On 4th June 2011 we caught the ferry over to Brittany to rendezvous with some Australian friends. On the ferry were several people kitted out in WW2 uniforms and some US jeeps and other military vehicles on their way to D-Day commemorations. Three weeks or so later we parted company with our friends to travel home; they were continuing in France. We spent a night in Coutance on the way to the Cherbourg ferry. This is an extract from my travel journal.

Leaving Coutance after breakfast with the rest of the day to spend (our ferry was not till 7.00PM) we decided to take the yellow roads on the Michelin map zig-zagging across the Cherbourg peninsula. We stopped in a small town for coffee and headed in the direction of Utah Beach. We hit another small town near there and decided to stop for more coffee. The town was St Marie du Mont and it turned out to be the first town in France to be liberated on D-Day. There are plaques everywhere across the town re-telling stories of both individual and group acts of heroism, together with a few blunders. Apparently, the US 101st Airborne Division dropped there on 5th June 1944, the day before D-Day, their mission being to take and hold the Road from Utah Beach so the US tanks could come through. If the landing had failed – and there was no guarantee of success given the uncertain weather forecast – they would have been stranded there. A risky venture by very brave men. There was obviously heavy fighting in the town – there was a German garrison there – but they were eventually over-run and the town was liberated. The plaques also identify the various uses town buildings were put to by the occupying forces. One house still had the barred windows from when it was the prison; the building that is now the Mairie was the German commandant’s residence. Several other buildings are museums (not open on Sundays unfortunately). Several of the roads have been re-named after GIs killed there. Poignant, indeed. It seemed like a haunted place: the ghosts of war.

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