SSNS Home > Senior Years > Curricula 9-12 > Grade 11 > Canadian History > Battlefields Tour > 21 July 2010


21 July 2010, Wednesday
Oradour-sur-Glane, Operation Windsor, Operation Charnwood, and Abbaye d’Ardenne
by Raymond Shirritt-Beaumont


It was a wet day this morning, and the umbrellas came in handy. Perhaps it was the weather, because my notes are a little skimpy! However, I do recall an early stop at a village memorial, where Cindy told us about Oradour-sur-Glane, a town in the south of France where the entire population was massacred by an SS battalion in retaliation for the kidnapping of an SS officer. This was an excellent introduction to what we would learn today. The village was never rebuilt, so that future generations would know the cruelty of the Nazi regime.

I believe we were somewhere outside of Authie when Lee told us about the Canadian offensive on 4 July 1944 called Operation Windsor. Eighth Brigade (North Shore Regiment, the Chaudières, Queen’s Own Rifles) and the Royal Winnipeg Rifles led the attack to capture the Village of Carpiquet and the airfield on its southern perimeter. They were assisted by the tanks of the Fort Garry Horse, and three squadrons of Flails, Crocodiles and Petards [modified armoured vehicles] from the 79th Armoured Division, etc. They sustained heavy losses in men and equipment as they crossed a mile of open fields to reach their targets. Nevertheless, the North Shore Regiment, the Chaudières, and Queen’s Own Rifles succeeded in occupying Carpiquet and held it against assaults on three sides for four days, until the enemy was forced to retreat by Operation Charnwood. The Royal Winnipeg Rifles, who also had heavy losses, were unable to capture the south hangars and the attack had to be cancelled. As a result, the Battle of Carpiquet has been criticised, but the point that Lee added to this story was this. The Battle for Carpiquet provided a perfect opportunity for the Canadians to kill many enemy soldiers and thereby reduce their fighting effectiveness.

Operation Charnwood, 8-9 July 1944, called for the North Novas to capture Authie and Franqueville, while the Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry Highlanders were to capture Gruchy and the Chateau de St. Louet. The Highland Light Infantry was responsible for Buron. Once these were taken, the 7th Brigade was to move on to Cussy, Abbaye d’Ardenne, and possibly Caen. Operation Charnwood succeeded everywhere, the enemy defensive ring around Caen was broken, and German forces retreated south across the Orne River. From the beginning of the Normandy offensive, the 12th SS had lost about 75 percent of its fighting force and the 16th German Luftwaffe division about the same. Every battle had been a hard one, but the enemy was weakening.

We travelled to a number of spots, learning more about each battle as we moved from place to place. The Battle of Authie stands out because Lee mentioned that his cousin had been captured in that battle. He also told us that thirty-seven soldiers, some of them wounded, were killed in Authie when they were deliberately driven over by German tanks. The enemy also killed twenty Canadian prisoners at the Abbaye d’Ardenne in cold blooded, execution style.

I later asked Blake if Lee’s cousin had been among them, and he said he was. We continued travelling and at times I had trouble getting my bearings. The war crimes interested me. According to Lee, the Canadians killed a great many SS soldiers during the battle for Authie. Surprised and angered by Canadian resistance and German losses, the SS took it out on the prisoners. Kurt Meyer was an SS officer implicated in the murders at Abbaye d’Ardenne, but he eventually got his prison sentence reduced after the war. Times had changed. In post-war Europe, the Russians became the enemy, and this took the heat off Germany.

We went to the Abbaye d’Ardenne, and to the spot where the soldiers were murdered, some of them with blows to the head with pipes and others with bullets to the head. They were buried in the courtyard and found by accident later on. It was a sombre visit. We went to the Abbaye afterwards, and I took quite a few pictures.

Later, when we went into Caen. Diane and I toured the Castle of William the Conqueror, and I took pictures of the city from its walls, including the churches of St. Pierre and Saint Saviour. I saw a list of seventy-two men from the parish of St. Saviour who had died in WWI.

After our tour, we returned to Vaucelles and settled in for the evening. It had been a day of highs and lows, with the murders at the Abbaye d’Ardenne a most disturbing revelation. The evils of Nazism were more apparent than ever.

Cindy Brown discussing Oradour-sur-Glane
Lee and Cindy standing near the spot at the Abbaye d’Ardenne, where Lee's cousin was murdered in June 1944 by the SS
Some of the sixteen men who were murdered by the SS
The plaque at the entrance to le jarden de Canadiens at Abbaye d’Ardenne
A view of one of the Abbaye buildings
A wall and building at Abbaye d’Ardenne
William the Conqueror's Castle at Caen
St. Saviour's Church in Caen
Restoration work on St. Pierre's Church in Caen