Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Contrasts in War Cemeteries #263

Yesterday I posted about Holger Eckhertz's recent book about D-Day 6th June 1944 from the viewpoint of the German soldiers who survived the fighting in which thousands died. I mentioned that I had visited the La Cambe German war cemetery in 2008 and added a photo to my post. Wikipedia tells us that there are over 21,000 soldiers buried there. If ever there was a symbol of the waste of life it is at La Cambe. According to Eckhertz, France was considered a good posting for German troops as the alternative was the Russian front. For many it still ended the same way - butchered by bombs, machine guns, and flame-throwers.

My very clear memory of my visit there was how quiet it was and how few people were there. It's almost as if this is a forgotten piece of 20th century history. Certainly on the day I was there there were just a few cars in the small car park and hardly any people visiting this cemetery which is immaculately maintained by the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge e. V. (German War Graves Commission).

The quiet La Cambe German War Cemetery, Normandy.
In total contrast to the peace and calm of the German War Cemetery I then visited the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, which is located just 10 miles away in Colleville-sur-Mer - 9,387 soldiers are buried here. I couldn't believe the number of buses and cars in the packed car park - I even had difficulty finding a place for my bike. The approach roads were very busy with traffic and there were huge crowds everywhere. It was like being on a busy city street. Just as at La Cambe, this is a monument to bravery and sacrifice - but wasted life too. The soldiers buried here lie in peace just like their German counterparts 10 miles away. The sea of white crosses is heart-breaking, and it the strongest anti-war message that you can get.


Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, Colleville-sur-Mer.

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, Colleville-sur-Mer.
The photos above were taken at the end of a trip on my bike to the South of France - I was on my way to a ferry in nearby Ouistreham. Two weeks earlier I had passed through Cherbourg on my way south and spotted the Canadian War Cemetery at Bretteville-sur-Laize where 2,958 mostly Canadians are buried. This too was a very quiet location. One of those buried there is Gérard Doré who was killed during the battle for Normandy at just 16 years of age - he's thought to be the youngest soldier killed on the Western Front during the war. I posted a photo of a plaque dedicated to him at the cemetery to Open Plaques.

At the Canadian War Cemetery in Bretteville-sur-Laize.

The Canadian War Cemetery in Bretteville-sur-Laize.

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