Trip to Normandy and Brittany – Marilyn & Joe Hunt
Marilyn & I spent three weeks in northern France from late May to mid-June. The first half was in Brittany & Normandy, the rest in and around Metz where we met in 1960 while the RCAF was headquartered there.
We attended the D-Day commemoration on June 6th at the Canadian museum on Juno Beach. The D-Day veterans in attendance were honored by French and Canadian dignitaries including retired CGS General Hillier. It was a most memorable day. One hopes that even when there are no veterans to return, new generations will come here, look across the weathered gun emplacements and the quiet stretch of sand, and remember their fear, their pain, their heroism, and their sacrifices. A most touching tribute was to a woman who came to see where the father she had never seen was killed while coming ashore with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles. These are photos of the Juno Beach museum and the shore in front of the museum.
There are many other photos of the event on the Juno Beach memorial web-site photo gallery that are better than any I took.
Not being a student of history, my knowledge is pretty much limited to the general outline of the war and the major battles. But there are so many smaller sub-stories that we saw commemorated throughout Normandy and Brittany. Here are a few pictures and stories:
We were stopped in a small village while the local band led schoolchildren to lay wreaths in the cemetery. There were over 15,000 French civilian casualties during the Normandy campaign, mostly from Allied bombing. But throughout Normandy it was and is remembered as “The Liberation”.
On a cliff overlooking Plage Bonaparte on the north coast of Brittany , a memorial commemorates a place where the French Resistance took downed Allied airmen and hid them in coastal caves until they were picked up by British submarines. It also commemorates the heroism of Canadians who joined the French Resistance and assisted in these dangerous operations
While preparing for our trip I became interested in the Falaise pocket, both the familiar story about the encirclement and destruction of several German divisions and the continuing controversy about the number that escaped. We spent two days touring the many Canadian battlefield sites and memorials south of Caen and around Falaise. Much of the country is fairly open plain that appears well suited for a fast-moving tank battle, but it was long and costly fight by the Canadian armour and infantry units. There are many memorials to individual Canadian regiments that fought there, like the one to the Royal Hamilton Light Infanrtry at Verrieres Ridge, and then there is the somber beautifully maintained cemetery at Cintheaux.
This photo is the entrance to St Lambert-sur-Dives where the Falaise pocket was finally closed. Major Currie’s Canadian units fought a costly but successful three day battle to close the pocket from the northwest. American and Polish units came from the south and east. The buildings seem the same as in the photos taken during the battle and published in several books. Major Currie was awarded the Victoria Cross for his heroism and leadership. He is buried here in Owen Sound along with his wife, an Owen Sound native.
This quiet park-like place on the river Dives is the ford at Moissy. It was the last river crossing available for German tanks trying to escape the Falaise encirclement.
It was a great trip. We made it up as we went along. We would have learned more with a tour, but we enjoyed “discovering”.