Saturday morning is market day in Dives-sur-Mer and the old market hall quite a reputation as an architectural attraction. No trip to France can be called complete without a raid on a local market so we planned this for our morning sortie. We left our apartment and found somewhere to park without any trouble, then started following the stream of locals carrying market bags to find our objective. En route we discovered wonderful old timbered buildings arranged in courtyards ornately carved with references to Guillaume le Conquerant (William the Conqueror) and were immediately very taken with the town. The market hall and square outside proved to be an absolute treasure trove of mouthwatering food. We saw escargots, snails ready stuffed with garlic butter, cheeses3 (of course), mounds of fresh vegetables, rabbits being skinned, punnets of various mushrooms, duck, beef, pork, veal, pheasant, quail, partridge, guinea fowl; the list seemed endless. There was so much that appealed that a mere three days catering couldn’t do it all justice. However, hard choices had to be made and we contented ourselves with a few selections that could be managed with no oven and dubious cutlery: a couple of duck breasts, some locally farm-raised sirloin steak and paupiettes de veau (veal parcels) together with some pleurottes (a kind of mushroom) to make a sauce for the veal. Outside the market hall we were forced to succumb to the aroma of a rotisserie chicken to accompany some fresh bread for lunch. That was it – love at first sight.
Returning to the apartment, we took an adventurous route and stumbled across the local fish market down by the harbour. Inside we discovered a couple of stall-holders furiously shucking mountains of Coquilles St. Jaques (scallops) for two long lines of people, all of whom seemed to be buying about 5kg (11 lbs) of the them. At 5.50 Euros a kilo, we couldn’t resist and stood patiently in line as order after order was filled. After about 45 minutes it was our turn and, delayed slightly by the proprietor vanishing briefly to drag in a further mountain of scallops, we were rewarded with 10 of our own, surprisingly almost 3kg. There were also some wonderful looking turbot; if only we needed more food. The scallops turned out to be utterly stunning. Now I was completely smitten – here was a place truly worth invading.
After failing to kill-off completely the rotisserie chicken for lunch, we went out to do some sightseeing. First stop for us, just as it was in June 1944, was the now famous Pegasus Bridge, the first objective taken on the night preceding D-Day by a glider assault. The bridge over the Caen canal has now been upgraded but the original remains close by, together with a Horsa glider, in a memorial display commemorating the events. Regrettably, the memorial was closed but we did get some views through the surrounding chain-link fence.
Then it was off to the eastern end of the invasion beaches themselves. We dropped down to the coast road by Sword beach (British) and drove along to Juno (Canadian) before making our first stop at a commemorative marker to see an original defensive German anti-tank gun, still in its concrete bunker. A little further west, we came across what is said to be the first house liberated on D-Day. It sits right on the promenade overlooking the beach and continues to display a Canadian flag in honour of the liberating forces. Cue some tearful eyes from yours truly.
Once I could see clearly again, we continued west to view something I had long wanted to witness, the remains of the mulberry harbour built at Arromanches on the central invasion beach, Gold (British). I think we were all taken aback by the sheer expanse of the harbour that had been built by prefabricated units towed across the English Channel and sunk, many of which are still visible particularly at low tide. The wind was howling on top of the cliffs overlooking the scene and it began to rain a little. As the setting sun fell beneath the offending cloud bank, a rainbow appeared the end of which appeared to be directly on the beach itself. Now I was struck by the poetry of the scene – the end of a rainbow on Gold beach! Cue more waterworks. Fortunately I had my polarizing filter with me and grabbed a few shots. Also fortunately, since once more I couldn’t see clearly, auto focus exists. Being still on old film technology, we’ll have to wait to see if I was successful in capturing the sight.
At Longues-sur-Mer, just beyond Arromanches, is a German battery with the original guns in their bunkers. We called in to see something from the point of view of the opposition. Beginning to head back to base, we paused briefly at the British cemetery at Ryes which we stumbled across en route.
That was quite enough emotional turmoil for one day, it was time to head back and raid the supermarket again. Having seriously damaged the food market in the morning, our evening objective was mainly of a vinous nature. This time the attacking forces marched about 12 soldiers of the defending European Wine Lake battalion back to base for a prolonged session of interrogation over the next few days.