Seeing History of the Second World War
It is hard to believe that we have one week left before we’re back on that plane flying home to our respectful areas. It seems like we have been here far longer than I know we have. I have learned and seen so much that there is nothing I can compare this experience to.
We said goodbye to Dieppe and the beautiful waterfront hotel and have made our way to the coast of Normandy where we are now studying the invasion of June 6, 1944 – Operation Overlord. Bright and early we got up and made our way to Sword Beach, one of the two British Beaches on the French coast of Nomandy. When we arrived I was struck by the sight of massive metal floating rectangles in the water and washed up on the shore. These are called Mullberry harbours. These were prefabricated harbours, created in the UK, and towed to Sword Beach following the inital invasion of the beach. They were used to transport supplies, vehicles and people ashore more easily. The Mulberries were only suppose to last for 3 years, however as I clearly saw, they have remained much longer than that.
Following this, we made our way to Juno beach, where again I was stopped in my shoes by the visual indications that there had infact been a bloody and horrific invasion here. The bunkers with the original machine gun still peacefully sitting inside, or german observation posts still hidden behind grass and bush. I can’t help but think what these things have seen. It was an honour to deliver a presentation on Operation Neptune while standing on the beach itself. However, it felt different than my last. In truth, visiting Second World War sites feel different to me and I wasn’t able to initially put my finger on why. At first I was concerned that I was placing a greater emphasis on the Second World War than I was on the First, or that perhaps it was a personal tie in relation to my Grandfather who faught. But then I came to realize that it was the degree of “stuff” that is still standing which has allowed me to better visualize what the men endured here.
When studying the First World War, where I felt the heaviest weight was at the Commonwealth Cemetaries… walking row on row and thanking the dead under my breath. But these past few days, where I have felt the greatest degree of sorrow and gratefulness has been at the battle sites or invasion sites that we have visited because of the degree to which aspects of this time remain untouched. Standing in an open field over the Ypres Salient and learning about the first gas attack with the only tangible reminents being small pieces of shrapnel is quite a different feeling than standing in a preserved bunker, looking out to Juno beach while seeing further bunkers and machine guns all around you.
This is interesting to me from a Punlic History perspective as it presents two very different ways that history can be delivered to the public and absorbed by the public. When delivering First World War information on a battle site, it will be done in a way that recognizes its distance past whereas the moretangible and visiual history of the Second World War is a great advantage and of course a great interpretive tool. No one is better than the other, simply different given the time period and once one recognizes thte limitations and advantages it because easier to deliver this informationn to others.