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On the Scene: D-Day Re-enactments in France

  • Henry Ridgwell

Old wartime songs ring out across Carentan town square as visitors enjoy the early summer sunshine.

Today Carentan is a peaceful corner of France. Seventy years ago it saw some of the most ferocious fighting of the Battle for Normandy.

Parachutists with the U.S. 101st Airborne Division landed nearby and fought house-to-house with Nazi troops giving the Allies a continuous front joining the Utah and Omaha landing beaches.

This week, Carentan has held some of the most colorful anniversary events.

Crammed into an original U.S. Army jeep and trailer, sporting World War II military fatigues, boots and accessories, Frank Ducros and his friends have traveled 1,400 kilometers to get here from the south of France.

Speaking French, Ducros says it has been his dream to come to these D-Day celebrations, explaining that he's been collecting this kind of memorabilia — the clothing, shoes, replica guns... and of course the jeep — for a decade now.

In Carentan's harbor, original WWII amphibious vehicles, including a landing craft used on the D-Day beaches, staged a re-enactment of the Allied advance.

Further west lies Pegasus Bridge — a strategic crossing over the Caen canal, which saw one of the most iconic events of the invasion.

In the first hours of D-Day, members of the British 6th Airborne Division landed nearby in gliders and managed to hold the crossing to prevent an effective German counter-attack further west on the landing beaches.

Several British naval vessels have visited Pegasus Bridge this week. On board, crew stood at attention as they passed D-Day veterans watching from the shoreline.

Among them was Les Reeves, who was in the Royal Armored Corps and drove a tank onto Juno Beach on D-Day morning.

"When we landed, we were waterproofed up to the turret," he recalls. "So my periscope, the little periscope that was on the Churchill tank, all you could see was the water!"

Local resident Catherine Mayou brought her grandson along to meet the veterans.

"We want teach our grandson the importance of it, because we must not forget," she says.

Across Normandy, army-style camps have sprung up on farms and village squares to cater to visitors, and the anniversary has attracted a modern day invasion of period military hardware, along with thousands of visitors in wartime dress.

Local residents have given them a warm welcome. The bonds of friendship between nations sealed 70 years ago in battle remain strong.