In May and June we did three consecutive tours of the D-DAY BEACHES and the CLOSING of the FALAISE GAP. Two family groups and one larger group of American friends. In glorious weather we visited some new sites such as the British Normandy Memorial at Vers, just opened and pristine. The bronze sculpture of three infantrymen on the attack is clearly based on the similar figures by the Higgins boat at Utah – but it is immeasurably superior. Some of the new sculptured memorials that litter Normandy are dire. Bottom of my list are the Resistance, Danish and Dick Winters memorials near Utah. Although they are beaten for awfulness by the one to Mr Higgins himself, standing by his boat. The best of the new(ish) monuments is the moving bronze Green Howard at Crépon.
I twice visited the Band of Brothers site of Brécourt Manor, courtesy of the mayor of St Marie-du-Mont who owns the chateau. Naturally, he prefers that we do not publish photos on the internet, or indeed encourage unwelcome tourists. You must have permission before a visit. But it was a privilege to be there, and to hear from him personally the true story of what took place.
Ike wrote about the Falaise Gap – ‘It was literally possible to walk for hundreds of yards at a time, stepping on nothing but dead and decaying flesh.’ As you wander its small lanes winding up to Mont Ormel, held heroically by the Poles, and look at the three tiny crossing places over the Dives, you can picture the claustrophobic hell for those caught in the pincer – and the terrible destruction by air and armour and artillery. The detritus was not cleared until 1960.
The photo shows the surrender of an SS unit at St. Lambert-sur-Dives during the Falaise battle. The Canadian commanding officer holding a pistol, with the Free French chap in the white shirt, is Major David Currie who won the VC. There is an interesting aside. The SS officer with his hands up is talking to a sergeant. The SS man is a little cocky. He should now sit out the war in a POW camp. But his parents received a telegram reporting his death. And dead he certainly was. But then, three years later, his parents were in a news cinema and saw the film shot by the cameraman on the left. And there was their boy! Alive and well. They were perplexed, and angry. What happened was that the officer was taken down the line to be interrogated but never made it. He was perhaps too bumptious, too arrogant. There was bad blood between the Canadians and the SS. His death was a statistic. Such is war.