A Sanctuary From The Killing
Church at Place Taccoa, Angoville-au-Plain. Photo: Brendan Hart
There are dozens of museums in Normandy dedicated to the events of June 1944. You visit them, learn a little, buy a couple of souvenirs, a postcard, a novelty memento. But when you return to the parking lot the facts, figures and feelings in your head are soon replaced by thoughts of ‘what’s next?’ or (let’s be honest) ‘what’s for dinner?’ Of course, the exhibits, videos and interactive gizmos give a valuable glimpse of what happened here over seventy years ago, and any visit will bring you closer to the heroic deeds and horrific battles of the past. And in the cemeteries, too, where ranks of white marble, limestone and granite headstones mark the graves of tens of thousands of men, you can’t help but shed a tear for the fallen heroes. And then on the beaches, if you listen carefully, you might even catch a ghostly echo of machine gun fire and exploding shells above the noise of the surf and the seagulls’ cries. Yes, Normandy’s museums, battlefields and graveyards won’t fail to touch you. But sometimes it’s the little out-of-the way places that can touch you just as profoundly as the more famous sites. One such place is the tiny medieval church at Angoville-au-Plain near Sainte-Mère-Eglise. As an example of bravery, steadfastness, and compassion in battle, Agoville’s story is hard to beat.
Memorial at Place Taccoa, Angoville-au-Plain. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
On June 6th 1944 two US army medics from the 101st Airborne set up an aide station inside the church. Beset on both sides by artillery and machine gun fire, Private Robert (Bob) Wright and Private Ken Moore, treated the wounds of 80 American and German combatants during the battle that raged outside. They were both only 20 years old. At one point during the battle a mortar shell came through the roof of the nave, smashing into the stone floor only inches away from them. Incredibly, the shell did not explode, and the medics returned to their gory duties. After three days, only two lives had been lost under the medics’ care. The only civilian casualty, a four-year-old French boy, also lived to tell the tale. Wright and Moore were each awarded the Silver Star for their actions, and both served in other battles, including the Battle of the Bulge. They returned several times to Normandy in the years after the war.
Bob Wright passed away in 2013 and Ken Moore in 2014, just after the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Wright’s attachment to Agoville was such that his dying wish was to be buried in the churchyard. Sadly, for bureaucratic reasons, his wish was not entirely fulfilled; but some of his ashes were smuggled into France and scattered on the ground under a simple stone plaque that bears only his initials: R.E.W.
Bob Wright's grave marker, Angoville-au-Plain. Photo: Patrick Hilyer
You can visit the church, and even attend a weekly Mass there. You can see the new stained-glass windows (paid for by local businesses and charities), the blood-stained pews that once served as hospital beds and makeshift operating tables, the hole in the roof caused by the unexploded shell, and the cracked stone slabs beneath it.
An eerie twist of destiny accompanies Angoville's story: the 700-year-old church was originally dedicated to two saints, Saint Côme and Saint Damien. Côme is the patron saint of surgeons, and his brother Damien is the patron saint of Pharmacists. Martyred in the 4th century, they were venerated for their refusal to accept payment for healing the sick and injured. Their 20th-century counterparts – brothers in arms Ken Moore and Bob Wright – truly deserve the stained-glass window dedicated to them in this sacred place.
Stained-glass window for Wright and Moore, Angoville-au-Plain. Photo: Patrick Hilyer
For information regarding D-Day tours go to www.welovenormandy.com/guidedtours