Having finished off our filming in the States with historians Joe and Adrian, we have now come to Normandy – and to Omaha beach itself – to film. Having heard the Rangers’ stories first hand, it is particularly chilling to stand on this beach and think what happened here. But it is very difficult to equate this beautiful stretch of golden sand, today bathed in glorious sunshine, with the horror of what happened here 63 years ago.
We spend an afternoon filming at the American cemetery, the white crosses go on and on, as far as the eye can see – 9,387 Americans are buried here with another 1,557 names commemorated on a wall of remembrance. Again it’s really hard to get your head around these sorts of numbers; how young so many of these men were. The cemetery’s position perched right on the bluffs above Omaha beach itself also makes it particularly poignant. We find the crosses for Ray’s friends – Joe Biddle, Ed Sowa and Joe Rafferty.
Today we take Simon to Maisy to meet Gary and see around the site for the first time. We film a new part of the site being dug up and it is a nice moment when we uncover a German ammunition store that has lain buried for more than 60 years. Simon is impressed by the site: it is large – complete with four concrete gun emplacements and two gun pits, an array of underground tunnels and rooms, and two miles of trenches which Gary has redug along their original lines.
The site is very well preserved so it gives you a good sense of what it would have been like to be a German soldier here waiting for the invasion. Simon is yet to be convinced however that this battery has a direct bearing on the Omaha story in terms of contributing to the slaughter there, partly because the actual landing area of Omaha beach is too far away for the range of these guns.
But we all find it exciting to see a genuine piece of forgotten history coming out the ground and it certainly serves to drive home how strong the defences were along this stretch of the Normandy coast and what a hard task the allies faced.