Our last day of freedom – before our 14 days in quarantine – was fittingly spent in the Normandy town of Bayeux.
For a very brief moment in June 1944 Bayeux was the capital of free France after being swiftly liberated by the Allies.
General Charles de Gaulle came here soon after to make a stirring speech and lead locals in the singing of La Marseillaise.
We arrived too late to visit the city’s most famous attraction, the UNESCO-listed tapestry depicting the Norman conquest of England in 1066. We will save that for another visit
We did though get to see the impressive Notre-Dame Cathedral it was once displayed in.
We also visited the city’s War Cemetery and Memorial, the largest dedicated to British and Commonwealth soldiers in Normandy.
In these beautifully kept grounds, there are the burial plots of 4,144 Commonwealth soldiers.
I always feel moved – almost to tears – when I visit such places and cannot help wondering at the courage of the young men who fought in these battles. How extraordinarily brave they must have been.
At least their sacrifice is proudly commemorated and it was a battle worth fighting, one that irrefutably changed the course of world history for the better.
We also visited the adjacent Memorial Museum of the Battle of Normandy. The co-operation, planning and organisation of the Allied forces including Britain, America and Canada filled me with awe. I find it difficult to believe we could achieve that now.
The cost of the Normandy campaign was high on both sides. From D-day through to August 21, the Allies landed more than two million men in northern France and suffered more than 226,386 casualties – 72,911 killed/missing and 153,475 wounded. German losses included over 240,000 casualties and 200,000 captured.
As our two nations have spent much of recent years squabbling about first Brexit and now how we deal with Covid it was nice to see ‘We welcome our liberators’ on one Bayeus restaurant window.
Despite this I couldn’t help wondering if many locals from this now sleepy Normandy city give a second thought to the near quarter of a million foreigners who fought so bravely for their freedom.