Dad’s Base in Normandy

Posted: October 21, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

We began the first day (yesterday) with a visit to the American Cemetery above Omaha Beach. We had visited it about ten years ago, where we realized for time first time why Dad was in Wales: preparing for Normandy, based on seeing the large map in one of the pavilions next to the graves. He died in 2001, and although we knew he was here D+5, we didn’t realize the full extent of his time in Normandy until recently.

France etc. 2013 111

We looked again at the large map and guessed that he probably had left from Milford Haven, Wales, rather than from Swansea or Cardiff, which were much farther away from St. Dogmaels, Wales. [But we were wrong: two months later, when we  learned that the company had left from Plymouth, England.] At any rate, it was a lovely quiet morning, with mostly French families visiting this very moving place.

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Here are a couple of pictures Dad took on D+5, when the 111th Ordnance company landed at Omaha Beach:

img192 Our trucks unload on Omaha Beach D+5 img194 Boats off of Omaha Beach, D+5

The goal of the day was to find the Abbey of Cerisy-la-Foret, between St. Lo and Bayeux. This was because, long ago, my sister asked our dad about a small watercolor painting of an old church that had hung in our childhood home, and that had always been rehung in our parents’ two later homes. Dad told Marcia that he had been based there soon after landing at Omaha Beach on June 11, 1944.

France etc. 2013 150 abbey cerisy painting France etc. 2013 178

We located the village of Cerisy-la-Foret on the map, not ten miles from our B&B, and arrived early afternoon in a cloudy drizzle. Our first clue that this was the right place was a monument to the Second Infantry Division at the top of the lane leading to the abbey. By now, we had figured out that Dad’s unit, tank and small arms repair, was continually being detached and reattached as needed throughout the war. We think that for a short while, he was part of the 29th, then part of the 2nd, here, in the early summer of 1944. That belief was confirmed by the small monument at the head of the lane leading to the abbey:

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Dad and Donald McGowan, place unkown

Dad and Donald McGowan at the abbey, summer 1944

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Andrea at the same spot, 2013

We were happy to see, on this Sunday in October, that the Cerisy abbey was open for visitors. While Ed parked the car, I walked around the side and made a wonderful discovery. There in front of me, to the left of the entrance, was the very wall of the church that formed the background of a couple of photos of Dad and his buddy McGowan. I couldn’t believe it was so easy. Because the wall looked so destroyed, I thought it might be a church anywhere from France to Germany, the result of war devastation. But this wall had just fallen to pieces over a thousand years, quite naturally. They took the picture because this was their home at that time.

We went in to pay to see inside the abbey. When we showed the girl at the ticket desk our picture of Dad and his pal outside, she became as excited as we were and refused to let us pay, even giving us a postcard, a booklet, and a poster from the little gift shop. Her English was limited, and she didn’t know anything about the troops there, but her mother, now 80, had told her stories about the air raids and bombs hitting the nearby villages during the war. It was another remarkable day.

We learned a few months later, after talking with Arthur Brooks, who was one of the company officers, that there were no fresh food to be had in Normandy, and that the men subsisted on C rations for a month or so. That explains these photos of my dad’s:

“C rations again,” Dad wrote.

mom's list

“You still have to stand in line for everything.”

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