This book provides a series of battlefield walks around the beaches and airborne landing sites and drop zones of Normandy. It has one walk each for four of the five landing beaches, two walks for Juno beach, and half a dozen other walks covering sites like Pegasus Bridge and the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc.
Each walk is prefaced by a short but detailed account of what happened in the area on the fifth and sixth of June. Reed clearly took some care composing these pieces, and many of his sources, which are conveniently footnoted for anyone who cares to pursue them, are primary documents or published accounts written by participants. The text contains nods to historiographical debates, which suggest that his primary research is backed by a wide secondary reading. These vignettes focus on individuals within particular units, and thus provide a better connection with the day’s events than a more impersonal account of a brigade or a division reaching a given line by a certain hour. They set up the walks very well, giving the reader an intimate and blow-by-blow account of what took place in their surroundings.
The walks themselves are equally good. The book’s introduction offers advice on travelling to Normandy by various means such as where to buy local maps, what to wear, and what to expect from the weather. The individual walks suggest the best places to park, and then give clear directions about which trails, roads and paths to take, what to look out for along the way, and notes on how long each walk is likely to take. The descriptions of longer walks suggest good places to eat locally, and any local museums or other sites, like cemeteries, are noted and their opening hours listed. The walks are intended to be more or less circular, or at the very least to avoid covering the same ground twice and they take in almost all of the locations mentioned in the histories which precede them. In some cases, structures have since been demolished, and Reed takes care to note instances where the terrain and the local environs have changed since 1944. He also highlights any buildings of note that are not open to the public, areas of private land, and bunkers which retain their original armament or are open to the public. In short, the sections describing each walk are well written with clear, systematic instructions, and notes on the local area calculated to be most useful to a visitor.
It is an excellent book that would serve well in its intended duty as a hand-held guide. It’s also well worth a look for anybody who isn’t planning a visit to Normandy in the near future, but simply looking for some well-written work on the initial engagements of the Allied return to France.
Citation: Andrew Duncan, ‘Review of Paul Reed, Walking D-Day’, Birmingham “On War”, 31 March 2013
You can download a copy of the review here.