when the fighters came to deliver the city


Give honour where honour is due. If we returned for a month, on the darkest sides of this stormy summer 1944, it was impossible to conclude this series without paying tribute to those who were its true heroes: liberators. For after the years of occupation and the final struggles, finally came the moment that the whole population was waiting for: that of the freedom found, even if it had to be obtained in pain and bitterness.

Five nationalities

In the last hours of Operation Paddle, between 17 and 25 August 1944, with the aim of freeing the Normandy coast between the landing beaches and the Seine, the Allied forces are already cosmopolitan. The British, with 6th Airborne of Major General Richard Gale, but also the famous 49th Infantry Division (49th West Riding) nicknamed the Polar Bears, commanded by General Barker; the Belgians of the Piron Brigade, after the name of their commander, Colonel Piron; the Dutch of the Princess Irene Brigade, so named in honor of one of Queen Wilhelmina's granddaughters (who herself took refuge in Britain), and placed under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel De Ruyter ; the French Green Berets of Lieutenant Kiefer; and lastly, the Canadians, including a parachute battalion, who completed the 6th Airborne. But who were the first?

The race for the Seine was launched as part of Operation Paddle, and with it the race for the Risle and its bridges. Pont-Audemer. And if this goal was mainly assigned to the Polar Bears, this division was slowed down by pockets of German resistance, and did not arrive first at Pont-Audemer, as explained Lionel Boucher, former officer of the French army, knight of the Legion of Honor as a soldier, from Pont-Audemer, and passionate about history: " It is the Belgian squadron of Lieutenant Dewandre who arrives, it seems, the first at the gates of Pont-Audemer, about 8 h, the morning of August 26, when the last bridge of the city jumps. One can understand that there were misunderstandings about the Liberation of the city, because all this was very fast, in the space of a single day, and the Allies were numerous and of several nationalities. The Polar Bears only arrive in the morning, and in the streets, there are already Belgians and Dutch. According to some, there was even a stormy explanation in town between the two British generals, General Gale of the 6th Airborne and General Barker of the Polar Bears. "

If the Belgian soldiers were, in all likelihood, the first to enter Pont-Audemer, the merit of the Liberation belongs to all those who contributed to this glorious day: Belgians, Canadians, French, English and Dutch. In a word: the Allies.

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