Christophe Rault has been a tour guide in Normandy for more than 20 years. He has taken many of our travelers on a tour of Normandy's beaches, which are famous for being the location of the D-Day landings in June 1944. Some travelers have family members who fought in the Battle of Normandy, and are interested in walking in their ancestor's footsteps. 

Christophe is an expert in this period of history, and takes visitors to the key WWII sites, explaining what happened there and the significance. If you had a family member who died in battle, he may be able to locate their grave in one of the war cemeteries and take you there during your tour.

He has been kind enough to take the time to answer some of our questions about his work and experience as a tour guide, for which we are very grateful! 

If you're interested in visiting Normandy and doing a tour of the D-Day landing beaches with Christophe, please let us know when you contact us to book your tour!

Christophe with travelers in front of an army tank in Normandy
Christophe with travelers in Normandy
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Christophe Rault

How did you become interested in the region of Normandy and WWII history? 

I always was a history buff, and history was one of my favorite subjects at school. Although I was born and living in Paris at that time, my grandparents on my father's side also had a home in Normandy where I spent most of my school and summer holidays. I've been living in Normandy permanently since 1979. I started reading a lot about WWII, and more specifically D-Day and the Battle of Normandy, and felt very interested right away.

What do you enjoy most about your job as a tour guide? 

Bringing this history alive for our visitors.

Many of our travelers want to visit the Normandy landing beaches because they have an ancestor who fought in the Battle of Normandy. Do you have any interesting traveler stories?

I met Jack Appel who landed at Omaha Beach on June 26, 1944, US V Corps, B Company Signal Corps of this Army Corps that landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. 

Jack was on one of my 2-day tours. He had made it through the war unscathed, but also explained that only the A Company of his unit was sent ashore on D-Day, just in case Operation Neptune (the Normandy landings) had failed, so as not to lose both companies at the same time. 

He's part of a monument with photographs with other comrades in Belgium, where he went before the end of the war after most of France was freed in late 1944 / early 1945, ending in Germany in 1945. He's still alive today, in perfect shape with a brilliant mind, and turned 100 years old last September 15, 2023.

You can watch an interview with Jack Appel on the US Holocaust Memorial website.

D-Day veteran Jack Appel
D-Day veteran Jack Appel
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Published with permission from Forever Young Veterans

I also remember Kathy Wall Panatone, daughter of Captain Herman V Wall, an Army Officer Photographer with the 165th Signal Photographic Company. He landed on the Easy Red sector at Omaha Beach early in the morning of June 6, 1944 and took 11 famous pictures, among which some are very famous. He was severely wounded by a shell burst, losing half a leg below the knee and couldn't be evacuated before late in the morning.

View from the boat approaching Omaha beach in Normandy on D-Day
View from the boat approaching Omaha beach in Normandy on D-Day
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Herman V. Wall, CC-BY SA 4.0

We spent a full day on tour and I took her to the specific area of the beach where her father landed and was wounded. This spot matched the view of the bluff overlooking the beach where he took maybe his most famous war picture while still onboard the landing craft bringing him ashore. Famous medic in the 29th US Infantry Division Robert Schiska is visible on the front right of the barge. 

She wrote a book about her father, Herman V Wall: Standing On One Leg, because after several surgeries, he would wear prosthetics for the rest of his life. She offered me a copy of her book at the end of our tour.

Herman V. Wall as an amputee survivor
Herman V. Wall as an amputee survivor
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Herman V. Wall, CC-BY SA 4.0

How do you prepare for each tour you give? 

After 22 years working as a tour guide, I don't do anything special to prepare, as most of the half-day and one-day itineraries and visits are more or less the same. Sometimes I do do more specific research beforehand when this is required, but it doesn't happen frequently.

Where do you take travelers to beyond the landing beaches and the war cemeteries? Are there any hidden or less well-known places that have an interesting background story?

There are countless venues and stories. Beyond D-Day, the Battle of Normandy spanned more than three months, from the first airborne operations on the night of June 5 to 6, until September 12, 1944, which was the last day of the war in our region. This took place on a battlefield as large as a country like Belgium. 

There are places of interest further inland, where US, British and Canadian airborne operations took place. These inland battles occurred over extensive areas associated with eleven main Allied offensives in Normandy, such as Perch, Epsom, Jupiter, Windsor, Charnwood, Goodwood, Atlantic, Spring, Cobra, Totalize, Tractable and Lüttich, the German counterattack. 

It would also be possible to follow the war path of a specific unit of a travelers' relatives, including both big and small places (too many to mention here). But it’s nearly impossible to do all that in just one day, unless travelers make a special request to visit specific places beforehand.

What surprises people most when they visit the Normandy beaches and WWII sites?

The way the memory has been kept alive, with due respect.

Tour guide Christophe with a traveler in Normandy
Christophe with a traveler in Normandy
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Christophe Rault

When is the best time to visit the landing beaches and other WWII sites in Normandy?

Certainly not on June 6th (the D-Day anniversary)! It’s too crowded and busy, with difficult traffic conditions and parking. 

The weather conditions in this region are very changeable, and may be beautiful or very bad no matter whether you’re touring in the winter or summer.

The busiest season is usually from early March to late October/early November. So, most of the year you won't be alone at the various sites you may visit, except maybe very early in the morning. In contrast, November to February are very quiet.

Christophe giving a tour at the Normandy beaches
Christophe giving a tour at the Normandy beaches
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Christophe Rault

Many thanks again to Christophe for answering our questions.

If you're interested in booking one of our Normandy tours and would like a private guided tour of the Normandy landings beaches, let us know and we will make sure this is included in your itinerary!

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