St. Mere Eglise

The Germans took St Mere Eglise on June 18th 1940 and the next four years passed relatively peacefully, soldiers were billeted in the town and a swastika flew over the town hall. During 1943 the number and quality of the occupying troops decreased. By the time of D-day the town was occupied by Austrian anti aircraft gunners, driving wood burning trucks. During 1944 there were frequent allied air raids on the town and the night of June 5th - 6th was no different. A house in the square caught fire, (now the site of the airborne museum) possibly caused by one of the marker flares dropped by the pathfinders. The inhabitants formed a chain with buckets from the pump in the square (now a listed monument). At this point parachutes were seen in the night sky and began landing in and around the town. It was the 82nd airborne division. The Germans opened fire and ordered the locals into their houses. The Austrians left and only a few Germans continued the fight. The town was taken by members of the 505th led by Lieutenant-Colonel Edward C. Krause. At 04:30 the stars and stripes were hoisted over the town and St Mere Eglise was the first town to be liberated in France. The town was made famous by the paratrooper John Steel and by the film "The Longest Day". John Steel managed to land on the church and his chute caught on the steeple. He hung there while the fighting continued on the ground for two hours before being cut down by the Germans, taken prisoner and later released by the Americans. An effigy of John Steel is usually to be seen on the church. Inside the church there are two stained glass windows, one shows the Virgin Mary surrounded by paratroopers, the other shows St. Michael (patron saint of the paratroopers) and was dedicated in 1972. The liberation monument in the square was covered by a chute during the making of The Longest Day as the town mayor would not allow its removal. The Airborne Museum began in 1961, houses many interesting artifacts including a DC3 aircraft used on D-day together with a glider. Outside the Town Hall is a pink marker stone of "Kilometre Zero". These markers were placed by the French Government in 1946, each Kilometre along the route taken by General Leclerc’s Free French 2nd division, they can be seen from North Africa to the town of Bastogne the last town in Europe to be liberated. The town war memorial is situated behind the marker and plaques commemorate the liberation of the town. There is also a plaque to the Generals Ridgeway and Gavin and all the liberators. In the town hall are the Stars and Stripes, flown over the town on the day of liberation, it was also flown at Naples in 1943 when it too was liberated. It was brought to Normandy by Lieutenant-Colonel Edward C. Krause. It was given to the town by his widow on his death. You may be confused when we get to Utah beach to find another Kilometre marker showing KM00. It is due to the rival claims made by both the communities, here and at St Marie du Mont, which was the first village to be liberated by troops landing by sea. You will find there are many claims to the "the first" in this part of France. Fighting continued around the town until the afternoon of June 7th when tanks landed at Utah arrived and secured the area.

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