British soldier in Normandy for D-Day anniversary drowns in canal

A British soldier in France as part of a contingent participating in ceremonies marking the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings has died after trying to swim across a canal in Normandy, according to media reports Sunday citing local officials.

British soldier in Normandy for D-Day anniversary drowns in canal
The soldier was swimming near Pegasus Bridge (pictured above) before drowning. Photo: AFP
A British Army spokesperson confirmed the death, though without providing details of the circumstances of the accident.
“It is with sadness that we must confirm the death of a service person in France. Our thoughts are with their family at this difficult time,” the spokesperson said.
France Bleu radio, citing the office of the government's administrator for the Calvados region, said the victim was a 30-year-old man stationed at Ranville, near Caen on the Normandy coast, with several thousand other British soldiers attending the D-Day commemorations.
It said he had tried to swim across a canal late Saturday night near Pegasus Bridge, the first site freed from the Germans by British troops during the massive Allied invasion in June 1944.
The bridge, at Benouville, was so named to honour the British 6th Airborne Division which used the winged horse as its emblem.
The soldier's comrades lost track of him and alerted the authorities at around 11:00 pm (2100 GMT), and rescuers pulled his body from the canal at around 3 in the morning on Sunday.
Contacted by AFP, neither the regional administrator's office nor rescue services were immediately available to comment.
Thousands of people are expected in Normandy this week to mark the D-Day landings of June 6, 1944, when 156,000 Allied troops crossed the English 
Channel to gain a foothold on France's Atlantic coast.
The invasion, which led to a staggering number of deaths, marked the beginning of France's liberation and the eventual defeat of Germany.

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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.