Updated on 25 January 2023
Reading time: 5 minutes
Experience the D-Day Landings from the Germans’ point of view, understand the Allies’ strategy on the night of 6 June 1944, pay tribute to the paratroops who served on D-Day – all on a Jeep ride with local history buff Jean!
Jean, a history buff
Jean meets us outside the boutique du Holdy in the village of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont in the Manche département. 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 five minutes in the 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. It may be that I upset your preconceived ideas.’
‘Jean, don’t you worry, that’s what we’re here for’, we all reply.
By the way, I’m Philipp. My friends are Luc and Jean-Jacques. We’re 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.
the hell of the german trenches
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. ‘That, 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 fine food.
Enjoy Breakfast amidst 1940s decor
After a good night’s sleep, we are impatient to have our breakfast in the café épicerie. Jean and his wife welcome us with a smile. 1940s music is playing, vintage posters are on the walls, and enamel pots and blue workers’ overalls hang on coat hooks… you have to see it to believe it! Over a good cup of coffee, we find ourselves talking about our childhoods. Then we start on history. Jean is inexhaustible, and has the abolity to bring 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 films. What a memory he has! It’s now time to leave in the Jeep to follow in the footsteps of the 101st Airborne Division. It is freezing cold this morning, but fortunately, we brought warm clothing. We are battered by the wind but it doesn’t matter, I’m just so happy to be in a vintage Jeep, because I love cars!
ride to Utah Beach in a real WILLYS Jeep
Comfort on board the Jeep is rudimentary. Especially for me as I’m over 6 foot! Having been thrown about along the bocage lanes of the Manche at full throttle (the Jeep can barely do 40kmph!) 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 following in the footsteps of the 101st Airborne, who were American paratroops in the Utah sector, one of the five D-Day Landing Beaches. Jean stops every now and again and regales us with stories about civilians and American soldiers.
He shows us lots of photographs taken in June 1944 at the very same spots, of where men landed and of the crashes. We stop at the car park of Utah Beach. The rain has stopped. The sky is magnificent and a rainbow has even appeared 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 Normandy’s five D-Day Landing Beaches. Located on the Cotentin peninsula, the Utah sector stretches from Sainte-Marie-du-Mont to Ravenoville.
€100 for 2 hours (for your group-2 to 4 people)
€150 for 3 hours (for your group-2 to 4 people)
A dramatised night tour also available (suitable for families or groups of friends – children must be aged 5+)
B&B at Chambres d’hôtes de la Batterie du Holdy
€65 for a single or double room
€90 for 3 people
€120 for 4 people
Breakfast included (at the 1940s café épicerie)
Local taxes included
The above information is subject to change in accordance with the latest rates