Rolling off the Portsmouth-Caen ferry and turning right at the first set of traffic lights puts you on the D514 – a narrow coastal road that shadows four of the five D-Day landing beaches. Within just a few kilometres one would have been in the thick of the action on June 6th 1944, starting with the easternmost of the landings of British and Canadian forces at Sword Beach.
Sword Beach stretches roughly 8 kilometres (5 miles) from Ouistreham to Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer. Often overlooked in retellings of the battle, Sword Beach backs on to the villages near Ouistreham and has a sleepy seaside charm far removed from its place in the vanguard of the push to take Caen.
Just behind the seafront, I stumbled across the first of many encampments playing host to hordes of re-enactors and military vehicle enthusiasts who had gathered for the 70th anniversary commemorations. After a long weekend in the front line they were heading back to all points of the compass – including a Czech group of G.I.s with their Jeep loaded on a trailer – although many were heading further up the coast for more re-enactments at Ste Mère Église and Carentan before heading home.
There were precious few British vehicles and uniforms on show – even in this part of the battlefield. But it made for an evocative start to the tour…