HILL 203, THE AMERICAN MEMORIAL IN VIRE, CALVADOS
A quiet, peaceful wooded hillside overlooking the town of Vire, occasionally the sound of a vehicle coming from the nearby housing estate but, primarily, just the song of the wild birds and the bells of the ‘ Porte Horloge’ echoing across the valley.
It is hard to believe that this was the site of one of the bloodiest battles fought in Normandy during the campaign for the liberation of France during 1944.
Vire, like many other towns in this region, suffered enormous hardship.
The 6th. and 7th. of June started with the sound of heavy planes flying over the town, the people rejoiced as they thought that the liberation had started and that paratroops were flying in. To their horror the bombs started to drop, firstly by a wave of American planes closely followed by the British. Poor intelligence coupled with navigational problems and bad weather resulted in the main bombing runs being be carried out over the centre of the town, nearly 400 bombs were dropped and 85% of Vire was destroyed.
The irony was that the German forces were entrenched in the hills around the town, they were hardly touched.
It was not until August that the American infantry arrived to pursue the action on the ground.
The 116th. regiment of the 29th. Division – ‘ The blue and grays’ reached the outskirts of Vire, the main force of the German army occupied Mont Besnard ( Hill 203) with a commanding position overlooking all approaches from the valley. A very hard fought and bloody battle lasted two days on the 7th. and 8th. of August but, finally, Vire was liberated.
American and German wounded found themselves lying side by side in the field hospital, the men were all young, fighting a war in a country that they knew little of and for reasons that few of them really understood, they were doing their duty. Several friendships were made, they had no personal enmity for each other, some of the friendships were to last long after the end of the war.
At the monument there is a bench, a lovely , peaceful place to just sit for several moments and to contemplate on the futility of war, to wonder; why ? —
By far the best way to approach the hill is on foot ( less than 1km.)
Park at the car park ( Place St Annes ) as you get to the bottom of the descent from Sourdeval/Mortain direction. Look for the Berbere restaurant which you will have passed just before the parking – a nice place to have a couscous lunch before your walk ?
Just across the road is a gap between two blocks of apartments, from here starts the path ’ Ruelle de la Besnardiere’ that climbs the hill ( definitely not passable by car), this old pack-horse/ pilgrimage way will take you straight to the monument. To return, carry on past the monument and keeping right descend the rue de Tivoli. As you drop down to L’Ecluse, the lock, there are lovely views of Henry 1st.’ castle remains and the ‘ Vaux de Vire ‘ , the river valley. Follow the quayside to the formal gardens at the museum and a short walk through the courtyard brings you back to St.Anne’s
Take the main road from Vire in the direction of Sourdeval, look out for the ’ Utile’ supermarket on your left, about 100 meters further, on the right, you will see a small sign for 116th. American monument, follow the signs to the site. There is just a small area where you can park. When leaving carry on to rue de Tivoli and descend into Vire ( narrow road but one-way)