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Bayeux: The First Liberated Town in France

Discussion in 'History of France during World War II' started by Jim, Feb 7, 2008.

  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    The north spires of Bayeux Cathedral, inspired by Chartres, and the central tower completed in two stages in 1486 and 1858, rise over the city. The cathedral was rebuilt by William the Conqueror's half brother Odo on the scale, if not the style, we see today. In 1940 Ode's famous embroidery was taken by the Germans to the chateau of Sourches in the Sarthe (near Le Mans) for safe keeping. It was later transferred to the abbey of Juaye Mondaye, near Bayeux, where it was studied by a German team of art historians under the supervision of Count Metternich: its story was one the Germans wished to see preserved. The embroidery was returned to Sourches but on 27 June 1944 Himmler ordered its removal to the cellars of the Louvre, with a view to shipping it east. However, like its home town and indeed Paris itself, it was found undamaged and returned to Bayeux in 1945.

    By a combination of Allied logistical planning and military good fortune, Bayeux, along with its wonderful treasures, was liberated intact on 7 June 1944. The first Free French political appointment was made when Raymond Triboulet was made sous-prefet, and powerful associations of legitimacy and liberation for the French were conferred by General de Gaulle's famous visit and speeches of 14 June 1944. When Winston Churchill visited the town on 12 June, he was impressed and relieved to see so much had been achieved with so little damage. He also visited the harbour that would bear his name, but was not encouraged to look further.

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    There were many problems in the aftermath of liberation: the most urgent was the housing of thousands of refugees fleeing from the battle on its doorstep; many families were split up and the task of reuniting them was often impossible; orphans needed attention. These and many other tasks were undertaken jointly by the sous-prefecture, the Mairie, the British 'Civil Affairs' and British medical services. Huge stockpiles of ammunition, medical stores, food and military material began appearing in the Bessin countryside around the city.

    A crowd follows General Charles de Gaulle through the streets of Bayeux during his visit to the French town after its liberation in 1944.​


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    Pictured below we see Louise Alfred (1909-2003) standing in the centre and looking up at the camera as crosses are painted white. Private Tom Currie, age 38, killed driving a petrol tanker on 11 August 1944, has had his cross painted and lettered ready for his grave. By 1948, 80 women were still employed at this and other administrative tasks at what, in 1945, became the 48th Army Graves Concentration Unit which had been set up in the Nissen huts of a former hospital out of town on the Littry road. The large numbers of young women in Bayeux, the local women supplemented by ATS volunteers, Wrens, nurses and others, together with the very fact of its privileged position, gave a unique atmosphere to Bayeux among the Normandy towns of the time. Many Anglo-French marriages and some divorces resulted.

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