming the opposite way looked fantastic. The egg yolks were a deep, deep golden colour, which Mrs B told me indicated the hens that laid them hadn’t been near a cage. Some of the other alternatives are geared more to North American tastes but the expected British staples of a ‘full English’ are there too.

    Today we are in Cherbourg, at the tip of the Cotentin peninsula that served as the Western border of the allied landings. It is the 70th anniversary of D-Day, so all the local French dignitaries are around, together with many from around the world. The French CRS have all the roads in and out of the area shut down. Rommel had tried the same thing 70 years ago but failed, as we shall see.

    We were lucky in that the Journey has plonked itself and us right in the middle of town, so we had access to all the celebrations and activities culminating in a party last night commemorating the anniversary of the landings.

    Exactly 70 years ago last night, the local resistance would have been tuned to the BBC on their radios, as of course would the German Abwehr. At around 7pm they heard the announcer say ‘Les des sont sur le tapis’ meaning the dice are cast. This was the signal to start cutting cables and signal lines.

    A short while later came the message ‘I’ll fait chaud a Suez’. Apart from eerily and accurately predicting a later Anglo/French military catastrophe, the signal served to call the local Resistance to attack all the other lines of communication, which they did with bravery and conviction. The celebrations tonight will begin with a gong being struck by the mayor, and whilst it may not have some of the glamour of 1944, it promises to be a bit safer.

    This is the last 10-year anniversary of the landings, since even today there are not many veterans, and in another decade there will remain only a few centurions. There is a large and respectful French turnout for what they never refer to as the ‘invasion’ of D-day, but the ‘debarquement’. The word invasion is forever linked to the German occupation in 1940, and has a Pavlovian effect on the French psyche that isn’t a good basis for a party.

    Estimates vary, but around 50,000 French civilians died in June and July 1944, more than double the number of lost Allied and German troops combined. The bombing of Cherbourg and particularly the nearby city of Caen was, according to the historian Antony Beevor in his 2009 book, D-Day, so reckless as to be close to a war crime. The British and American bomber commands shrugged their shoulders and said they assumed that the cities had been evacuated. It’s another of the reasons the D-day commemorations have a slightly different flavour across the channel than they do at home.

    The cafes and bars all along the coast are full of modest old soldiers dressed as civilians, and brash young civilians dressed as soldiers. It’s quite a mix. In addition to the formal commemorations, events like this bring out those who like to rummage around in the dressing-up box a little too enthusiastically, and perhaps at an age when they should be supervising, not participating.

    The Wartime Re-enactment Society were there in numbers, with immaculately restored US jeeps and Renault ambulances, complete with bandaged casualties sucking on untipped Galoise cigarettes. The uniforms were historically accurate save for the Hugo Boss sunglasses and wide, gleaming smiles courtesy of modern dentistry. Had some of them been around during the blitz the air-raid wardens would have issued gumshields.

    You can see why so many young British girls fell for the GI’s. They were better prepared, better fed, and better dressed. US soldiers had about 6lbs of rations per day, compared to a little over half that for Brits, so you can see where the disparity came from. Just like in the real war, the American uniforms are the best amongst the Re-enactors, with more brass and more lavish decorations. US soldiers routinely wore sunglasses and chewed gum, and had all the bells and whistles a modern army could produce. For the Brits even the boss, Montgomery, only had a pipe and a stick.

    In a small quayside cafe we shared a table with an American extended family consisting of a low-slung couple in their sixties, their two sons in their forties, and in a wheelchair the veteran paterfamilias in white shoes, yellow & red tartan trousers and an ill-fitting baseball cap.

    He looked almost a comic figure but the cap bore the insignia of the 29th Division Association, meaning he’d been at Omaha beach. Omaha beach was the Americans’ Gallipoli, described as the abattoir of the Overlord invasion, where fewer than 30% of the first waves of troops survived. He’d earned the right to look ridiculous as far as I was concerned, and his family had every reason to look proud.

    The commemorations struck exactly the right note. It wasn’t a celebration, but neither was it a wake, and whilst there was optimism and hope for the future, it wasn’t at the price of forgetting the past. At the party we bumped into the delightful ‘Fossil’ of this and other parishes. He usually spends his days writing travel pieces but last night was commendably engaged in a one-man crusade ensuring the locals displayed the union flag with the same prominence afforded the stars and stripes.

    We rejoined our ship after 11pm an hour before departure, in another example of Azamara scheduling its stay to suit the passengers rather than their own accountants. As I write this the following morning we are enjoying a room service breakfast that tells us we’re already a world away from 1944 and ration packs. The theme continues today with my old friend Bill’s story from along the coast at Honfleur, from where more tomorrow.

    Max you are really bringing your experiences to life and I am picking up some interesting facts along the way, brilliant...Carol


      This is the next best thing to being there Max, you create vivid images in my mind and transport me to the place, just wonderful!


        Another wonderful entry Max. Keep 'em coming!
        Duncan S

        See my blog!


          A veritable lesson of social history, geography and current affairs combined. Merci Max.

          I wonder what the title will be of tomorrow's thread.....except that it will likely begin with 'Over.........'?


            Sounds like an amazing trip. How on earth are you going to go back to a bog standard cruise ship though?.....................Carol


              You know the slide bar on the right of an open web page? I find myself glancing at it anxiously, hoping there's plenty more of each day's instalment still to read

              Once this is over, the mornings just won't be the same!!



                Thanks Max, so any interesting facts look forward to the next instalment. CG


                  Another excellent piece Max, looking forward to your further instalments.


                    Great reading Max love it .


                      Brilliant writing Max and a very enjoyable read. I'm really look forward to reading the next blog
                      BIG SHIPS, little ships, small world


                        Thank you Max, I am really enjoying your blog. Look forward to tomorrow's episode.



                          What an experience you're sharing with us, Max. Thanks.


                            Max, your words paint a vivid picture. I'm sure that if my history teacher had made the subject half as interesting as you have, I might have learned far more than I actually did.


                              Just to say Max, and you probably noticed, that I did manage to get them to bring out a few more Union Flags. It was a great night.


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