Normandy's charm offensive





THEY play golf on the dunes behind the invasion beaches these days. The thwack of golf balls and cries of the gulls carry on the brisk breeze to tourists idling by the pool at the Hotel Mercure Omaha Beach.

It could be any beachside hamlet on any part of the holiday coast overlooking the English Channel -- except it isn't. It's Normandy, scene of one of the bloodiest battles of World War II.

We were savouring a bowl of steaming mussels, surrounded by the chatter and clatter of a busy restaurant, when an elderly French couple paused by our table. "You are always welcome," the gentleman said solemnly, with a slight bow.

Unlike many of the diners, we weren't accompanying a World War II veteran on a Normandy pilgrimage. But he'd heard our accents -- was it the English or the American in our group he was referring to? Both? Or the Australians? We'd never learn, as he left as quietly as he came.

Yet he spoke for many, we learnt. He wanted us to know that despite political differences, the French haven't forgotten the sacrifice made by the Americans, English and Canadians in particular on these beaches in June 1944.

The carefully tended cemeteries, the international flags fluttering from window boxes, streets named after foreign heroes, and the museums, monuments and plaques are tangible proof of that.


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