He attended a service at the Memorial de Caen museum to remember the 20,000 civilians who lost their lives in the battle to free Normandy and in particular those in the city who lost their lives during a massive Allied bombardment.
Around 3,000 civilians were killed on D Day, roughly the same as the number of Allied soldiers killed on the beaches of Normandy. Some 600 died in Caen when American bombers attacking bridges over the river Orne missed their targets and hit the city centre instead.
But it was in the ensuing battle for Normandy that many more people in the city died. The Allies decided to flatten the city after failing to capture it quickly and in the aerial assault 2,000 civilians died.
According to Jean Quellien, a leading French D-Day historian, there is a feeling among the local population that the suffering of French civilians was not sufficiently taken into account. He explained that at the time the Allied bombers were referred to as ‘bastards’ but over the years it became politically incorrect to voice anger. ‘The soldiers’ deaths are often talked about, rarely the civilians,’ he added.
Cécile Leclerc was just 17 years old when the bombing started. She was helping her sister Therese in a makeshift clinic when the bombs began to fall. ‘It was terrifying. We could hear blasts everywhere and there was fire and screaming. Everything was flattened. I never saw my sister again. She disappeared along with all the other nurses,’ she said.
Now a new memorial to the civilians who lost their lives in Normandy is to be created. On the eve of the D-Day commemorations Kader Arif, French Secretary of State for Veterans and Laurent Beauvais, President of Lower Normandy Regional Council, signed a protocol establishing the museum which will open in the spring of 2016 in Falaise where many civilians also died in the battle for what became known as the Falaise Pocket.