Berneval-le-Grand, known and unknown.

Thursday 16 May 2019

Berneval-le-Grand was the most easterly attack point of the failed Operation Jubilee in 1942. As mentioned in yesterday’s post, there are information boards and memorials across this small town. On my walk today, I found a few more.

I almost feel I should apologise for posting so many war stories, but Berneval-le-Grand is defined by those years and by one particular day. Trying to understand the history has led me to read up about Vichy France, Alsace-Lorraine and the Normandy landings. As with the town, so with the region, it’s defined by those events.

I found the path to the beach

and the pale green sea, milky with chalk from the cliffs. The bridge is dedicated to a member of the Free French Navy killed in the raid.

The beach was mine. I crunched across the pebbles and wondered why you find flint in chalk, the hardest of rocks in the softest. I looked it up. It’s about a chemical reaction within limestone at particular depths that changes its composition, hence the pebble beaches in this area – the bane of tanks and attacking armies.

I found a route up the cliffs and marched myself to the top,

finding a great view over the villages – yes, three of them -Berneval-le-Grand, Petit Berneval and Saint- Martin Plage.

I couldn’t go much further as there is a nuclear power station around the corner, as you can see,

or not. Strict signs forbidding access or photography; sensible, but a sad comment on the state of the world.

I marched myself down again and navigated to a memorial garden for the sinking of the Meknès. This board covers the events around the sinking of the ship;

I knew nothing about the repatriation of French from England, some of whom had been saved at Dunkirk, after their armistice with Germany, hence my reading up on the Vichy Government. (“Cheese eating surrender monkeys,” Groundskeeper Willie, kept coming to mind.)

So, (I’ve just upset my brother-in-law who, correctly, gets upset with people who start their sentences this way!) to the known/unknown in the title.

Unknown – Berneval-le-Grand. And who knew it was the subject to some of the heaviest bombing in WW2, and was part of a disastrous attack that later informed the successful Normandy landings. Or that the first American to die in WW2 on European soil

died here.

Known – Oscar Wilde and Camille Pissarro. Across the road from the Canadian Memorial,

which stands on the site of a destroyed chapel, stood the Hotel de la Plage where Wilde stayed while in exile.

And, of course, Pissarro, inspiration to artists including Cézanne, Monet, Manet, Renoir, and Degas, painted the cliffs I walked up today.

I crossed paths with them all.

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