Published on 4 May 2020
Reading time: 5 minutes
Reliving history to get it across better. Relive the Landings from the inside and from the German point of view. Try to understand the strategy of the Allies in that night of 6 June 1944. We are going to pay homage in our own way to the paratroops of D-Day. Jean, a history buff, is waiting for us in his period jeep.
Jean, a history buff
Jean meets us outside the « boutique du Holdy », in the village of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, in the Manche. He has parked his jeep, with its engine running, in front of the church. We immediately understand that here we are dealing with someone who is soaked in history. His enthusiasm is catching. It is strange how first impressions count sometimes. It only takes 5 minutes in the soft rain and we are laughing together just as if we were old friends. All so natural. With his helmet screwed on his head Jean starts telling us stories with his heated intonations, sharing the passion which is animating him. “I’m Swiss” he explains. Although not a trained historian, he has chosen to showcase his own take to his visitors: “History is an enquiry. What I like doing is “scratching”, to pick out the memories of those who lived through the war” Then he carries on. “It may be that I’m upsetting your preconceived ideas.” “Jean, don’t you worry, that’s what we’re here for”, we all reply, speaking as a single voice.
By the way, I’m Philipp. These are my friends Luc and Jean Jacques. We are all history buffs. Jean-Jacques’ wife is also interested in history. Her parents and her grandparents lived near the site of the Battle of the Falaise Pocket.
In the hell of the german trench
We drop off our luggage at Jean’s house. He and his wife have opened a bed and breakfast or chambres d’hôtes. The house was once occupied by the Germans. Today it is so peaceable. Our immersion into the Second World War has begun. As soon as we cross the barrier Jean shows us the old barn of the farm which he has converted into a “forward post” of the German Army. “There, Jacqueline, is what we call a hay rack.” explains Jean-Jacques to his wife while they are looking at all the guns lined up along the wall. Luc is attentive to the smallest details of the scenography.
Then we find ourselves outside in the garden. Down at the bottom of the garden Jean has, with the help of a friend, dug himself a reconstituted trench. It’s good work, you’d be amazed. Jean hands out some helmets and then we plunge down into the trench. It’s been tipping with rain today so the entrance down into the trench is slippery with the mud; then comes machine gun fire and the muffled crash of bombs, smoke fills the air from smoke grenades and we start to get a sense of what it must be to be a soldier trapped in a hostile and unknown environment. I feel a shiver run down my back. In the evening all four of us are going to eat in a beautiful restaurant: not far from here the Grand Hard has everything to please ourselves, with its delightful grounds and an atmosphere to please us with very fine dishes.
Breakfast in the décor of the 1940s
After a good night’s sleep, we are impatient to have our breakfast in the “café épicerie”. Jean and his wife are there to welcome us with the smile. Period music is playing, period posters are on the walls, enamel pots and blue workers’ overalls hanging on coat hooks…you’ve got to believe it! Around a good cup of coffee, we find ourselves surprised to be talking about our childhoods. Then we start on about history. You’ve got to admit that Jean is inexhaustible. He has got the gift to render history alive, but he also steps back on the reasons for wars and the economic consequences of wars. Jean-Jacques makes us laugh with his lines from 1950s cinema. What a memory he has got, my Jean-Jacques! At present, it is now time to leave in the jeep on the traces of the paratroops of the 101st Airborne. We are gripped by the freezing cold this morning. Fortunately, we have thought to bring warm clothing. In the jeep we are swallowed up in the wind but it doesn’t matter, I am just so happy to be in a period vehicle, me, who just loves cars.
An authentic Willys jeep towards Utah Beach
Comfort on board the jeep is rudimentary. Especially for me as I’m over 6 feet tall! Having been thrown about along the bocage lanes of the Manche at full throttle (the jeep can barely do 40 kmph!) Jean sticks out his hand to grasp the windscreen wiper and try and make it work as we career onto another country road. We find that hilarious. We are on the traces of the paratroops of the 101st Airborne, who were American troops in the Utah sector, one of the five Landing Beaches. Jean stops every now and again and regales us with stories about civilians and the testimonies of American soldiers.
He shows us lots of photographs taken in June 1944 at the very same spots, images of where men landed and of the crashes. We stop at the car park of Utah Beach. The rain has stopped. The trailing sky is magnificent and a rainbow has even drawn itself over the sea. I think then of my grandfather who was taken prisoner not far from Utah Beach. Time passes, but the memory, that is still very vivid, lives on.
Utah Beach is one of the five landing beaches in Normandy. Located in the Cotentin, the sector stretches from Sainte-Marie-du-Mont to Ravenoville.
Batterie du Holdy - Jean Ferrolliet
Route départementale D329
+33 (0)2 33 44 81 20 – +33 (0)6 37 99 08 68
jeep ride rates
2020 rates: 100 € for 2 hours, for 2 to 4 passengers/ 150 € for 3h / 200 € for a tour at night.
There is also a theatrical or staged version of the visit at night, for families from the age of 5, or groups of friends: 400 euros.
bed and breakfast
2020 rates: Chambres d’hôtes de la Batterie du Holdy: 55 € Single bed room/60 € Double bed room/ 20 € for each extra person.
Breakfast in the 1940s café épicerie and local taxes included.
Animals are welcome.
The useful information is subject to changes according to reflect the latest rates.