"Over successive D-Day commemorations I have devised 'Le Grand Repas du Débarquement'—the Great Meal of the Invasion—a homage that grows a little more ornate each year"by Wendell Steavenson / July 17, 2014 / Leave a comment
When Staff Sergeant Laurie Weeden noiselessly piloted his glider down to capture Ranville Bridge in the opening minutes of D-Day, he had only a 48-hour ration pack to sustain him. Canned ham, vitamin-fortified chocolate, beef tea cubes, “the sort of condensed food, desiccated, you had to pour water over.” He could not remember any particular taste. “There was tea of course. Being British, you had to have tea.” Now, when he returns to Normandy each year for the anniversary on 6th June, he is feted with meals and toasted with vin d’honneur.
My dad was too young to fight in the Second World War, but he grew up collecting shrapnel and logging fighter plane sightings, and has become an amateur expert on the Normandy landings. Some families gather for Easter or Thanksgiving; the Steavensons go to Normandy every June.
Each year we notice more tourists, more museums and monuments. This year was the 70th anniversary of D-Day and the whole coast was full of re-enactment fans: French and Belgians dressed up as American GIs in battle dress, with rifles over their shoulders, aviator sunglasses and stogies; whole families in period costume—women with rolled hair-dos, little boys in shorts and sandals. The roads were traffic jams of Second World War jeeps and ambulances, half-track tanks, motorcycles with side cars, amphibious “ducks”—half boat, half lorry—and black 1940s Citroëns painted with the Cross of Lorraine insignia of the Free French Forces. On Omaha Beach at 6.30am, several platoons re-invaded, taking plenty of photographs of each other and a carefully posed upturned American helmet at the edge of the surf in the silvering dawn.
Family traditions always focus on a meal. Over successive D-Day commemorations I have devised “Le Grand Repas du Débarquement”—the Great Meal of the Invasion—a homage that grows a little more ornate each year. We begin with a dish of stewed horse meat and turnips to represent the privations of the French under occupation. Various hors d’oeuvre follow, each commemorating a different part of the invasion—bread topped with fried spam and quail’s eggs, to remember the midnight breakfast served to the soldiers before they deployed to the landing craft; sand made out of…