theme seems to have settled on this year’s 65th anniversary commemoration
of the Normandy landings.
The tone was
set in Antony’s Beevor’s new book, D-Day, which tries to debunk
certain received ideas about the Allied campaign.
Far from being
an unmitigated success, Mr Beevor found, the landings came very
close to going horribly wrong.
And far from
being universally welcomed as liberators, many troops had a distinctly
surly reception from the people of Normandy.
for this was simple. Many Normandy towns and villages had been literally
obliterated by Allied bombing.
of Caen, Mr Beevor said, could almost be considered a war-crime
(though he later retracted the comment).
will retort that there is nothing new in Mr Beevor’s account.
the scale of destruction is already well-established.
French civilians were killed in the two-and-a-half months from D-Day,
3,000 of them during the actual landings.
In some areas
– like the Falaise pocket where the Germans were pounded into
oblivion at the end of the campaign – barely a building was
left standing and soldiers had to walk over banks of human corpses.
As for the
destruction of Caen, it has long been admitted that it was militarily
were stationed to the north of the city and were more or less untouched.
years ago, in his book Overlord, Max Hastings had already described
it as "one of the most futile air attacks of the war."
revisionist accounts were written elsewhere, it is in France that
these ideas strike more of a chord today.
It is not as
if the devastation wrought by the Allies is not known – it
is just that it tends not to get talked about.
And yet for
many families who lived through the war, it was the arrival and
passage of British and American forces that was by far the most
profoundly traumatic for the people of Normandy," said Christophe
Prime, a historian at the Peace Memorial in Caen.
of the hundreds of tons of bombs destroying entire cities and wiping
out families. But the suffering of civilians was for many years
masked by the over-riding image – that of the French welcoming
the liberators with open arms."
Prime, it was during the 60th anniversary commemoration five years
ago that the taboo first began to lift.
At town meetings
across Normandy, witnesses – now on their 70s – spoke
of the terrible things they had seen as children.