Discovering History Through Technology
In the ever-more digital age in which we live, it is becoming increasingly popular to use technology to help explore the Normandy battlefields and learn about Operation Overlord and the D-Day landings. As well as information websites (such as dday.center) and social media sites like Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter (the latter of which we are big fans), there are now dozens of different smartphone apps that can be downloaded to help visitors to Normandy navigate the battlefields, museums, relics and reminders of those first months following the invasion of Europe in June 1944.
The local Normandy tourist boards have also implemented several schemes to allow visitors to get more information of particular sites using their smart-devices. Many of the familiar "blue boards" or "totems" around the invasion routes (read more about the invasion routes) are now equipped with QR codes that, when scanned, provide the viewer with photos and historical information.
We have detailed below some of the different options available for visitors to the Normandy battlefields. If you know of a great app or a really useful Twitter feed you would like to recommend, then please get in touch and let us know.
Blue Totem "Géo Points"
Regular visitors to the Normandy Battefields will be familar with the many tall, blue information panels located throughout the area providing information on many of the most important D-Day sites along the pre-determined signposted routes (which you can read more about here). Known as totems, the panels provide route infomration on one side and French and English descriptions of the site or area on the other.
In recent years some of the 'totems' have been retro-fitted with an addiitonal panel and turned into 'Géo Points'. Each one has been given a unique alpha-numeric code and visitors can get additional information on their mobile devices by either visiting a website and entering the totem's unique code number; scanning a QR code (Data Matrix barcode); or via NFC (Near Field Communication) if supported by th user's device.
Information is provided in a number of languages including French, English, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and German. As well as information on the Overlord routes mentioned above there are prices and opening times of museums and some narrated videos. Check out the information available by visiting the website mentioned on the panels themselves - http://nmeh.mobi. If you'd like to look at an example of the information available for a specific panel then choose "Totems" from the menu and enter the code "HZ7H" (which is the identity code for the Totem at Hill 112 south-west of Caen).
The "D-Day Box"
Released in 2013, the D-Day Box was the brainchild of two young Calvados residents - Vincent Françoise et Yuri Perchey. Each beautifully designed box is adorned by a flag of one the Allied nations. Each contains an MP3 player, earbud headphones and a map with GPS locations and reference photos. There is also an eBook on the device and a replica "cricket" like the ones used by paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division. The MP3 player is pre-loaded with 17 professionally recorded audio guides in both French and English. Available at many shops and museums in Normandy, the D-Day Box costs around €39. It can also be purchased from the D-Day Box website at a discounted price. It is also possible to purchase and download the individual audio files from there.
The included earbuds use the standard plug so can obviously be substituted by your own choice of "skull candy". The MP3 player uses a Micro SD card so it is actually possible to remove it from the player and use it in another device. A USB cable is also included in the box both for charging and to enable the player to be connected to car audio systems (where supported). It goes without saying that you should give the player a good charge before use.
As of 2017, the D-Day Box is still going strong. Vincent and Yuri have even been in Las Vegas promoting their project at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
Open Air Museum (Musée à Ciel Ouvert)
The Musée à Ciel Ouvert, or Open Air/Open Sky Museum, is an initiative devised by the communes of Sainte-Mère-église and the surrounding areas. It consists of a GPS-enabled device which acts as a digital tour guide taking visitors on a 50Km round trip - using video, audio and archive photos to bring to life the battlefields of the American airborne sector and Utah Beach. The interactive map will chip in with historical facts as the unit passes pre-determined points of interest.
Available from the Sainte-Mère-église tourist office opposite the church and it is recommended to book a device in advance. Visitors should allow about 4 hours to complete the tour which takes people from Sainte-Mère-église to La Fiére, Amfreville, Picauville, Chef-du-Pont, Saint-Marie-du-Mont, Utah Beach and Foucarville. French and English language versions of the guide are available. The cost of renting the digital assistant is quite reasonable - just €8 (or €6 if you already have a Normandie Pass). However, in order to hire the device a €250 deposit and photo ID is needed.
The Open Sky Museum has been around for a few years now, but with the multitude of apps now available for download and with practically everyone carrying their own smartphone, we aren't sure how much of a future this has, especially given the €250 deposit requirement which may put off many potential users - along with the fact that it only deals with one element of the much larger invasion.
For more information visit the Normandie Tourisme website.
Smartphone and tablet apps are great way to carry with you tools to enhance your visit to the D-Day landing sites. If you search for D-Day Apps you will find also find a fair few games, but those are of no interest to us and not reviewed here. We've compiled a list below of the main D-Day apps that arecurrently available and given a few comments about each. Some are really worth having whilst others are less essential. Some are free, but even those which do have a price tag will not break the bank - so for the sake of a couple of pounds why not give them a try? Don't forget, there are also Kindle and other eBook versions of many popular Normandy-related books that can server as alternatives or additions to apps.
With any of the D-Day apps listed, we recommend you download them whilst connected to Wi-Fi rather than across your mobile carrier's network. This is especially true if you are already in Normandy and using data roaming services. Make sure you start each app before going out on the road as well. Upon first running some of the apps will ask if you want to download additional material to the device - to which the answer is, of course, "yes". Most, if not all of the apps, will not need to use the network once installed and will run purely from the device. The exception really only applies if using any of the apps to help navigate through something like Google Maps.
Note: You can click on the Android or iOS (Apple) links to jump straight to the Google Play or iTunes page for the specified app. There you can view system requirements and check out screenshots before deciding whether to download or purchase.
Twitter sometimes seems like the social-media equivalent of Marmite. It seems to be something you either love, or just can't see the point of it. At DDayCenter we are really big fans of Twitter and enjoy sharing news, information and photographs (and sometimes something completely irrelevent) with our followers. We've also discovered a great deal new and interesting sites and stories thanks to the Twitter feeds of other people who we follow.
Around the time of each anniversary the hashtags #DDay, #DDay72, #DDay73 etc become extremely active and a great way to keep up with what is going on. Sometimes these topics even start "trending" which is a great way to bring the story of D-Day to a new audience.
We'd love you to come and follow us on Twitter at @DDayCenter. Listed below is a handful of some of the many Twitter feeds we enjoy following around the subjects of D-Day, history, the Second World War and Normandy in general. Click on them to open the selected feed in another browser tab.The D-Day Story (@TheDDayStory)
Juno Beach Centre (@JunoBeachCentre)
National D-Day Memorial (@DDayMemorial)
Normandy Post (@Normandy_Post)
Otway in Normandy (@OtwayInNormandy)
Normandy Then & Now (@Normandythennow)
Omaha Beach Tourisme (@OTOmahBeach14)
Utah Beach Museum (@utah_beach)
D-Day Overlord (@ddayoverlordweb)
Asso. DDay-Overlord (@ddayoverlord44)
D-Day Revisited (@DDayRevisited)
Paul Reed (@sommecourt)
Ben Mayne (@BattlefieldBen)
Dan Snow's History Hit (@HistoryHit)
Dan Snow (@thehistoryguy)
Pillbox Study Group (@PillboxSG)
Spot On Locations (@SpotOnLocations)
WW2 Nation (@@WW2Nation)
War History Online (@WarHistoryOL)
Calvados Tourisme (@CalvadosTourism)
Normandie Tourisme (@Normandie)
Normandy Tourism (@Normandy)