Sunday, April 20, 2014

WWII Commonwealth War Cemeteries

Last week I wrote about the WWI Commonwealth cemeteries L and I were able to visit in Belgium and this week I'd like to finish this series of posts with a little tour of the WWII cemeteries we visited in France.

Bayeux War Cemetery

We woke the morning of March 12th to a very foggy day and set off for our first visit of the day- the Bayeux War Cemetery in Bayeux, France.

The Allies began their offensive in this part of Europe with the D-Day landings along the coast of Normandy on June 6, 1944. There wasn't much actual fighting in the city of Bayeux but it was the first French town of importance to be liberated by the 50th British Infantry Division on June 7, 1944. As the troops moved through Bayeux towards the landing beaches they ran into difficulties bringing the heavy equipment through the city. It was dangerous and very slow moving so the British Army's engineering department decided to build a big boulevard around the city. This became known as "the by-pass" and was the first ring road ever in France. The term and the road are still in use today.

The Bayeux War Cemetery is the largest Commonwealth WWII cemetery in France and was completed in 1952. It contains 4,144 burials of Commonwealth soldiers with 338 of those unidentified. There are also 500 war graves of other nationalities with the majority of those being German.

The grounds were given to the United Kingdom in perpetuity by France for the sacrifices made by the British Empire in the defense and liberation of France.

The Bayeux Memorial stands just across the road from the cemetery and commemorates more than 1,800 men from the Commonwealth forces who died early in the fighting after the D-Day landings and have no known grave.

The Latin epitaph along the front of the memorial is in reference to William the Conqueror and the Invasion of England in 1066. It reads: "We, once conquered by William, have now set free the Conqueror's native land."

Bayeux Memorial

Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery

About 20 km to the east of Bayeux is the little town of Reviers and it is here out in the peaceful farmer's fields that you will find the Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery.

This cemetery contains 2,048 WWII burials with the majority of them Canadian and 19 of them unidentified. Many of the 2,048 men buried here were from the 3rd Canadian Division who died either on June 6th or in the few days following it, when the Division engaged in battle with the German 716th Division and the 21st Panzer Division. The cemetery also includes the graves of four British soldiers and one French resistance soldier who fought alongside the Canadian soldiers and had no known family. This cemetery commemorates the graves of nine sets of brothers.

Ranville War Cemetery

Our last stop in France on Thursday, March 13th was the Ranville War Cemetery and church. Ranville was the first village to be liberated in France when the British 6th Airborne Division captured the bridge over the Caen Canal in the early hours of June 6th. Those soldiers landed nearby by parachute and gliders. Many of this division's casualties are buried here or in the churchyard next to the cemetery.

The cemetery contains 2,235 Commonwealth burials of WWII with 97 of those being unidentified. There are also 330 German graves and a few graves for other nationalities. In addition to the soldiers, the mascot of the 9th Bn Parachute Regiment a dog named Glenn, is buried with his master, Private E.S. Corteil. The churchyard next door contains another 47 Commonwealth graves, one of which is unidentified and one German grave.

"We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; 
we shall never surrender."
~ Winston Churchill

No comments:

Post a Comment