D-Day museum chief ‘hides’ tank in dad’s barn

The former chief of a famous D-Day museum in Normandy has been accused of fraud after he used funds to buy priceless artfacts, including a tank and an armoured vehicle, which he then kept out of sight at his father's barn.

D-Day museum chief 'hides' tank in dad's barn
A tank on display at the Airborn Museum at Sainte-Mère-Église in Normandy, where a former director has been charged with stealing artefacts. Photo: H Michel Hirraghi

A former director of a D-Day museum in northern France is accused of using its funds to buy artefacts worth tens of thousands of euros and keeping them for himself.

Prosecutors say Patrick Bunel, who worked at the Airborne Museum in Sainte-Mère-Église near the site of two American landing beaches in Normandy, used the museum's money to buy World War II memorabilia which he did not hand over.

They called for a two-year suspended sentence late on Tuesday at a court in the port city of Cherbourg. A ruling will be delivered on March 25th.

Prosecutors have also sought suspended jail terms for four other accused: three sellers of World War II memorabilia and a museum employee.

Bunel has owned up to paying for new acquisitions for the museum – including a tank, an armoured vehicle, arms and jackets – in cash using the museum's funds, but insisted he planned to hand them over.

Some of the items were kept in a barn belonging to his father located about 85 kilometres (50 miles) away.

Bunel joined the Airborne Museum in 2006 and quit in 2011. He is currently head of the Normandy Tank Museum that opened last year near the town of Carentan.

The D-Day landings, which began on June 6th, 1944, helped change the course of the Second World War and led to the defeat of Nazi Germany.

Celebrations are due to take place later this year to mark the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings. 

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Plans for ‘D-Day Land’ tourist attraction in northern France spark anger

Plans for a permanent tourist attraction to mark the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings have sparked protest with some accusing the idea of being a 'theme park' that is disrespectful to the men who fought and fell.

Plans for 'D-Day Land' tourist attraction in northern France spark anger
Photo: AFP

Plans have been put forward by the head of the Normandy regional council, Hervé Morin, to create a permanent site in the region to mark the D-Day landings of 1944.

Every year around 5 million people visit Normandy for 'remembrance tourism' but there is no single museum that unites all aspects of the massive Allied military operation that ultimately lead to the Liberation of France and the end of the Second World War.

But despite the plans being at a very early stage – although the aim is to have it completed in time for the 80th anniversary of the landings in 2024 – they have already sparked controversy.

The description of the idea as a spectacle (show) has lead some to describe it as insulting to the thousands of men who lost their lives on the beaches of northern France during the landings.

Every year around 5 million people travel to Normandy to visit cemeteries and D-Day sites. Photo: AFP

Already a petition against the idea – which has been dubbed 'D-Day Land' by its detractors – is circulating.

Set up by the Groupe National de Recherche 1939-1945 (national group of 1939-45 researchers) the petition states: “The Normandy Region has announced a project to create a “D-Day Land” for the 80th anniversary of the D-Day Landings. This will seriously harm the ecology of the area but also lacks respect for the veterans and the people killed during the Normandy landings and the battle that followed.

“The Normandy landings is a page in the history of France that must be respected and not give way to a faction of local business that will only serve to destroy the work done for years by associations of memory but also to lovers of this page of history.”
Local officials in Normandy believe the attraction will be of benefit to the region and many of the sites already dedicated to parts of the D-Day landings, such as the Caen Memorial, have given a cautious welcome to the project.
Hervé Morin is talking about private investment to the tune of €100 million for the project, which its has been suggested could be a multimedia affair with film projections and light shows.
Olivier Paz, mayor of Merville-Franceville, told local paper Ouest France that the project must not be “allowed to become Disneyland”.
An artist's impression of the new memorial at Ver-sur-Mer. Photo: AFP
The idea is not the first time that D-Day remembrance has sparked controversy in the area.
A huge permanent memorial to the British soldiers who died that day – jointly inaugurated by French president Emmanuel Macron and former British Prime Minister Theresa May at the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings in 2019 – also caused a row.
Locals in the small village of Ver-sur-Mer where memorial is constructed feared that their protected agricultural land would be turfed over and destroyed, an some organised a march to protest at the plans.