My first visit to the Mémorial de Caen Museum took place in the mid-90s. My dad took me, my brother, and mum on a road trip to check out Pegasus Bridge and the other notable sights in Normandy.
Even then I enjoyed the artifacts, stories, images, and military vehicles on show. I returned in 2014, almost twenty years later, and the museum has gone from strength to strength.
Visiting the Mémorial de Caen
A visit to the Mémorial de Caen begins in the large exhibit dedicated to the ‘Failure of Peace’. This documents the interwar period after The Great War of 1914-1918. Photos, videos, and documents take you through to September of 1939 when that peace would fail.
The predominant displays, as you would expect, are in the ‘D-Day Landings and the Battle of Normandy’ section. Thousands of items make up these exhibitions. Several hours is necessary to take it all in such is the scope. Military vehicles provide a visual reminder of the shape and scale of war. Photos and handwritten documents show a more personal side of the conflict.
A moment of remembrance in the gardens
In one of many extensions to the Mémorial de Caen, they added remembrance gardens for the American, Canadian and British troops. The ‘Jardin Britannique’ struck a particular chord with me. It features a memorial stone dedicated to the 7th Armoured Division (The Desert Rats). My grandfather, Alexander Liggett’ served with them in Europe and North Africa.
Other stones dedicated to the 3rd Infantry and 6th Airborne Divisions remember the men from the Royal Ulster Rifles. Both battalions of the Rifles played a significant part in the initial landings and the following Battle of Normandy.
The connections with Northern Ireland do not end there. The RAF memorial in the corner of the British garden is a piece of granite sourced from the Mourne Mountains in Co. Down. Northern Ireland was a prime location for RAF airfields serving both European and Atlantic fronts. Several RAF planes crashed in the mountains making this a fitting reminder of their sacrifice.
Temporary exhibitions for D-Day 70
As part of the D-Day 70 commemorations, two temporary exhibitions have set up to go into much greater detail. ‘Shots of War’ features 100 photographs by acclaimed war photographer Tony Vaccaro. ‘100 Objects’ is, as you would expect, one-hundred items small and large that tell the story of the battle of Normandy.
My visit concluded with the exploration of a new section of the site. General Richter’s bunker is an authentic underground Nazi communication point. Vacated in 1944, it’s now an underground display of artifacts from the occupying sides. Canadian troops took the post shortly after D-Day and on leaving the Canadian military band are marching by on their way to a memorial service in the ‘Jardin Canadienne’.
Whether part of a D-Day commemoration week or just a casual holiday stopover, I recommend a visit to the Mémorial de Caen for both education and remembrance.