Another physically and emotionally demanding day. After being woken up early by the pouring rain I weighed up my options. Asking around I learnt that a bus from outside where I was staying went directly to the Memorial of Caen. Many people had spoken highly about this museum but I wasn’t sure I would have time. Taking the rain as a sign I decided to hop on the bus (in full lycra and cycling cleated shoes) and visit this museum that was immaculately presented and informative.
The visit reiterated the importance of my chosen route in explaining the history of the war. The treaty of Versailles (where I am heading tomorrow) carved up the land in Europe and forced reparations on Germany which slowly killed their economy. Hitler was a man of propaganda and blackmail; quickly he gained more support as the country suffered by promising to solve the situation by removing the problem of the Jew’s attempt at world domination. Soon he was in charge.
After just 20 years of peace, Hitler had taken Germany into neighbouring land without much resistance from the other European countries because no-one wanted war again. It was only when Hitler invaded Poland that war was declared. However German troops took France by surprise and caused Pétain to make a deal with the Nazi’s not to divide up the country.
Hitler wanted to invade England, but decided to focus efforts on Moscow, with the idea that if Moscow fell, the Allies would likely give in. Russia was surprised by this move, but managed to repel the attack despite not being prepared. Then the Japanese made a surprise attack on the American port of Pearl Harbour, causing America to declare war on Japan. Immediately Hitler declared war on the Americans thinking they would be distracted for a while. But really it was Germany first.
We all know the atrocities of the Nazi’s during this period towards the Jews. An account that I did not know about was that the Germans killed two thirds of approximately 5 million Russian Prisoners of War (POWs) in just 6 months. The museum also touched on the Japanese torture of the Chinese that I have only recently heard about (perhaps I will learn more on another cycle trip). Horrific stories of child rape and stabbings with bayonets were recounted in detail. Tough to understand.
To finish off the museum tour, the liberation was described which reminded me of the importance of this journey. Then came the trials of Nuremberg. I am passing through Nuremberg later in the trip for this reason. 9 months of trials and 11 months of waiting for the sentences saw 12 condemned to death. The night of the sentencing Goering (the military leader of the Nazi’s) took a cyanide pill and died. The others were hanged and then cremated at Dachau. 3 men in the trials were found not guilty.
It was an incredible museum that I highly recommend. I decided to support the museum further by purchasing some badges that I have put on the side of my pannier bags and a British flag that I hope to take from Normandy to my final destination of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Due to spending so long in the morning at this museum I only managed to set off on the bike at 1300. Giving me just about 6 hours of sunlight for 120km of riding. But fortunately it was just one road all the way. Things were looking good until I got out of Caen just five minutes into the journey; the seriously strong headwind started blowing me backwards. It reduced my speed and reduced my morale; I felt that I was just fighting the wind, going nowhere.
My morale was lifted when I saw that the road I was on was actually called the Liberation Road (Rue De La Liberation). This allowed me to push on to Lisieux, my planned lunch stop.
Lisieux was the most odd place. Not one person smiled at me for the whole time I was there. The drivers were awful nearly hitting me on several separate occasions as well as just being rude. People seemed to be distant and unfriendly. Perhaps everyone was depressed because no-one knew how to drive or park properly!
Staying positive about the trip I remembered the good things in life, putting a smile on my face and making people look at me strangely. I continued up the steep hill out of the unfriendly town and stumbled across a cemetery for the Allies. Since the famous American cemetery was closed yesterday due to ridiculous budget cuts, I didn’t know the German one existed, and the British one was too far out of the way, this was the first cemetery I had visited on the trip. It was extremely moving once I started to comprehend what each one of these stones represented. It represented a man, normally around my age (early 20s) who had gone to support his country in this tragic war; never to return. Some graves were even nameless.
After another 70km non-stop of oncoming headwind I made it to Évreux at about 1900 before the sundown. After showering, I wandered around this small town and decided to treat myself to a rather large McDonald’s meal still contemplating not only the physical endurance of this trip, but the emotional part too. I am about to pass out ahead of the ride into Paris (via Versailles) tomorrow, and looking forward to a “rest” day on Saturday.