Career change in France: ‘I never tire of talking about World War Two’

From graphic designer to D-Day tour business - we speak to a Dutch woman who turned her passion for history into a new life

Monica Baan leads history tours to Utah Beach, Normandy; Monica at Juno Beach in 1989; Monica is fascinated by WWII vehicles
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In our series featuring people who have changed career in France, Monica Baan explains how her passion for modern history saw her bite the bullet and take over a World War Two tour company.

I grew up in Holland and first visited Normandy on a family holiday in 1989, aged 19. It was the 45th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

While there, we visited the battlefields and learnt more about the history of World War Two.

From that point on, I was hooked

I found the period fascinating, and knowing that I was standing on the site where everything happened brought history to life for me.

I was already interested in wartime vehicles and even owned an American World War Two half-track. The trip made a lasting impression.

I wanted to learn more about the war and get a real sense of what it was like for the men and women involved.

One of my uncles was actually in Normandy on June 16, 1944, when the Battle of Normandy took place.

He had moved to the US in 1936 and, although I tried to talk to him about his experiences, like many veterans, he did not like to speak about what he had gone through.

Read more: Black US D-Day veteran awarded France’s highest honour aged 100

A chance meeting

Over the years, I connected with more and more people who shared my interest.

As a result, many of my friends share my passion for this historical period.

However, for years my fascination with World War Two remained very much a side-interest.

On leaving education in Holland, I became a graphic designer, a job I loved.

I worked for myself and enjoyed what I did, and was not looking to make a change.

Then, in June 1995, I went to a re-enactment event at Bletchley Park and bumped into the owner of the D-Day Battle Tours company, Ellwood Von Seibold.

We got talking over our shared interest.

By 2013, I was tiring of life in Holland

Everything seemed to go at 100 miles per hour and life was stressful.

I still enjoyed my graphic design but felt I was working all hours and did not have much time for myself.

That year, I travelled to Normandy again with a group of friends, and I began to wonder whether I might make a move to France – to see if I could make a different, more relaxed kind of life for myself.

My then-partner and I viewed a bar for sale and decided to see whether we could make it into a viable business. Our plan was to turn it into a World War Two-style field kitchen.

Before we could make an offer, however, the premises were sold to someone else.

Then I discovered that Ellwood was selling his tour business and it seemed like fate.

Read more: Retired French soldier hunts down war grave thieves and Nazi relics

I really love the small details

We decided to buy the business, completing our move to France in 2014. Since that time, my partner and I have gone our separate ways.

I have not looked back. Running the tours is fascinating. We start in spring, and take groups to Utah Beach, Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery, as well as various significant places in between.

There are also tours in the British and Canadian sectors. I am constantly talking on the way from one place to the other – there is history to share in every corner.

Immersing yourself in something you love is risky – and friends sometimes ask whether I get tired of talking about everything World War Two.

For me, however, it is constantly fascinating. There are always new documents coming out, always new things to learn.

I really love the small details – finding out about the families of soldiers who fought here.

Read more: French man finds bracelet of American WWII soldier in a field

‘Winter is quieter and I can rest’

Life in Holland was always so busy, and I yearned for a quieter life. Being able to work in a field that I am so passionate about is the icing on the cake.

My 23-year-old son is going to move here soon from Holland, and will become a guide as well.

At present, I lead all the tours myself. It is hard work – talking and walking a lot means I am tired at the end of each day. But the winter is quieter and there is time to rest and reset for the year ahead.

As for living in France, I absolutely love it

My house in Holland was in a town. Here, I can just look out from my conservatory and see miles of rolling countryside.

So many people talk about doing something impulsive, changing their lives like I have.

However, I think many people are scared to actually make the move.

Personally, I would rather do something and fail than realise, aged 80, that I should have tried.

When I came over, I said to myself that if it doesn’t work, I can always do something else.

There is always somewhere to live, opportunities and the chance to start your life again, no matter what your age.

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