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Port-en-Bessin... and its Liberation in 1944

An all-year round fishing port, particularly active in the winter "coquille Saint-Jacques" (scallop) season, Port-en-Bessin is a picturesque and often bustling village, with a wide range of accommodation and restaurants.

Painted by Seurat and Signac, among others, visited by Flaubert and, later, by Simenon: his novel "La Marie du Port" is set here and Marcel Carné's famous film of the book was partly shot in the village. And talking of films, some of "The Longest Day" was shot here too...

But the real importance of Port-en-Bessin in the Second World War is that it was where the British and American sectors met: it was the junction between Gold and Omaha and therefore between the two Allied armies on D-Day. Strategically vital, then, and all the more so since the jetties sticking out into the sea there meant that it had been earmarked as the vital first petrol port.

The port was to be liberated by a close-knit, highly-trained British regiment, the 47 Royal Marine Commando. One member of this 420-strong commando unit was my father, who was just nineteen in June 1944. (It was after my father's death in 1987 that I first discovered Port-en-Bessin, which, somewhat spookily, is where I now live.)

The commandos landed at around 9.20am on D-Day on Gold beach, near Asnelles. Their mission was to march inland and westwards, behind the cliff-top German defences, and to capture and liberate the strategically key port of Port-en-Bessin. They finally succeeded in doing so by the morning of June 8th, but only after heavy fighting and 46 dead. Later on that same day, the port was handed over for work on the petrol infrastructure to begin; and the link was made with the Americans at Omaha.

It is a powerful story and one told in a book which I published here in 2009 : "From Gold to Omaha" by John Forfar. (The author was the regiment's Medical Officer in 1944. The version I published was taken from the more complete history of the regiment in WW2 entitled "From Omaha to the Scheldt". Both are available on Amazon.)

With the 47 Royal Marine Veterans Association (incidentally, their site is excellent : 47 Royal Marine Veterans Association website), we redo the march in commemoration every June 6th. This is something I would be most happy to undertake at other times with any visitor who should be interested. It's quite a hike, but it is a fantastic thing to do !

But more generally, sharing this story and taking people to the memorials in honour of the dead of the 47 Royal Marine Commando... these are things close to my heart.

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