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France 2017: Day 3

Posted on 9th May 2017 by Chris Barnes

Greetings from a lovely and sunny Normandy! Yesterday was, of course, VE Day and it is highly appropriate that we should be spending part of today on the D-Day landing beaches at Arromanches, where British, Canadian and U.S. forces came to help liberate La République from the Nazis.  On 9th May, Russia celebrates Victory Day, as the news of the Nazi surrender didn’t reach Moscow until 24 hours later, so there is still a historic significance to the day of our visit.

A good night’s sleep was much needed last night, with a number of children literally having to be woken this morning!  After been scraped out of bed, we enjoyed our baguettes, cereal, pain au chocolat and fruit again this morning before a swift turnaround and prompt exit for our day out.  The Château allows the organisation of a number of variations for these, and each of the four schools currently on site is doing something different.  These can include visiting le Mont-Saint-Michel, Bayeux, the D-Day Landing beaches and cemeteries, or spending a day in a French school - or combinations of these!

Our first stop, as with two of the others schools, was the nearby market town of Villedieu-des-Poèles.  About twenty minutes’ drive from the Château, it is the quintessential French rural market town.  Having parked up and walked through the market to reach our ‘point de render-vous’, Guillaume (our animateur for today) took the children through the important vocabulary and phrases that they would need for their time in the market, as well as reinforcing some important safety points:

  • Stay in your groups of four or five.
  • Don’t wave your money around - if you’re not spending it, keep it in your pocket.
  • Put anything that you have purchased into your backpack.
  • You don’t have to buy anything that the vendors suggest!  If they offer it for ‘less’, you can still say no.

One of the parts that the children really enjoy about their time at the market is the feeling of independence as they wander around in small groups, choosing what they want to buy.  They look after their money, select their purchases and have their ‘little bit of power’, as one of them put it.  The teachers and animateurs walk around the market keeping an eye on them to ensure that they are staying within the designated boundaries and checking that everything is in order, but without hovering too much.  Several children have already commented how much they enjoyed walking around in the market and all of them were extremely responsible whilst there, looking out for each other.  Needless to say, the fidget spinner and baseball hat stall were big hits! - especially as some of the children found new styles of the former that they hadn’t seen in the UK.

From here it was literally only 30 minutes to the beautiful seaside town of Arromanches and the site of the 360-degree cinema.  All of us enjoyed the beautiful sunshine as we sat out on the clifftops to eat our sandwiches and soak in the atmosphere, before we moved into the cinema itself.

Words such as ‘poignant’ or ‘awesome, or ‘awe-inspiring’ often get misused or over-used.  However, they are certainly true in this case.  The film that we saw tells the story of the occupation of Normandy in particular, and how it was liberated by the combined Allied forces.  As the film literally surrounds you, both in sight and in sound - IMAX has nothing on this! - the experience is quite emotional as well.  The children’s responses were touching, with some wondering why anyone would want to go to war at all having seen the suffering on the video.  Walking out of the building and back onto the clifftops, we had a fantastic view over the D-Day Landing beaches and the artificial concrete  harbours that were built to allow the Allied ships to dock and soldiers/tanks to disembark.

From here it was back to the cathedral city of Bayeux - we had passed through on the way to Arromanches - and an opportunity to view the famous tapestry.  For a number of years it has been housed in a former seminary in the middle of Bayeux: we walk around with an audio guide, which explains about each section of this ‘stitched comic strip’, as the narrator describes it.  The narration gives a superb description of how the tapestry was commissioned by Queen Mathilde (wife of William the Conqueror - Tilly B was excited to know that she had a queen who shared her name!) or by Odo, brother of William.  Our resident history buffs, Alex M and Callum, were thrilled to see this and we’ll no doubt hear more about it from them as we go through the week.  Afterwards we went up to see the exhibition in the museum and to watch a short film with more information about the history of this most well-known of needleworks.

No sickness on any of the coach journeys back and forth today - well done to everyone! - and we were soon back at the Château for our evening meal.  Very French again tonight…bread and salami with gherkins for the entrée, followed by chicken and pommes de terre gratinée with broccoli for the main course, then mousse au chocolat for dessert.  Yum! (Plus various options for those who needed them…)

A little bit of down-time for those who needed it afterwards was much appreciated - some just wanted to sit and chat; others wanted to go and play football!  Then it was up to the sports field and time for initiative exercises.

These were new for the Prep 4 and Prep 5 pupils, but more familiar to Prep 6 as they had encountered outdoor variants of these at Condover Hall.  The children had to work in small teams to solve problems such as fitting ten cows into nine fields (!) but only one could go in any field…handcuffing two people together and they had to get free, but they couldn’t undo the ropes, knots or fiddle with the apparatus in any way other than moving; and working out different codes.  A real challenge for some but as always the children rose to the occasion.

As I complete the blog the children are getting ready for bed.  It has, once again, been a long day and all are ready to sleep.  Tomorrow we are on site all day and it will be time to become mud monsters - assault course and time to battle with ‘le toilet de Shrek’ amongst other things.

More tomorrow.  Time for a coffee!

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Click here to see some photographs from today and here to see some photographs from yesterday (many thanks to Mr. Barber for also taking photos!)


M. Barnes