Plans to create D-Day ‘theme park’ spark fears ‘show’ could be disrespectful to Normandy Landings dead

Henry Samuel
The D-Day fallen must be respected say historians and experts - ARCHIVE PHOTOS

Plans to create a permanent tourist attraction recounting the Normandy Landings in northern France have ignited controversy with detractors warning against turning the bloody Allied invasion into a “Disney-style”, commercial “D-Day land”.

The idea was first mooted by Hervé Morin, head of the Normandy regional council, who expressed a desire to create a permanent site in the region to mark the D-Day landings of June 6, 1944 in time for their 80th anniversary in 2024.

Some five million people visit Normandy every year as part of “remembrance” tours, often to find out more about relatives who fought in the biggest amphibian operation in military history and which proved decisive in the liberation of France and defeat of Nazi Germany.

According to Mr Morin, private investment will stump up the €100 million (£85m) for the "grandiose" project he said would harness "the latest technology" to create light shows and film projection created by a “very famous Anglo-Saxon film director”. There are press rumours Steven Spielberg has been approached.

A plan to create a permanent D-Day tourist attraction has sparked controversy  Credit: BRITISH OFFICIAL PHOTO 

Mr Morin hopes the attraction, which could be placed somewhere between Caen and the landing beaches, will emulate Céniscénie, a huge show that recounts the history of the Vendée region in western France, uses local actors, and has been seen by 12 million people. It is part of the Puy du Fou theme park - the second most visited in France after Disneyland Paris.

Some officials and experts have welcomed the idea, with Jean-Marc Lefranc, head of the D-Day Committee, calling it “really wonderful” and offering his association’s “support”.

Patrick Jardin, mayor of Arromanches-les-Bains, site of Gold beach where British troops landed, said: “Anything that brings to the fore the landing beaches circuit in the coming years is a good point.”

But the prospect of a “show” is not to everyone’s taste.

Olivier Paz, mayor of Merville-Franceville, told local paper Ouest France that the project must not be "allowed to become Disneyland”.

Meanwhile, more than 1,000 people have signed a petition launched by an association called “the national group of 1939-45 research” warning that the creation of a project it dubbed “D-Day Land” could “seriously harm the ecology of the area but also lacks respect for the veterans and the people killed during the Normandy landings and the battle that followed”.

"The Normandy landings is a page in the history of France that must be respected and not give way to a section of local business that will only serve to destroy the work done for years by remembrance associations but also lovers of this page of history," it read.

Petition warns against 'D-Day land' project that must respect the fallen Credit: Reuters

Christophe Clément, who launched the petition, told the Telegraph it was a warning to politicians not to put profit before remembrance and sacrifice.

“We hear it may be like Disneyland. This petition is an act of vigilance. It is our duty not to forget the wounded and dead but this requires a certain elegance and dignity and we want to be sure politicians and private business respect that.”

Loïc Jamin, head of the Bayeux Intercom tourism board also warned that D-Day was an “extremely sensitive issue” that has until now been linked to commemoration and warned against "sensationalism".

“There is a real demand from customers who want this memory to be kept alive, who want something to see…but one must be very careful to respect history as the festive side can very quickly get too much,” he told actu.fr.

He said the project must avoid offending the last remaining D-Day veterans some of whom "will still be here" for the 80th anniversary.

The Normandy region said the “totally private” project would be “nothing like Disneyland” and “fully respectful” of D-Day history.

The attraction would be open in the summer months and would recount  not just D-Day but “the liberation of Europe”.

This is not the first D-Day project in northern France to have sparked a row. Some locals were irked by a massive permanent memorial to fallen British soldiers, inaugurated by French President Emmanuel Macron and former Prime Minister Theresa May to mark the 75th anniversary in 2019.

Residents at the site at Ver-sur-Mer staged a march to protest its location, saying it was too big and would destroy protected agricultural land.