Cruise Diary ~
Dover, UK to Le
From the white
cliffs of Dover to the beaches of Normandy
Take it from me, the granddaughter
of Norwegian immigrants, nothing is more exciting than the prospect
of seeing your "homeland." The Baltic Capitals cruise
itinerary offered that and so much more... the opportunity to see
Oslo and other places I'd only dreamed of or read about in fairy
tales or the works of Shakespeare.
First, though, we had to get to
Europe. Dover, to be exact. After departing JFK in New York, we
didn't have the hassle of a long transfer from Gatwick or Heathrow
because we flew on a charter flight directly to London Manston
Airport near Dover. Off the plane, through the terminal, and right
on to motor coaches, we'd arrived.
England on London's Doorstep
Our small group began the day with
a drive through the brilliant green English countryside to Walmer
Castle, a favorite of the Queen Mother. What a treat to cross the
moat for a stroll through the private royal apartments. We enjoyed
champagne and juice on the terrace where the beloved Queen Mother
entertains at annual cocktail parties overlooking the sea. I felt as
elegant as one of her personal guests, even though we'd just
completed a transatlantic flight and I was, frankly, a mess.
No wonder the Queen Mum loves
Walmer Castle--the gardens are delightful, particularly the one
presented to her for her 95th birthday. It's said she was
particularly pleased with this gift because people had always given
her flowers but she'd never before received an entire garden.
After a hearty English breakfast at
Walmer and a walk through the formal gardens, we were off to Dover
Castle and a dramatic introduction to the part played by the
"white cliffs of Dover" in World War II. Behind the chalk
white cliffs, an extensive labyrinth of tunnels housed secret
wartime operations. Plans to evacuate Dunkirk were made from the
headquarters located underground here and an entire field hospital
provided treatment for the wounded. During the war, the tunnels were
such a major communications center that more telephones could be
found in their strategic underground headquarters than in the city
of Dover itself. The tour of the secret war tunnels recreates the
chilling days of Britain at war.
There were plenty of sea birds
circling the famous white cliffs as we made our way to the new port
facility to embark on our vessel. As in the past, a painless
procedure--we handed over our passports and made our way on board.
Luggage awaited unpacking and the boat drill signaled our readiness
to sail but fog accompanied our departure and obscured the famous
The Beaches of
Words can hardly express the range
of emotions inspired by the memorials dedicated to the combined
Allied invasion at Normandy... horror, sadness, and intense pride.
That the operation worked at all is testament to the superior
planning and execution of the Allies, notwithstanding that America's
part was fraught with disaster. Amazing hardly describes the
creation of an artificial harbor, an engineering feat that enabled
the landing of supplies and troops after the initial air strikes and
invasion from the sea.
Seventy-seven days of intense fire
resulted in over half a million casualties. The first wave of
American troops, 1500 strong, were immediately wiped out at Omaha
beach. The second wave suffered as well and during the first four to
five hours of the operation 3000 were killed. However, by the end of
the day 34,000 had landed. Seeing the German bunkers and other
obstacles they faced, not the least of which were the bluffs arising
from the beaches, feelings of pride mingled with a sense of dismay
at the near impossible task those young troops faced.
The price paid at those infamous
beaches was horrible. The marble crosses and Stars of David stand in
the American cemetery at Omaha Beach as mute reminders of the
upheaval of war. Sobering in scope, the simple markers stretch as
far as the eye can see. Most moving are those inscribed, "Here
rests in honored glory a comrade known only to God." Did that
soldier's mother, sweetheart, or wife await a letter that never
Although I grew up in the French
sector of Germany during the Cold War and visited many similar sites
in France during the 1960's, the impact of the cemetery and memorial
at Normandy captured me somewhat unprepared. Taps began playing as I
read the Memorial inscription--"This embattled shore, portal of
freedom, is forever hallowed by the ideals, the valor, and the
sacrifices of your fellow countrymen." Every American who can,
should visit Normandy's beaches.
Life goes on at the seashore and
families picnic in the sunshine while children play in the surf.
It's as it should be. But up above Omaha Beach's bluff, bomb craters
and shattered bunkers remind us of the terrible cost of war. And the
simple, dignified, marble markers represent men who put the freedom
of others before thoughts of themselves.
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