On our way to the vast beaches by Les Gougins in Manche, just north of Utah Beach, we took a small detour to pay our respects in Angoville-au-Plain.
Hidden down ancient lanes long sunk into the Normandy countryside, Angoville is reached by a single track road.
This is a hamlet, not even a village; with a few tidy houses leading up to a well proportioned stone church, set within tended grounds.
A peaceful scene that hides shocking scars still visible from 1944.
On the night of 5/6 June the 101st Airborne division parachuted in behind Utah beach. One objective was to destroy a route essential to the German forces, the Cherbourg to Paris road near tiny Angoville-au-Plain.
Surrounded by the infamous ‘bocage’, a flattened countryside that hid bogs, dips and snipers, Angoville became the centre of intense battle before being briefly captured by the Americans.
Two medics of ‘Screaming Eagle’ 101st Airborne, Robert Wright and Kenneth Moore, with Lieutenant Ed Allworth, quickly went into action setting up an aid station inside the 11th century church at Angoville-au-Plain.
They braved open countryside to search for the injured, taking them back to the church to carry out life saving aid.
The battle intensifies
Shortly afterwards the Americans were forced to withdraw from the village. As the battle intensified Lt Allworth left the medics, aware that as a soldier if he stayed he would endanger the medics, and those in their care.
Kenneth Moore described that first evening:
“By the evening we had 75 of them (wounded personnel and one local infant, in the church). Our own folk had come to tell us that they could not stay any longer. So we we’re left with the wounded. A German Officer soon arrived and asked if I could tend to his wounded too. We accepted. During the night the churchyard was the scene of another battle.
Two of our casualties died. But among those I could tend, none lost their lives. I tended all sorts of wounds, some were skin deep but others were more serious abdominal cases.”
The battle for Angoville-au-Plain raged around the church for three days, with possession lurching back and forth between the two sides.
At one stage German troops forced their way in, but seeing the medics were impartially treating injured from both sides, withdrew and placed the international symbol of medical aid on the church door. The red cross flag.
A mortar hit the building causing further injuries but the medics struggled on. To their shock on 7 June two German observers surrendered to them, after hiding all that time in the church tower!
By 8 June the battle was finally over and Angoville-au-Plain became the established headquarters of Robert F Sink, the officer in command of the 506th PIR Robert and Kenneth had a well earned sleep.
Tributes in Angoville-au-Plain
Today across from the church, like so many villages in once ravaged Normandy, is a war memorial with two flags. One French and one American.
Unusually this memorial is not carved with a long list of dead; it is a celebration of lives saved.
‘In honour and in recognition of Robert E. Wright, Kenneth J. Moore. Medics 2nd Bn 501 PIR 101st Airborne Division. For humane and life saving care rendered to 80 combatants and a child in this church in June 1944.’
Inside the Church the shattered glass has been replaced, thanks to kind donations, and remembers the bravery of 101st Airborne Division. The windows illustrating parachutists, and of course an eagle, are unlike any we have seen before in a Normandy church.
The bloody scars of Angoville-au-Plain
All war leaves scars. Many can be hidden by time, some cannot.
The scars of Angoville-au-Plain are in the church. They are not the bullet holes or the windows showing soldiers and battle. They are the still blood-stained pews that served as hospital beds for 80 brutalised casualties of war.
It is impossible to calculate how many people, then and now, owe their lives to Kenneth and Robert’s bravery.
We do know that for their efforts in saving 80 lives under atrocious conditions, Kenneth and Robert were both awarded the Silver Star.
The memorial and church at Angoville-au-Plain