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The scars of Angoville-au-Plain

What a match! Click to check the window and door on the left and background church!
Postcard match.  This peaceful beach has seen so much.

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.

Screaming Eagles

Angoville-au-Plain, Rue de l'Église
Angoville-au-Plain, Rue de l’Église, June 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.

Kenneth J Moore
Kenneth J Moore

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.

Robert E Wright
Robert E Wright

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.

Window in the church of Angoville-au-Plain
Window in the church of Angoville-au-Plain

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.

One of the bloodstained Pews
One of the bloodstained Pews

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

The memorial and church at Angoville-au-Plain

24 thoughts on “The scars of Angoville-au-Plain

  1. I accompanied Bob on his first visit back to the church in June 1999. That was the 55th anniversary of D-Day. As an Army journalist I was looking for stories to write about and never did I anticipate the adventure of Bob Wright. I will never forget his face at the sight of the church when the bus pulled up or the wonderful adventures he shared with us once inside. Bob and his son, Bob Jr., became my extended family!

  2. I too saw this church on my Normandy tour this summer. I am so amazed no one has made a movie about this. It is an unbelievable story. Thank you so much for this site and information. I am a high school teacher and I am teaching this story.

  3. In 2014 the jump team I was a part of had the pleasure to make several jumps in the Normandie region including Utah beach.

    We stayed in Augonville-au-Plain at a 17th century home used by Col Sink as his headquarters. Which is next door to the bloody church. Every year during the D-Day anniversary a service is held there.

    Because we were invited guests we where given several special accommodations including a behind the scenes tour of the Utah beach museum. There I purchased a print of the bloody church titled, ” We treated them all the same.” I was told both medics had passed away yet, I wanted something more than a photo to remember my trip/experience. Before leaving the states I set my DVR to record several programs about d-day. When I returned I came across a PBS Special that was about five years old. It was based on a book called, “Angels of Mercy.” In the special I recognized a medic I met in Holland who was with the the 101st. In both D-Day and Operation Market Garden who I spent ten days with when our Jump team was invited there by the Dutch Military in 2009. While I watched the Special it mentioned Robert and Ken as the two medics at the bloody church. I knew Robert was dead but I looked for Ken Moore, which I could not find any info on him. I remembered from the Special Ken grew up in California. So I google searched Ken Moore in CA. and got hundreds, undeterred I began calling. And on my first call I reached him. I can only say God was watching. I told him about the print and asked if I could send it to him for his signature and he said yes. None of prints had his signature and I would be the first. I had him write how he felt for those three days onto the print and he did. I continued my conversations with Ken. I learned which plane he flew in and I meet the pilot who lived only three hours away. There was a print of his plane so I got that signed.

    I continued my conversations with Ken until his death December 7, 2014. His son called me to tell me the news and said his his dad enjoyed our conversations. That in turn lead me and a friend to become volunteers at a local Veterans home. I urge you all to do the same.

    1. I visited the church when in Normandy this October. As our tour guide stopped, I wondered why we were stopping in this small town. Once in the church, and hearing the story of what happened here, it became one of my highlights!!! Thank you for sharing this!

  4. I had the pleasure and honor of knowing Ken for the last 16 years of his life here in Sonoma. We would sit and talk about his time in Europe and the church. He told me that the Germans were going to execute the priest of his company near the church but decided against it. Ken was actually hit in the head by parts of the ceiling that fell when it was hit my the mortar and knocked out but when he awoke, he went back to tending the wounded. A very humble man. I miss him.

  5. I just spent 5 days in Normandy with my 15 year old son. We had three 9 hour days with a private guide. We visited Angoville au Plain and the church. The scars of war are very visible to this day. Blood stained pews etc. Mr. Wright’s ashes are interred there. According to the guide he wanted to rest there for eternity. This generation is truly the greatest, and I have nothing but respect and appreciation for them all. We should learn from them while some are still among us. Once they are gone we will have lost a national treasure. I believe it should be every person’s duty in the free world to visit Normandy and pay tribute to the thousands that made the ultimate sacrifice…

  6. This is a forgotten little corner of the Normandy story… but certainly a story worth remembering. It brings tears to your eyes to see those blood stained pews in person. God bless these two medics. Our guide told us the grave with the initials R.E.W. contained some of the ashes of Bob Wright. But like most WW2 vets he didn’t want a lot of fanfare or glory. He wasn’t a hero… everyone else was, in his eyes. Visit here if you are Normandy and near Utah Beach.

  7. I am trying to find out who the grave at the side of the church belongs to. It as the letters R.E.W on it and has American flags on it. My husband and myself have visited this church many times and never knew this was there until we visited this week. The church is such a poignant place and we always come back year after year to pay our respects.

    1. Our guide says it holds some of the ashes of Robert Wright, the medic who treated soldiers in the church. She explained it is not marked because it is not legal to bring in ashes. She says they are trying to get an exception granted so he can receive full recognition.

  8. Just back from Normandy. Visited the church, whose roof is being replaced but still was able to go inside. A place of honor.

  9. I recently saw the history of U.S. Red Cross station in Angoville-au-Plain on TV during the anniversary of Normandy. I was but a child during the war but stories I read and heard from my father (Army Air Corps) are still chillingly clear and I revere them. I am still in awe about Angoville-au-Plain and the two American Soldiers who were there to serve and protect. Thank you.

  10. just watched this story on public television. What a great story. I want to visit Normandy some day, and will include a trip to this church.

  11. What bravery! What sacrifice! What history!

    I am living in Saint-Pair-sur-Mer and hope to visit Angoville-au-Plain and its memorial this June 2014.

    Thank you for this website..

    1. Thank you for your comments Tom. We agree, incredible bravery, a story that must not be forgotten.

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