Mike Strachan’s e-mail journal — Entry #3, from France
Received 25 April 2008
Hello all — this was another busy day for me, with the usual backtracking in the car.
Many of the smaller towns around Caen which were distinct towns in 1944 are now swallowed up by Caen itself or by industrial parks, rather like driving along Kingsway — you can't tell where one begins and the next one ends. Further out are the small towns of Buron and Authie which lead to the Abbe Ardenne. Authie is a mid-size small town with a memorial to the North Nova Scotia Highlanders (NNSH) who lost 84 soldiers killed here.
Buron is a stone's throw over the highway overpass. Place des Canadiens is rather large and includes the bus stop. Trees are in bloom, birds are singing, and I can hear a cock crowing. This at 3.30 PM. There are two monuments, one to the HLI (Highland Light Infantry) and one to the Sherbrooke Fusiliers (27th Armoured Regiment), and a large maple leaf emblem is set in pink stones into the plaza floor.
Just down the road is the Abbe Ardenne, built by L'Ordre de Prémontré established in 1120 by Norbert, a monk.
It is set in fields on a slight rise, about 300 meters from a highway roundabout (carrefours) which contains a bus stop; the sign on it says St. Germaine La Blanche Herbe, Ardenne. However it is next to houses in the hamlet of Cussy. The higher buildings in the abbey would have afforded good observation posts, and the woods outside a good armoured or artillery emplacement. The entry door in the wall is next to a plaque on the outside wall: “06 04 In Memory Of The 27 Executed Canadians”. Inside the walls the large building to the left is now an art gallery showing sketches by well known artists (including Victor Hugo). The church is used as a library for scholars, and the Pressoir (for cider) is now a conference room. It is obviously no longer used as an abbey or for any religious function. Around the back is the Jardin des Canadiens with a memorial to the slain Canadians, surrounded by small Canadian flags and wreaths. The inscription reads “On the night of 7-8 June 1944, 18 Canadian soldiers were murdered in this garden while being held here as prisoners of war. Two more prisoners died here, or nearby, on 17 June, 1944”. The sign on the gate says they are buried at Bény-sur-Mer, so I recorded their names (units not mentioned) and I'll go back to Bény to see which units they were in.
Back at Buron I looked for the grave of the padre of the HLI who returned here after the war. Mark Worthington, the manager of the Pegasus memorial, told me about this. The vault holding his ashes is just over the garden wall of the house on the square. He was padre Jack Anderson, and his ashes are here because the town mayor would not allow his ashes to be buried in the local cemetery for some reason.
In trying to find May-sur-Orne I took a wrong turn and wound up in Brettville-sur-Laize, seven km down a long winding road through hills and valleys — very picturesque. Locals tell me the Canadian cemetery is actually at Cintheaux, just down the road. The cemetery is very large, with 2,959 graves, 80 of which are UK. Then through other small towns on the QOR/1H route — Tilley-la-Campagne (I love the sound of that), Rocancourt, and Bourgebus.
I make it back to the parkade by 9:00 PM and it's still light out. This is because Greenwich and western Normandy are almost on the same latitude, but due to a jig in the time meridian, by agreement it's 8 PM in Greenwich and 9 PM in Caen. That means it won't get dark until 10 PM in late June.
For those of you just added to the distribution list, 1H is First Hussars (6th Armoured Regiment, my dad's) and QOR is Queen's Own Rifles, my uncle's regiment and his dad's regiment in WW1).
TTFN, more to come tomorrow.