Journey to the bluebells

Okay, so I’ve lived in England for almost 10 years and believe it or not there are still things I’d like to see and do that I haven’t gotten around to doing.  One of these things was going to see the bluebells when they were in bloom.  This year I was determined to find some!  It worked out well when Chris’ holiday fell through that he had time to be my bluebell searching companion.

Firstly, we stopped at a place called Stonea Camp.  It is another place I’ve wanted to visit and had seen signs for so we drove down a long dirt road and got to the Camp.  There was a couple there and I think they decided they didn’t want to share the experience (?!?!?) so they got back in their car and wait for us to explore.  They didn’t have to wait too long.  Stonea Camp is an old site of a Roman settlement as far back as 500BC.  I don’t know what I was expecting but there were some rolling mounds, swampy grass, sheep (and the best part, lambs), and LOADS of sheep poo.  So after walking around for about 5 minutes we decided to head out to see the bluebells. 

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I found that the closest place to see the bluebells was a place called Brampton Wood.  I had never been there before, or even heard of it, neither apparently had the Sat Nav.  After a lot of turning around and missing roads we made it.  There was a simple map to take near the gate to enter the woods and we thought it was pretty straightforward.  We only happened upon people everyone once in a while but it felt like we were completely alone.  Luckily we had lovely sunny weather and I was happy to just take a leisurely stroll. 

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We didn’t know where the bluebells were exactly so every one we saw we wondered if this was the spot for them.  After walking quite a bit and still not finding the bluebells Chris was ready to call it a day.  I told him I’d continue on and he could either follow me or meet me at the car.  Once I started on my own I noticed it was getting to be a bit, what the English call, “squelchy”.  The dry ground was quickly turning to mud – and lots of it.  I finally made it to the fork in the path I was searching for and I called Chris to let him know he should probably just meet me at the car.  He told me he was already on his way up and before long I could see him (and a gigantic walking stick) headed up the hill.  I decided to walk up the path to the woods.  As I was walking I started to see more and more bluebells.  And finally the woods opened up and ground was carpeted by bluebells.  It was breath-taking.  I just too a minute to go to the middle of the opening and take it all in.  It was just like the pictures but 1000% better.

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Starting to see the bluebells… finally.

 

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I could have probably stayed all day, but we decided to head out.  That’s when the adventure started.  As we continued on the path to get out, we ran into some more mud.  I immediately envied Chris and his ginormous walking stick that he had pulled up the previous hill.  At first I thought I’d try to go through the puddles, but they became too deep, so I tried to walk around the edges trying not to slip into the puddle because of the mud along the edge.  This all came to an abrupt halt, and in a fit of strength that even I surprised myself with – I was trying to go around an especially deep puddle and I grabbed onto a rare fence post.  As I got over the puddle my foot slipped and with one arm, in what felt like very slow motion, I swung back to the other side, saving myself from falling into the puddle with the grip of that one hand on the fence post.  I was pretty impressed with myself but, after laughing so hard I nearly fell in anyway, decided to just walk through them from now on.  Behind me was quite the sight!  Chris with his walking stick and his jeans rolled up to his knees, cursing under his breath at the mud.  As we saw people walking up we said, “Be careful its muddy!” but they just smiled and kept walking.  I am willing to bet more than a few of them saved themselves with that same fence post.  By the time we got back to the car, my trousers and shoes were caked with mud and Chris’ once white trainers looked like mud slippers.  But, it was all such good fun!  The mud washes off but the memory of those bluebells (and Chris’ mud distress) definitely made up for it!

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We took the long way home and travelled the back roads – a thing we both really enjoy (when petrol prices cooperates with us!).  We stopped at a church in Alconbury and walked around looking for the oldest graves.  It still boggles this American’s mind to find headstones and churches older than America!

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While we were looking at the headstones I found one that especially touched me it said, “Worthy of Remembering”.  I thought that was beautiful and something that I aspire to, I don’t quite know how yet, but I’m searching.

All in all it was a really nice day and the bluebells were WELL worth it.  One more thing to tick of my England Bucket List. 

Holiday in Normandie, France: Part Quatre–WWII Normandie Cemeteries

I wanted to do a separate post for the war cemeteries we visited on our holiday.  It seemed wrong to just put them in the mix of pictures.  After reading and watching about WWII and then visiting the Caen War Museum I felt like I understood a bit more about what happened on D-Day and the sacrifice that was made.  But, that cant prepare you to see rows and rows of graves.

The first cemetery we went to was the German Cemetery at Le Cambe.  I have a soft spot in my heart for Germans.  The ones I work for and the ones I have met have been lovely, hardworking, generous people.  While they are made to be the “enemy” of WWII I realize now it wasn’t all Germans and in fact, probably not even most Germans.  We once were speaking to my boss, who is German born and raised, about what he was taught at school regarding WWII.  He said he was taught to be ashamed and embarrassed about his history.  That surprised me and made me a bit sad to realize that even now, people are still affected in negative ways regarding Hitler and his role.  A few months ago I came across a movie on the BBC called: Generation War: Our Mothers our Fathers.  The movie is reminiscent of Band of Brothers but German made and had mixed reviews in the countries it has been shown.  Watching this movie completely changed my views and beliefs about the war.  It showed me how much the German people suffered – how much Hitler made his own people suffer.  A lot of German soldiers didn’t want to fight – just like the American soldiers.  They HAD to – they didn’t have a choice.  Since watching the movie I have an empathy for those soldiers as well.  When the allies stormed the beaches on D-Day there were German brothers, fathers, sons, husbands, and friends killed too.  They mourned for their dead, just like we do. 

I found an interesting article here

“The entrance to the cemetery at La Cambe is a narrow stone arch opening on to a lawn with almost endless rows of graves. There are more than 21,000 soldiers buried at La Cambe, making it the biggest of the six military cemeteries in Normandy. But there are only a few crosses on the green, most of the graves are simple plaques in the ground with names and dates on them.  Around 80 percent of those buried here were less than 20 years old when they died”, says groundskeeper Lucien Tisserand. 

Another resident of La Cambe is Charlotte Dubost. As a young girl she had to work for the Germans. She was 21 at the time of France’s liberation. When US troops arrived at the village, she and other families were still hiding from the fighting in a hole in the ground. Now she regularly visits the cemetery.  “After the war there was a German couple who came here. They had lost both of their sons here in Normandy. Each year they visited the graves of their children,” Dubost told Deutsche Welle.  “One day they asked us whether my husband and I could maybe look after the two graves. And for many years now, that’s what we’ve been doing. It was not easy at the beginning, but after all, we have children of our own and we know that those young Germans had never asked to come here and die.”

“The fighting was very very heavy. We were in Saint-Lo with 120 men and a month later only 9 were left. Then more troops were sent from Germany — but those were kids, they were 16 years old,” Boerner said.  “They were incredibly scared, some of them cried when they had to go into battle. Some wanted to desert and run away. But there was the order: if anyone crosses the lines, shoot them!”

The cemetery felt incredibly subdued to me.  There was no show, no fanfare, no white marble.  It was understated, rough, and sombre.  Not a cemetery of heroism, but one of sadness.

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The next cemetery we visited was the American Cemetery near Omaha Beach.  This wasn’t the first American Cemetery I had visited in Europe but it was still just as touching as if it were the first.  The fact that you could see the beach from the graves was just a reminder of why it was there.  This cemetery felt proud, clean, and orderly.  It was, by far, the busiest.  There was a sense of sacrifice and remembrance as you walked through the crosses and Stars of David.  It is overwhelming and when you look out over the graves you get a true sense of the numbers.

Here are some facts about the American Cemetery:

Situated above Omaha Beach, a place where the American military suffered staggering casualties on D-Day, the American cemetery at Colleville-Sur-Mer contains the remains of nearly 10,000 servicemen who died during the Normandy campaign. With marble crosses and Stars of David stretching as far as the eye can see, the cemetery is a solemn, breathtaking experience that all Americans should share.  The cemetery is at the north end of a one half mile access road and covers one hundred and seventy-two acres. It contains the graves of 9,387 American military dead, most of whom gave their lives during the landings and ensuing operations of World War II. On the walls of the semicircular garden on the east side of the memorial are inscribed the names of 1,557 American missing who gave their lives in the service of their country during the D-Day invasion, but whose remains were not located or identified. The memorial consists of a semicircular colonnade with a loggia at each end containing maps and narratives of the military operations. At the center is a bronze statue titled, “Spirit of American Youth.” The average age of the dead at Normandy was twenty two. 

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The last cemetery we kind of stumbled upon.  We weren’t planning on visiting a British Commonwealth  cemetery but when we stopped at the museum in Bayeux, France we found out that it was only a couple minutes walk away.  Once again it looked totally different to the other cemeteries.  It really reminded me of an English garden.  It was filled with beautiful blooming flowers.  It really felt like Britain.   There was a feeling of humility and peacefulness as we walked around.  I think these were my favourite graves (if that is even possible) because it had meaningful quotes at the bottom of each headstone. 

Here is some information about the cemetery and the numbers buried there:

Bayeux was a major supply and hospital base for the Normandy Campaign, many of the burials here were brought in from nearby temporary places of burial or from the hospitals located in and around Bayeux. Some 85 regiments and corps from the British Army are represented in this cemetery. 482 men were killed on D-Day, Tuesday 6th June 1944.  Casualties range from 17 to 58 years of age. Among those buried in this cemetery is 1 who also had a brother who was killed during the First World War and 24 who lost a brother elsewhere in the Second World War. 2 lost a father in the First World War and 3 lost fathers elsewhere in the Second World War.

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When we visited these cemeteries, every single one, it didn’t matter who’s side we came from.  Of course I appreciate what my countrymen did for me and for my freedom and I definitely don’t condone what Hitler and his men did – but, when you are walking by rows and rows of graves the lines become blurred and you realize they were all people – mostly really young men who died too soon and who shouldn’t ever be forgotten.