A sobering beach weekend

John Cameron on his Labretta at Pegasus Bridge
John Cameron on his Labretta at Pegasus Bridge
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Last weekend I ticked two life experiences from my bucket list – visiting the Normandy D-Day beaches and doing it in style on my 1968 Lambretta.

The Brittany ferry Normandie docked in Ouistreham at 7am on Friday morning and, consistent with the weather forecast, the sun was shining as we disembarked into the port town on the eastern-most point of the Allied invasion.

Seeing these sites in person was extremely moving and we were both swallowing hard and hiding our tears behind our sunglasses

The town was still sleeping as my scooter pop-popped through the streets with my wife riding pillion and our luggage strapped to the front and rear racks.

As we were returning on the 4.30pm Sunday ferry we had loads to cram in so, like Operation Overlord, careful planning had been undertaken to ascertain the optimum route and a base from which to operate.

Our base for the weekend was the hamlet of Vaux, equidistant between the Commonwealth and American fronts and only a few miles from the coast just outside the medieval town of Bayeux.

Riding through those sleepy coastal villages, it was hard to imagine the scene on the morning of June 6, 1944, though it wasn’t long before we saw evidence and monuments to those brave men and young boys who faced the might of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall on that fateful day.

I was pleasantly surprised as we passed through St Aubin and read a sign saying ‘Twinned with Emsworth’.

From the Sword Beach zone we headed towards the Canadian sector of Juno Beach and on to Gold Beach at Arromanches, where soldiers of General Dempsey’s 2nd Army Group were tasked with destroying a hillside gun battery before the Royal Engineers could attempt to construct the Mulberry Harbour, much of which is still visible from the shore.

On Saturday we visited Omaha Beach, the bloodiest of all landing zones, before riding further west to Pointe de Hoc, another elevated gun battery where, under fierce enemy fire the US Rangers scaled the cliffs and destroyed the guns, preventing the enemy from pounding the ships offshore. Seeing these sites in person was extremely moving and we were both swallowing hard and hiding our tears behind our sunglasses.

However, visiting both the US Cemetery at Omaha and the Commonwealth Cemetery in Bayeux, where more than 13,000 soldiers are buried, was the most humbling experience of all.

As our ferry departed in the beautiful sunshine we experienced mixed emotions.

Our trip could not have gone better, yet our hearts were heavy knowing more than 37,000 young men, killed in the Battle of Normandy, never returned.

Antiques expert John appears on TV shows including Cash In The Attic and Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is and also runs Nesbits auction house in Southsea. E-mail auctions@nesbits.co.uk or call (023) 9229 5568.