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On a chilly autumn evening the Viking Bar in Notre Dame de Touchet was almost as full as it could hold. The eagerly awaited talk by Bruce Malone, Superintendent of the American Cemetery in St James had brought together people from all over the district and anticipation was high.
We were not to be disappointed. Surprised perhaps, but definitely not disappointed. He began with a flourish – ‘England and France go to War’. A statement that could be interpreted in more than one way. Who could have foreseen that this American Veteran and historian would have started by telling his (mainly) English audience about the Battle of Hastings!
He led us at a gentle illustrated canter through the family squabbles of the Norman kings, the gains, losses and battles between French and Norman, Norman and English, French and English. Crecy, Poitiers, Agincourt. The Hundred Years War (it wasn’t), The Seven Years War, the War of Spanish Succession (bit odd that one), the War of American Independence (Yup – the French and the British were on opposite sides,) and the wars against Napoleon.
A short pause to regain our breath. A brief visit to the Crimea and the wars began again, but this time the French and the English were at war as allies. The complex situation that began the First World War was explained, as was the apparently inevitable Second World War. New ‘Kids on the Block’ in these two conflicts were our American cousins, whose part in the European Zone conflicts led to the founding of the American Cemeteries.
For some this latter part of the talk was the most compelling. A master of his subject, with numbers, statistics and dates at his fingertips, the events of 1944 in Normandy were laid out in some detail, leading to a brief resume of the history of the Cemetery at St James.
Despite the late hour, Mr Malone answered the blizzard of questions with patience and clarity until he was reluctantly allowed to finish what had been a highly enjoyable evening. He was thanked to prolonged applause. Many of his audience expressing a wish for further such events.