Cultural Differences

On our way to Cherbourg to catch the ferry to England, we stopped with friends in Normandy for a couple of days. The first day we spent with them, but on the second day we decided to head for the D-Day landing beaches. Our first stop was at Grand Camp Maisy between Utah and Omaha beaches, and from there we went to the American cemetery behind Omaha Beach. The second two photographs were taken there. Next we went inland to Ryes, where there is a British cemetery where the first two were taken. (I know it would have made more sense to display them the other way round, and that is what I thought I had doen!) What struck me most was the difference between the two. There is only the one American cemetery, whereas the British and other Allied dead were buried in small cemeteries close to where they died. But the difference, it seems to me, is greater than that. Despite the thousands of white headstones, mainly crosses with occasional Stars of David, this is a monument rather than a cemetery. The precisely laid out blocks of graves have a terrible uniformity. Bare details record the name, rank, unit and date of death of the soldier buried there. The grass is immaculately manicured, paths, lawns, shrubs, trees as well as headstones have been designed to present the visitor with a unified whole. Indeed, as I think the second photo shows, the graves have become almost an incidental element in this monument to a massive army which came ashore here and liberated Europe.

The British cemetery, by contrast, has no visitor centre, no crowds, no monumental topiary. It is a simple, country graveyard where each occupant is identified as an individual. Name, insignia of his unit, date of death, yes. But also, age - and oh, how many were boys of 19 or 20! - an inscription which had been put forward by the family, a few flowers (even on those graves which bore the simple statement "A sailor of the Royal Navy known unto God".

Is it just because I, too, am British that I feel that here lie individuals, grieved for by their loved ones; whilst above Omaha Beach are buried the expendable units of an invading army, significant only for being a part of that army, though not a part that fought on to final victory?

We had intended to carry on to Gold, Juno and Sword beaches, but we felt that our stop at Ryes was a fitting place to end this visit to the battlefield.

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