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15 Aug 2009

D-Day and on: 65 year commemorations

With the commemoration of the 65th Anniversary of D-Day itself now past, there have been many other memorials, gatherings and other marks of respect and recollection around the progress of the Allied invasion in summer 1944. Here are a few of them, picked at random to illustrate the range and variety of events, and the reasons they were held.
Canadian cemetery at Cinthaux
This is one of a number of cemeteries for those Canadian soldiers who died during both World Wars. Cinthaux is for those who died during the Caen, Falaise, Trun and Chambois phase of the invasion. There are 2980 Canadians buried there.
The former French health minister Simone Veil attended a memorial service there on August 9th; a survivor from the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp where she lost part of her family, she is the Honorary President of the Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah.
Liberation of Alencon 12 August
This was the first town to be liberated by the Free French Army, under General Leclerc. The French had been part of the D-Day forces, along with Canadians and Poles, and with the British made up the greater part of the invasion forces. The fact of the French liberating part of their own country makes Alencon a very important commemoration for them.
Bailey Bridge at Pont Farcy
There were over 1500 Bailey Bridges in Normandy in 1944, and the last one still in existence is at Pont Farcy, over the River Vire. There bridges were easily assembled , in effect like IKEA furniture, and replaced all the essential bridges destroyed by one side or the other. There has been a campaign to preserve and commemorate the bridge, and details can be found here:
Murdered family
One of the more moving ceremonies was that remembering the Lebailleux family, who lived in St Planchers, a village near Granville. At the end of July 1944 the area was still occupied by German forces. On the night of 30 July, German soldiers raided the house and found a transmitter hidden there. They took away all four members of the family in the house: parents Louis and Ludivine, and children Louis and Simone. The next day all four were found shot dead.
Coutances – liberated but lost
The town of Coutances had 8,000 people living in it. It suffered an enormous amount of bombing on 6 June, and subsequent days. Between bombings, almost all the population (over 250 were already dead) retreated into the countryside. When eventually they returned, about 70% of the town was rubble. Page 3 of this pdf file has pictures from the time. This year there were a range of services, parades, and other memorial activities. As with many Norman towns, liberation came at a high price.
Chateau reunion
A couple of years ago a couple called Simon and Kate Howard bought a chateau at Langotiere, near St Lo. In the archives they found a photograph from 1944, showing a number of schoolchildren standing 9on the steps of the chateau. They were from nearby schools, escaping the bombardment of St Lo. An article in the local newspaper found about 19 of them still around, and this month 10 of them gathered on the same steps.

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