D-Day veterans have criticised French tourism officials after they unveiled a new promotional campaign about the Normandy landings which ignores one of the beaches where British troops went ashore.
The initiative covers only four of the five areas where Allied forces landed on 6th June 1944, omitting ‘Sword’ beach, where almost 700 British troops were killed or wounded.
The new campaign was launched earlier this month by six tourist boards along the Normandy coast. They have joined up to create an area they are promoting with the slogan of the landings’ “secteur mythique” (mythical sector). This stretches from Utah in the west, across all the other beaches where troops came ashore but stops short of Sword, at the eastern end.
It also excludes a part of the adjacent Juno beach, where Canadians soldiers invaded, as well as drop zones further inland where airborne troops landed by parachute or glider, including the area around Pegasus Bridge.
This was the scene of one of the most celebrated clashes of the Battle of Normandy where soldiers from the 6th Airborne Division seized and held a crossing over the Caen Canal.
The French officials deliberately omitted Sword and part of Juno to focus on areas further west: Utah and Omaha, where the US forces landed, as well as Gold beach, the other area where the British went ashore, and the rest of Juno. They say these other areas attract 85 per cent of the 4.5 million tourists who visit the battle area each year.
Veterans and locals in the excluded area say the decision is because the beaches further west are more lucrative for the authorities and have accused officials of being motivated by “commercial” rather than “historical” factors.
As part of the new campaign, the tourist boards are to promote the phrase “mythical sector” and the area it covers and to use it for marketing purpose on tourism and social media websites.
The campaign has been launched to promote the area ahead of next year’s 70th anniversary commemorations. But it is also being used as a theme for this June’s D-Day festival, which is being organised by the tourist boards.
The festival will not cover the area of Sword beach. Among the events included in the festival is an outdoor exhibition in Bayeux, which will include photographs from the “mythical sector”.
One of those who went ashore at Sword on D-Day was Albert Owens, a signaller from the Royal Artillery. The 88-year-old, from Liverpool, who returned to the beach in 2011 on a trip funded by the Big Lottery Fund, was evacuated two days later after being wounded in an explosion. The man standing next to him was killed.
“A lot lost their lives in that area. It seems to be an insult to their memory to leave them out. I am amazed with the idea. If you are going to promote some of the beaches, you should promote them all.”
Critics of the decision have set up a petition, which is circulating on the internet. It has already attracted 2,000 signatures.
Sword Beach stretches for five miles from Ouistreham to Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer. It was where the British 3rd Infantry Division went ashore. The initial landing was achieved with relatively few casualties, but the British met strong German resistance as they advanced inland.
Several French troops, serving with 1st Special Service Brigade, also landed there and the decision to exclude the beach has been attacked by the Free French Commandos veterans, and the Normandie-Mémoire and D-Day Committee associations, as well as by tourism officials in the Sword area.
However, Loïc Jamin, president of the tourist office in Bayeux – one of the areas behind the new campaign – has defended it and said he “did not understand” the controversy.
He said Sword had been excluded because its tourist office was not part of the same partnership. He did not rule out it joining at a later date.