The Falaise Gap

Trip Start Aug 04, 2009
Trip End Aug 17, 2009

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Flag of France  , Normandy,
Monday, August 10, 2009

This Monday morning was a beautiful, bright, perfect summer day.  We left our Ibis hotel in Bretteville-sur-Odon, just on the outskirts of Caen, heading south on the N158 to Falaise.  The Battle of the Falaise Gap was our main focus this day, especially the role of the Canadian 4th Armoured Division/10th Infantry Brigade, due to my grandfather's participation.   Along the route you are able to see the Canadian Cemetery at Cintheaux/Bretteville-sur-Laize; in fact, all along the N158 were villages and locations where the July & August campaign of ’44 took place.  In Falaise, after getting provisions for our picnic lunch at a Boucherie & Patisserie and little walk around the town, we stopped at a TI to get information on how to get to Trun and find the Montromel-Coudehard Museum & Memorial.  They were very helpful and set us on our way on the D63, which turned into the D13, before reaching Trun.  We just did a quick drive through Trun, and by this time, many signs were pointing us in the direction of Montromel.  Still on the D13, the road between Trun and Chambois is rich with battle significance.  A Canadian flag caught our eye, and we stopped at a roadside "information" site about the Trun-Chambois area.  The site overlooked the village of Saint- Lambert-Sur-Dives, where Canadian Maj. Currie captured a German force and earned a Victoria Cross.  There is a nice cairn to Maj. Currie and we took time to look around this site.  If we thought too hard about where we were, and the significance of the area, it could have become overwhelming.  We so enjoyed everything we saw on this day! 

In Chambois we checked out a memorial that the Americans had erected to recognize their part in the battle, which was next to this 'watch tower’ or ‘keep’, which caught our attention (apparently 12th century).  After that we headed slightly north-east on the D16.  This area was lush and green, with hills and valleys, and apple orchards that must be used to make Calvados.  It was so quiet and peaceful; it was hard to imagine the misery that it once saw.

The Museum is dedicated to the Battle of the Falaise Gap, and the Memorial on site is to commemorate the actions of a Polish Division that defended Hill 262.  What is interesting about the museum is that it is built into the ground on Hill 262, and includes a panoramic viewing area of the actual Gap (or Pocket, as it is also referred).  This has to be the best museum experience we had on this trip, and it really went into depth about the battle.  There was a video that I still remember to this day as it seemed to be able to convey the sense of panic that must have been felt during the battle, especially by the fleeing Germans.  One of the museum guides actually took some time to talk to us in detail about what the area experience during the battle.  I would definitely return if I am ever in that area again.

What we wanted to do next was find the Tiger Tank that is located in Vimoutiers.  It is parked along side of the road in a small park setting, and all we knew it was in Vimoutiers!  It couldn’t be that hard to find!  From the museum, we head slightly north-east again, not sure what route we took, but it was more lush greenery all around.  It took some driving and turning around before we finally saw it!  Although it is in rough condition, it was really impressive in size and I could imagine being scared to death to see it coming with its 88 gun.  This tank is obviously a very popular site to see, if doing the Falaise Gap circuit.  The park also had some picnic tables which we took advantage of to have our picnic, splitting a Croque Monsieur and Ham Crepe, a normandy tarte, some cheese and red wine.

We still had plenty of time left in the day, so now we shifted gears to take in some local culture, not connected with WWII.  We stared making our way back toward Trun and stopped in Camembert, to visit the museum dedicated to Mme. Marie Harel, the developer of Camembert cheese, which is located in the house where she lived, known as Beamoncel.  We parked at the entrance of the village and hiked up a hill, to the museum.  For only 4 euros each, we had a guided tour and learned about Mme. Harel’s life and beginnings of camembert.  The views were great and we really enjoyed it!  Afterward, we walked down the hill, where the popular company that produces camembert, President, also has a museum.  I believe that is all we bought while in France – we still buy it in Canada when we want camembert.  At that time we were still full from lunch so we were not in the mood to eat any more cheese!

Afterward, back in Falaise, we went to see William the Conqueror’s Chateau de Falaise and look around the town more.  We went on the tour of the Chateau, which had gone through a recent renovation.  We found it to be almost too refurbished, and did not enjoy the tour of the Chateau very much – maybe all we were thinking of was Mont St. Michel!  But, it was still interesting to see and learn about more about the time period.  Near the Chateau was an impressive statue of William the Conqueror (Falaise is his birthplace) and Eglise de la Trinite, which was very gothic looking, to my eye.  We took a quick look around, but by this time we were getting tired and the day was getting on, and we still had one more important stop to make in Cintheaux before returning to Caen.

Finding the entrance to the CWGC in Cintheaux was a bit tricky, having to get off the N158 and through some back road around Gaumesnil to find the entrance.  The day was getting a bit grey, but still a very soft, warm breeze.  We took some time to wander through and found some graves of soldiers belonging to the same regiment as my grandfather.  Unfortunately, based on the wreaths laid in the cemetery, we figured out we had just missed out on a ceremony commemorating the 65th Anniversary of the Battle of Falaise Gap!  At the entrance to the cemetery is a limestone pattern on the ground of a Maple Leaf that was a nice touch.

After Cintheaux, we decided we wanted something cheap and easy for supper, so picked up McDonalds (there was one located beside the hotel) and ate in our room.  John was working on reservations at a hotel in the Arras area (had wifi at the hotel), which we were headed for the next morning.  We took the rest of the evening to get organized and get focused for the WWI leg of the trip.

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