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.


Member comments

  1. D-Day Land. How ironically “American” — attempting to Make Money by “leveraging,” commercializing and cheapening ANYTHING and EVERYTHING. Ironic that it’s America’s own Veterans who are (once more) getting exploited rather than honored. HOW TEDIOUSLY Typical.
    (BTW I’m an American Veteran myself; if you didn’t serve, tais-toi!)

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Why is a British D-Day memorial in Normandy so controversial?

French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday launched the construction of a new British memorial in Normandy in tribute to the thousands of British soldiers who died in the invasion on June 6, 1944. But why is it so controversial?

Why is a British D-Day memorial in Normandy so controversial?
Macron and May inaugurated the memorial (pictured above) on June 6th 2019, 75 years since the Normandy Landings.
Macron looked beyond the current tensions with Britain over Brexit on Thursday as he paid tribute to the neighbours' shared history and “common future” on the 75th anniversary of D-Day at Ver-sur-Mer where the two leaders launched the construction by laying the first brick.   
“Whatever it takes, we will always stand together because it's our common destiny,” Macron said in English at commemorations with British Prime Minister Theresa May in northern France.
In front of a handful of veterans of the 1944 invasion, May praised their courage.
“Standing here as the waves wash quietly onto the shore below us, it's almost impossible to grasp the raw courage it must have taken that day to leap from landing craft and into the surf, despite the fury of battle,” she said.
But despite the warm words exchanged between the two leaders, the feeling of solidarity is not shared by everyone. 

In fact, a heated debate has been brewing in the small Normandy village of Ver-sur-Mer, the village which was once the site of one of the most pivotal days in 20th century war history, the Normandy Landings.

Back in January, just six months away from the inauguration deadline, the memorial site had yet to be authorised. 

So, why is the memorial the source of so much controversy?

Photo: AFP

The opposition comes from a handful of Ver-sur-Mer’s residents, who feel their commune shouldn’t have been chosen as the memorial site as they fear it will mean their protected, agricultural land is turfed over and destroyed.

“It's not that we’re not grateful to the English, we will be until the end of time for everything they did,” Maxi Krause, a local resident who organized an opposition march made up of just three protesters to “inform the public”, told France 3 in January.

“There’s already the British cemetery in Bayeux, with a huge grassy area all around it where they could add the engraved names (of British soldiers that would be honoured in the prospective Ver-sur-Mer site).”

Opponents to the memorial, which will cost in the region of €33 m, are equally apprehensive about the planned construction of a car park for visitors and the sale of their municipal stadium to be incorporated into the memorial site, a project which in total is budgeted at €20 million, all paid for by British taxpayers.

Also of concern to them is that the memorial bus routes will go through their village rather than bypassing it, bringing with it more traffic and commotion but not necessarily more money, as visitors will only be on short stays.

British association Normandy Memorial Trust was entrusted with buying the land in Ver-sur-Mer to honour the 20,000 British soldiers who disembarked on the beaches of Normandy on June 6th 1944.

Not all opponents are completely against a memorial being erected, but most feel the location should be changed.

D-day, the largest seaborne invasion in history, saw as many as 19,000 troops on both sides die during the landings.

French words to know:

Le Jour J: D-day

ériger : erect/put up

le débarquement: landing

reconnaissant: grateful

l'échéance: delivery date

appréhensif: apprehensive 

gazonner: turf over

une site classé: protected area

les riverains: residents

contourner: bypass