ANGOVILLE, FRANCE, November 17, 2018 — In a small church, less than an hour’s drive from the site of the largest amphibious invasion in history, two medics braved the horrors of war in the Normandy hamlet of Angoville, France to save the lives of nearly 80 American and German soldiers in June of 1944.
The bloodshed of Normandy
Normandy is a region dotted with literally thousands of personal vignettes of survival, courage, and sacrifice that ironically demonstrate the goodness of man even when surrounded by violence and bloodshed. Travelers planning a visit to Normandy will find a wealth of information regarding D-Day sites, gardens, chateaux and more at the comprehensive We Love Normandy website.
Situated just north of Utah Beach, the village of Angoville-au-Plain is so small it doesn’t even rate a place on most maps. For most visitors to Utah Beach today the church still remains relatively unknown. Yet here, in the dawn of June 6, 1944, it became a larger than life story of bravery and dedication by two young soldiers during an intense battle to destroy the strategic German military route between Cherbourg and Paris.
Kenneth Moore and Robert Wright, both medics with the 101st Airborne Division that had parachuted behind Utah Beach, set up a makeshift hospital in the 11th century Angoville Church to provide medical care for 80 Allied and German troops and one child during the fighting.
Surrounded by the infamous bocage or “hedgerows” which greatly slowed Allied progress to the interior, Angoville found itself in the center of the intense fighting.
For three days, the two doctors braved open countryside in search of the injured. Any soldier, regardless of nationality, was taken back to the church and given medical attention. With only the pews of the church available to serve as operation tables, the pair of medics provided care for soldiers from both sides with one stipulation, no weapons could enter the church.
Thus what was usually a sanctuary for reflection became a “sanctuary of life.”
Kenneth Moore thus describes the events of the 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 were 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.”
Despite the onslaught, the brave, determined young medics tirelessly continued their mission, working day and night to save the lives of the fallen soldiers.
In one instance, German troops forced their way into the church, but quickly withdrew when they realized that injured soldiers from both sides were being treated. As the Germans departed, they placed a flag upon the church door. It was the Red Cross flag; the international symbol of medical aid.
The Angoville Church, a target of war
Even after a mortar shell crashed through the ceiling, cracking the floor below, the surgeons continued to pursue their efforts.
Fortunately, the shell did not explode, although it did cause some further minor injuries.
Shockingly, two German soldiers who had been hiding in the church belfry, gave themselves up to the doctors on June 7th.
The scars of the three bittersweet days still linger in the Angoville Church.
Not in graves or memorials, but in the bloodstained pews that are a permanent reminder of what occurred there in June of 1944.
The Angoville Church Memorial today
Inside the church, commemorative stained glass windows honor the two medics and the 101st Airborne Division parachutists.
The events of those three days had such an emotional impact on the life of Robert Wright, that he requested to be buried in the small cemetery beside the church.
Bureaucracy raised its ugly head at Wright’s request making it almost impossible to honor his wishes.
In the end, however, the doctor prevailed. Some of Robert Wright’s ashes lie in the churchyard. An unofficial headstone which simply reads “R.E.W.” Wright’s initials.
Just outside the church, across the road, stands a memorial. As in so many villages and towns throughout Normandy two flags eternally wave in the coastal breezes; one is French, the other American.
What is so profound about this particular memorial is that there is no list of the dead.
Rather, this is a memorial to the living; a celebration of lives saved rather than lost.
It all happened in an obscure little village tucked within serpentine country roads and the rural landscapes of Normandy. The place that is Angoville-au-Plain.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime
Editors Note: Support Bob’s GoFundMe to give him a hand up