Bayeux Memorial

Bayeux Memorial

The Bayeux Memorial honours those men of the land forces of the British Commonwealth and Empire who fell in the early stages of the campaign in northwest Europe of 1945 and have no known grave. It stands in the centre of a green lawn. On either side is a bed of low growing laurestinus, known for their attractive flowers, berries and foliage.

The Memorial is a building of classical design. The roof is supported by four columns, on which, in adjacent shelters, are panels of Portland stone bearing 1,808 names. Two hundred and seventy of those of Canadians. An explanatory inscription reads:

THE NAMES OF THE SOLDIERS OF THE BRITISH COMMONWEALTH AND EMPIRE WHO FELL IN THE ASSAULT UPON THE NORMANDY BEACHES OR IN THE SWEEP TO THE SEINE BUT TO WHOM THE FORTUNE OF WAR DENIED A KNOWN AND HONOURED GRAVE ARE RECORDED UPON THESE WALLS 6TH JUNE - 29TH AUGUST 1944

Invasion of Normandy, 1944

When the Second World War broke out in September 1939, Britain sent an Expeditionary Force to join her French allies in the defence of their country. There followed the relatively inactive winter of what was called the "phony" war. Then, in the summer of 1940, Germany, having occupied Denmark and Norway, launched a blitzkrieg attack on the Netherlands and Belgium. A second small British Expeditionary Force (which included part of the 1st Canadian Division) crossed the Channel. But after a short and disastrous campaign that ended in the capitulation of France, the British forces were driven from the Continent.

Except for mounting the large-scale raid on Dieppe in August 1942 (in which 80% of the military force was Canadian), Allied forces did not return in strength to the mainland of Northwest Europe until the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. Now known to history as D-Day -- Operation Overlord. The task was formidable - for the Germans had turned the coastline into a continuous fortress with guns, pillboxes, wire, mines and beach obstacles-and on it depended the outcome of the war.

In preparation for the invasion, Americans, British and Canadians underwent months of special training: supplies were amassed in southern England, engineers planned an under-water pipeline to France, and prefabricated harbours were assembled. Ground, sea and air forces rehearsed endlessly to ensure perfect timing and co-operation.

Following an all-night bombardment of the assault areas, the Allies attacked "Fortress Europe" on a five-division front, and troops from three airborne divisions descended by parachute and glider on the flanks of the invasion area. All three Canadian services shared in the assault. One of the assault formations was the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division supported by the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade and troops attached from other arms and services of the Canadian Army. Forming part of the British 6th Airborne Division, which dropped on the eastern flank of the bridgehead was the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion.

The crossing of the English Channel was made through lanes that minesweepers of the Royal Canadian Navy helped to clear. Canadian naval guns joined in hammering the enemy's beach defences. Some of the 3rd Division's units were carried in Canadian landing ships and put ashore by Canadian assault landing craft. In the skies, the Royal Canadian Air Force made its important contribution as bombers attacked German batteries and Canadian fighter squadrons assailed targets further inland.

Two armies carried out the operation. On the right, or western half, extending from the base of the Cotentin Peninsula to a point northwest of Bayeux, the First United States Army attacked on the beaches "Utah" and "Omaha". On the left, in a sector reaching eastward to the mouth of the River Orne, the Second British Army assaulted the beaches of "Gold", "Juno" and "Sword".

The Canadians, under Major-General R.F.L. Keller, were responsible for "Juno" in the centre of the British front. Their task was to establish a beachhead along the eight kilometres between Courseulles and St-Aubin-sur-Mer, push through the gap between Bayeux and Caen, then penetrate to Carpiquet airfield some 18 kilometres inland. It was hoped that by nightfall the two British divisions to their left and right flanks would have taken Caen and Bayeux and the Canadians would be astride the road and railway linking the two towns.

Delayed by bad weather and rough seas, the men of the 7th Canadian Infantry Brigade stormed ashore in the face of fierce opposition from enemy strongholds that had survived the bombardment and from mined beach obstacles hidden by the rising tide. Casualties were high and the fighting intense as they captured Courseulles-sur-Mer and the inland villages of Ste-Croix-sur-Mer and Banville. By evening the brigade was consolidated on its intermediate objective near Creully.

On the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade front, the assault engineers arrived in good time and were able to engage the enemy strongpoints. The beachhead objective was taken and the Canadians moved inland to seize Bernières. Beyond Bernières progress was slower and Bény-sur-Mer on the main road to Caen was not taken until evening.

The 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade units landed shortly before noon and moved from Bernières through Bény to the vicinity of Villons-les-Buissons, less than six and one-half kilometres from Caen. Here machine-gun fire held up the advance and they halted just short of Carpiquet airfield, the final divisional objective.

By the end of the day, the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division was well established on its intermediate objectives, though short of the planned final D-Day objectives. On either flank, Allied progress had been similar. The 3rd British Division was within five kilometres of Caen, and on the right the 50th Division was only three kilometres from Bayeux. The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion had dropped with the 6th Airborne Division on the left flank of the bridgehead. Although badly scattered and suffering severe losses, the Canadian "red berets" destroyed their assigned targets and wreaked havoc behind the lines. In the American zone, the assault forces at "Omaha" beach had met fierce resistance, but here too, beachheads had been established.

It was a magnificent accomplishment. The strong Atlantic Wall had been breached and supplies and men were pouring ashore to resume the advance on D-Day-plus-one. The Allies were back in Europe.

Approximately 14,000 Canadians landed in Normandy on D-Day. Inevitably the cost was considerable, but not nearly as high as had been feared. The Canadian assault force suffered 1,074 casualties, of which 359 were fatal.

Ahead lay more fighting - very bitter fighting in which Canadian forces would play their full part. The day of victory in Europe was still eleven months away.

Directions

The town of Bayeux, in Normandy, lies 24 kilometres north-west of Caen. On the opposite side of the road to the Bayeux War Cemetery, situated in the south-western outskirts of the town on the by-pass which is named Rue de Sir Fabian Ware, is the Bayeux Memorial.

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