Going on a field trip as a chaperone is a far different experience from that of going as a student. I know I’m technically a “grownup” at 22 years old, but lord knows I felt a little ridiculous doing head counts and herding teenagers all day. I felt like the Chaperone Police would jump out and arrest me for masquerading as a responsible adult at any moment.
On Wednesday morning, two history teachers, 34 15-year-olds, and myself hopped on a charter bus to Arromanches, the town directly in between Gold and Juno Beaches where “Mulberry B”, one of the portable harbors used during Operation Overlord, is located. We began our field trip at the local museum to hear more about the fabrication of the two mulberries and their transportation from Britain to Normandy.
Mini History Lesson Alert! If you don’t feel like learning, feel free to skip this paragraph, but know that I’m shaking my head in disdain at you as you do so. I’ll know. Also, I’m not a history expert. I am a person who reads a lot and occasionally goes to museums. Please don’t take this as canon.
Operation Overlord, the code name for the struggle to liberate Normandy after the initial D-Day landings (aka Operation Neptune), had to get supplies from somewhere. Well over three million troops would access France and the rest of Europe by Normandy’s beaches between June and December of 1944, and they knew that they would need immediate access to a port to transfer necessary equipment. Rather than capture an actual harbor, it was decided that the forces would simply bring the ports with them. The mulberries moved an average of about 9000 tons of supplies daily before they were destroyed during a major storm, and you can still see the remnants of the harbors at low tide.
Arromanches is also home to the only cinema circulaire in Europe (you know, the type of movie theatre where there are screens all around you that show different images all at the same time). This one was full of powerful raw images of the Battle of Normandy, supplemented by strategic maps and pumping music mixed with Eisenhower and Churchill’s famous speeches. It felt almost like an action movie trailer until the very end, when I was forced to recall that the scenes before me were not of actors and guns with blanks in them, but rather, real kids being gunned down, and real people’s homes being blown apart.
After a pique-nique lunch in the icy rain, because apparently Normand men don’t bother to care about planning things like where the children should eat on field trips, we got back on the bus to see the American Cemetery made famous in Saving Private Ryan and every other WWII movie ever made. When I was there last time I didn’t even realize that there was a museum on the property. Possibly because it’s funded by the US government, the museum was beautifully maintained, with accurate English translations on the plaques (these are sometimes hard to find in French D-Day museums) and stylized interiors. It was nice to hear American English being spoken around me by other patrons of the museum; I was tempted to talk to many of the older couples I saw passing through, but I kept to myself and continued speaking French to my incredibly bored students. They probably never realized there was a Southern girl in their midst!
While I’m not sure that the teenagers were deeply moved or even entirely conscious during our field trip, I had a wonderful time. It might not be so important to them right now, but I hope that some of the students will grow up and realize that they live in a region that is saturated in history and culture, and that that’s incredibly cool. I guess forced field trips aren’t the best way to cultivate any real passions among high schoolers, but I hope that one day a few of them will appreciate not only what was sacrificed for them during World War II, but the importance of knowing one’s history in general.