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Through the interminable summer of 1944, death and destruction would be unleashed on an epic scale. July, which saw the peak of the fighting, was the wettest since 1910, adding to the misery. By then some two million men (twice the peacetime population of the area) were pitted against each other in a charnel house of attritional fighting. Caught up in it, there were over 60,000 civilian casualties, and half a million buildings destroyed. Options for local inhabitants were limited: stay at home and take a chance, get away – if it were possible – or shelter in quarries and makeshift shelters.
THE LONGED-FOR LIBERATION
Liberation could never be too soon for the civilians after four long years of humiliation and occupation. Yet it was not always greeted with unbridled joy as the propaganda films of the time presented it; there had been too much suffering and destruction, too much sacrifice. For a long time, the fear that the Germans might return was ever present. In resignation, the local saying ‘you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs’ went the rounds. Nevertheless, the cider and calvados were broken open to greet their liberators, and in return unbelievable quantities of unheard-of luxuries were traded and handed over, like Lucky Strike cigarettes, chocolate and candy for the kids!
Many towns and villages inland had therefore to endure months of waiting before the troops could batter their way in.
On 15 August, the Manche département was cleared of the enemy; from 21 August the Orne département. For the Calvados département, the last village to be liberated was Honfleur, undamaged and, like Paris, on the same day, 25 August!
Through the interminable summer of 1944, death and destruction would be unleashed on an epic scale. Two million men were pitted against each other; there were over 60,000 civilian casualties, and half a million buildings destroyed.