D-Day fans play Normandy fantasy games

3rd June 2004, Comments 0 comments

VIERVILLE-SUR-MER, France, June 3 (AFP) - Fabrice Dehaese pours cold water into a GI's helmet from World War II, gets out a 1940s shaving brush and squints into a period folding mirror to shave.

VIERVILLE-SUR-MER, France, June 3 (AFP) - Fabrice Dehaese pours cold water into a GI's helmet from World War II, gets out a 1940s shaving brush and squints into a period folding mirror to shave.

"Shaving like that's really authentic," approves a fellow guest at the reconstructed D-Day camp in Vierville-sur-Mer, overlooking one of the Normandy beaches where the Allies landed 60 years ago this weekend.

Dehaese travelled from neighbouring Belgium to live out his D-Day fantasies at Vierville because the camp is considered by purists to be one of the most authentic of its kind.

Access is strictly controlled by a "US military police officer" who is the exact replica of his World War II counterparts. Except that he is Dutch.

And camp creator Gerard Wartel pays meticulous attention to detail.

The bottles of Coca-Cola - still full - on the camp shelves date from the 1940s, strains of Glenn Miller and Nat King Cole float through army truck windows and enthusiasts sleep under tents whose slightly rancid smell is a mark of their authenticity.

"We've even reproduced the chewing gum wrappers from the time," Wartel, who chairs the GI Wills association in Templeuve, northern France, says proudly.

The camp overlooks Omaha beach - the code name for one of the five Normandy landing sites used by British and US forces on June 6, 1944.

The area is doing a brisk trade in D-Day memorabilia - some in special 60th anniversary packaging - ranging from model parachutists, car registration plates marked "D-Day 1944" and the whole gamut of camouflage clothes.

But the Vierville camp residents want the real thing.

Alva Ford, from the eastern US state of Virginia, spends his entire weekends looking for rare collectors' items. Now in Normandy to commemorate the last major D-Day celebrations, he proudly sports a uniform from the very 29th infantry division that landed a few metres on Omaha beach 60 years ago.

Bill Hines, from Jacksonville, Florida, shelled out USD 4,000 (EUR 3,275) to make the trip to Vierville with his son. He and his friends brought a World War II US jeep and lorry with them, paying out USD 3,200 in freight costs and many hours in bureaucratic niceties for the privilege.

Among his many uniforms this member of the US Military Vehicles Preservation Association has chosen the attire of a 101 Airborne Division parachutist. He keeps his Ray Bans on though.

"It costs EUR 1,500 to kit yourself out with the full parachutist's uniform," explains Wartel.

"Prices are going though the roof," agrees Francois Cools, who has arrived from the Belgian city of Antwerp with his friends from Historical Warriors association in a World War II jeep. The trip was a labour of love - the boneshaker of a vehicle cannot do more than 70 kilometres (44 miles) an hour.

Jean-Claude Bourdon, from Yvetot, a little further east along the Normandy coast, had less of a distance to travel but it still took him years to prepare the trip.

In Poland he found a 1943 Zundapp, a rare German motorbike and sidecar, for EUR 15,000. The vehicle, which he has never seen in any film but Burt Lancaster's "Train", took five years tinkering to get it back on the road.

© AFP

Subject: French news

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