June 6, 1944: D-Day
The epic of war, told by a grain of sand...
My grandfather liked to tell stories about life and death, and the sea.
When I was twelve, he told me the best sea-story I ever heard, a fantastic tale about WWII. It was the first time I heard the word “commando.”
War Sand explores this story, from micron to myth.
And the Nine Commandos
The story my grandfather told me, goes like this.
During New Year’s 1943, nine British commandos were ordered to cross the English Channel and surface on the beaches of Normandy in France. The mission was to covertly collect sand and soil samples along a vast stretch of coast.
They had two days and nights to cross the Channel, collect the samples, and return without being caught.
France, and the seacoast in particular, was thick with German forces. The Atlantic Wall, Hitler’s dream fortress, was a wall of pure concrete, guarded by massed artillery and elite soldiers. To be caught meant certain execution as spies.
If the commandos made it back to Britain, the samples would undergo scrutiny by scientists, geologists and physicists. Supreme Allied Commander Eisenhower and Field Marshal Montgomery were counting on these minuscule grains of sand to withstand the weight of an invasion force, the largest the world had ever seen.
Thousands of ships, soldiers and armaments would land on Normandy’s beaches for the liberation of Western Europe. But first, the commandos had to complete the mission.
At the end of his story, my grandfather opened a small wooden box, and unwrapped a small glass tube from a white linen cloth.
It contained a pinchful of grey sand.
“This is what we brought back.”
Donald Weber is a photographer whose work examines the transformations of history through narrative. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and serves on the faculty of the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. War Sand is his fourth publication.
Teun van der Heijden is an internationally recognized book designer, with multiple titles to his credit. This marks Weber and van der Heijden's second collaboration together. Their first, Interrogations, has gone on to much acclaim.
Dr. Kevin Robbie is a former Associate Professor at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. He specializes in Materials Physics and Biological Materials. Robbie's research group led the Scanning Electron Microscope imaging of the 512 sand samples collected by Donald Weber.
About the Book
In this visionary collection of images, texts, and scientific data, photographer Donald Weber and his colleagues investigate the beaches of D-Day using the latest techniques of forensic analysis. What they find is something far larger than its microscopic constituents: War isn’t just a defining feature of our collective experience, but a quantum event, as well.
The war-relics presented here offer an immersive narrative on the theme of social memory. The assembled D-Day artifacts include WWII spy-craft and old Hollywood movies, dioramas and drone-mounted cameras, private post-war memoirs and wistful seaside photographs. They reveal our civilization's longing for a final victory over death.
War Sand seeks a great truth: What is history? And what does it mean to us, its creators and survivors?
Publisher: Polygon, 2018
Paperback: 398 pp., fold-out map insert, 195 colour images
Dimensions: 7.6×11.4″ (195×290 mm)
Language: English, French and German
Photography by Donald Weber
Text by Larry Frolick, Kevin Robbie and Donald Weber
Design by Teun van der Heijden, Heijdens Karwei
Separations by Sebastiaan Hanekroot, Colour & Books
Contact & Info
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