Preparations get underway as Normandy gears for the 70th anniversary of D-Day landings. Officials say that part of the preparation is the restoration of thousands of gravestones of British and Canadian soldiers who died during D-Day landings in Normandy.
Around 8,329 of these gravestones in three cemeteries are to be fully restored by the end of spring. The project is to be completed before June 6, 2014 just in time for the anniversary of the Normandy landings in 1944. The project is spearheaded by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC).
“Often it’s impossible to read what’s written on them, like the name of the soldier, the regiment’s insignia, the date of death, his age and his religion,” William Moody of CWGC said.
The white gravestones are made of English limestone. Each headstone measures about a meter high. Mr. Moody said the stones have never been replaced before.
A Belgian and a French company are undertaking the tedious restoration project. The old stones will be destroyed to be replaced by new ones.
The three cemeteries include the British war cemetery in the town of Bayeux which records around 4,648 burials is the largest known British war cemetery. The other two cemeteries are the Canadian soldiers’ cemetery in Cinthaux and the cemetery in Ranville. Ranville is known to be the first French village to be liberated from German occupation during the Second World War.
Aside from British and German soldiers, the cemeteries also includes remains of German, Russian, Italian, Polish and Czech soldiers. Some other remains of soldiers who died during World War II are either unidentified or of unknown nationality.
The headstones, particularly those in Bayeux, contain inscriptions. Each grave is also adorned by flowers and roses.
The D-Day landings, also known as Operation Neptune or the assault phase of the Operation Overlord, involved thousands of Allied soldiers from composite units from the air, naval and land forces who aimed to establish a firm foothold over German occupied Europe.
From June 6, 1944 until the August 22 of the same year, the casualties from both sides were said to reach over a million. The bloodshed during the Normandy landings were said to be of parallel proportions to that of the western front during World War I.
Omaha was said to be the costliest of all the Allied invasions during D-Day landings in terms of casualties due to the mines that served as death traps lined along the beach.
The Normandy landings was said to have signaled the start of the end of WWII.
The CWGC is said to have jurisdiction of around 3,000 cemeteries in France. The funds for the maintenance and restoration of the sites are dependent of the countries whose soldiers are buried in the cemeteries.
The budget of CWGC, which is also according to the corresponding number of soldiers buried, comes mostly from the British government amounting to 78% of the total funds.