Brest & Cherbourg, France

A few weeks ago, Jay and Tanya visited the Brittany and Normandy coast with stops in Brest and Cherbourg.

IMG_3527First of all, Brest is not one of those places tourists usually flock to. For one thing, it rains a lot here, an annual average of almost 48 inches in fact. Still not a lot by Oregon standards (Eugene 46”, Astoria 67”) but enough to keep most fair-weather tourists away. Secondly, Brest was almost completed destroyed in World War II so there’s not much for tourists to see. Located at the very westernmost tip of France, this seaport town of 140,000 is blessed with an important harbor that began serving the French navy in 1631. Unfortunately, Brest’s strategic location has also been a curse, since it was also the home of a large German U-Boat base during World War II. This made Brest a primary objective after the Allied invasion at Normandy in 1944. The plan was to take Brest and then use the port to help supply the Allied troops advancing across France. But the occupying Germans had other ideas. It took the Allies over six weeks to finally take the heavily defended city and in the course of the battle, practically all of Brest was completely destroyed. Before finally surrendering, the Germans destroyed most of the port facilities, making it useless to the Allies. Today, Brest is the home of France’s main naval training centers and a base for its nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines.

On our rainy-day visit, there just wasn’t much going on in Brest besides people going about their everyday business and trying to stay dry. IMG_3529IMG_3530

Cherbourg, located up the French coast in Normandy, was also wet, but delightful. IMG_3558 For any of our readers old enough to remember, Cherbourg was the setting for the 1964 film, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, starring Catherine Deneuve (The Most Beautiful Woman in the World). The movie was a smash, winning the Palme D’or at the Cannes Film Festival that year and the folks of Cherbourg have never forgotten it. IMG_3536

It was market day in Cherbourg and a little rain never deters determined shoppers. IMG_3531IMG_3534IMG_3537Wandering around town we discovered the Parc Emmanuel Liais. Mr. Liais was a former mayor of Cherbourg and dedicated much of his life to developing the grounds of this botanical garden. IMG_3553.jpg Naturally, Tanya was very excited about this place. IMG_3545IMG_3546IMG_3548IMG_3550

One of the advantages of just wandering around a new place is the discovery of monuments, plaques and other miscellany that might not otherwise be noted in any guidebooks. For example, Napoleon slept here and his statue memorializes this. We think he’s trying to point where his boat is docked.IMG_3555.jpgGerman bunkers still are in place along the shoreline. IMG_3565.jpg And, on the nearby city hall, we found this plaque dedicated to the memory of an American soldier, William F. Finley. IMG_3554.jpg We did a little research and found that on June 26, 1944, Sergeant Bill Finley had just celebrated his 20th birthday, one day before dashing under fire across Cherbourg’s main square to liberate the city hall, as part of the US Army’s 9th Infantry Division. Finley was from Decatur, Illinois and had joined the army in 1942 at age 17. He was later killed in action on April 1, 1945 in Germany, near Bad Kreuznach. He was just one of thousands of US soldiers who fought and died to liberate France.

Memories of the the second world war are strong in Normandy. So, it was not terribly surprising to see the vandalized offices of the recently defeated right-wing National Front party, led by Marine Le Pen. IMG_3557.jpgWe can only hope that today’s leaders have learned something from the disasters of the past.

This entry was posted in Europe, France. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Brest & Cherbourg, France

  1. Debbie Clark says:

    This was a fantastic article and was more than surprised at the end of it to see the plaque that was dedicated to my uncle, Sgt William F. Finley! My mother and her sisters were honored to be able to go to Cherbourgh for the dedication of this plaque. Thank you for sharing this with everyone.


  2. jayandtanya says:

    Thank you, Debbie, for your kind comment. I’m so glad your mom and her sisters were able to be there for the dedication of the plaque. Our country owes so much to men like your uncle who sacrificed so much in its service. Tanya and I are glad to have been able to share our experience with you.


  3. Denis says:

    Passed through Cherbourg yesterday en route back to Ireland (a near annual event for us for the past two decades). We parked opposite the town hall and I noticed the Sgt. Finley plaque. Took a photograph of it with a view to following up on the backstory and as a result came across your very enjoyable and informative article (I owe my other half an apology for dismissing her suggestion that the buccaneering horseman was Napoleon). The gardens look very interesting – the urban planting in Cherbourg is eye-poppingly excellent, perhaps the legacy of Mons. Liais of whom we have never heard so will visit that on our next trip south. Regrettably I fear it looks like it will take more than a coating of graffiti to paint the National Front out of the current political landscape.
    History’s memory is short. On a lighter note, being a film buff I’ll definitely check out The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

    Many thanks for a lovely read.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s