The Church at Angoville

“All my life I made it a matter of principle to tend all soldiers
equally whatever their uniforms could be. I could not say to the Germans:
“You sit there and if you are bleeding to death. I don’t care”

Army Medic Robert Wright


(Église Saint-Côme-et-Saint-Damien d’Angoville-au-Plain..
the humble church at Angonville / Julie Cook / 2018)

Despite it being September 22 it was an unusually cold and blustery day…
or so it seemed for our little group of four from both Georgia and Florida.
However, this was Northern France, just inward from the North Atlantic coast.

The rain came in spurts…sometimes blowing sideways, sometimes merely misting.
The temperature was in the low 50’s but the howling 35 mph gusts made it seem much colder.

Somber weather for a somber day.

Our driver turned the van we were calling home for the day around a sharp corner along
a quiet narrow street as we came to a stop on a gravel drive just aside a large
ancient oak.

We exited the van, with umbrellas in hand, huddling together, as a small group of 5—
the four from Georgia and Florida and one from Holland who now made
Normandy, France his home as we readied ourselves for something that we all
sensed was going to be so much greater than ourselves.

The guide’s name was Mike.
Mike Van Den Dobbelsteen with Bayeux Shuttle Service.
Mike is a Dutchman who has a nearly perfect British accent…
but of course, this particular day was his 12th wedding anniversary…
his wife hails from England which helped to explain his heavy British accent.

His enthusiasm and depth of knowledge regarding history…in particular this history
was immense.

It was still early in our day’s adventure,
although having just come from the German Cemetary in Normandy,
we now found ourselves standing outside the doors of an extremely humble
little stone church.

A church that would be easily overlooked by passerbys.
A church that harkened back to a different time.
A church that was named for two martyrs who had actually been medical doctors.
An odd coincidence given the role this church played during a day that changed
our world’s history.

The beginning of this tiny church dates back to the 11th century, to 1088 to be exact…
but it was what happened in the middle of the 20th century, 9 centuries following the
inception of this church, that actually puts this church on the map of modern history.

As we stood gathered under the large tree shielding us from the cold pelting rain,
my eyes immediately gravitated to the dark granite cross-like marker standing stoically
on the grounds of this seemingly humble French church.

Toccoa.

My uncle and aunt had made Toccoa, Georgia their home for nearly 50 years.
It was in that small northeast Georgia town in which my cousins had spent their
childhood growing up…
Was there some sort of a connection between this tiny town in northwestern France and that
of the North Georgia town bearing that stone cross’s inscription?

Yes.

Yes, there was indeed a connection.

In the early 1940’s, Toccoa, Georgia found itself home to the World War II
“Screaming Eagles” paratrooper corps.
E Company to be exact.
E Company was based at Camp Toccoa, a rustic training base located in
northeast Georgia that operated from 1942 through 1945.

It was that same E Company which trained in Toccoa, Georgia that would find itself
falling from the sky on June 6, 1944, into and around the tiny French Village of
Angonville-Au-Plain. A far cry from the north Georgia skies where they had practiced
for this very moment.

The French Village Angoville-au-Plain lies between St-Côme-du-Mont and Vierville,
at the D 913 in Normandy. It is a small village with at its center a small church.
The village was part of DZ (drop zone) D in June the 6th 1944.
Drop zone D was the most southern drop zone of the 1st and 2nd Battalion,
501st PIR (Klondikes) of the 101st Airborne Division.
The first 48 hours after the jump heavy clashes found a place between American
paratroopers and German Fallschirmjäger, which are rather elite German airborne infantry.

By Guido Wilmes
Translation Thijs Groot Kormelink

Mike offered us a briefing regarding the Nazis who had hunkered down in and
around this tiny village as well as the allied airdrop of paratroopers who had
floated out of the sky behind enemy lines…

This was to be the first line of a hoped-for offensive.

“Serg. Jim Cox was fighting at Angoville with 52 Paratroopers.
The shelling by mortars and 88 mm guns were so violent that they decided to rejoin
the command post of Bob Sink.

The area of the church at Angoville changed hands several times.
When the Germans arrived in the village they saw the Red Cross flag at the door of the church.
Noticing that German casualties [that] were lying on the pews together with the paratroopers
[so] they left.
The church protected by the Red Cross remained a heaven [haven] of peace
in the middle of a battle.

(excerpt from a brochure provided by the city of Angoville-Au-Plain/
brackets are my corrections)

The impromptu medical clinic was manned by two American airmen, members of the Toccoa
Screaming Eagles, who had only a month’s worth of medical training between them.
75 badly wounded men, both American and German, were under the care of these two haphazard
medics—
Medic Robert Wright and Private Kenneth Moore.

“Robert Wright and I, said private Kenneth Moore, a stretcher bearer,
were the only once to look after the casualties in the church of Angoville.
In the evening we had got 75 of them.
Our own folk had come to tell us that they could not stay any longer.
So we were left alone with the wounded soldiers.
A German officer soon arrived.
He asked me if I could tend the Germans as well.
We accepted.
During the night the churchyard was the scene of a battle.
Two of our casualties died.
But among those I could tend, none lost their lives.
I tended all sorts of wounds, some were skin-deep but others were more serious
abdominal cases.”

The blood stains, stains that soaked deep into the wooden pews,
remain clearly visible all these 74 years later.

It is said that the two medics would move the more critically wounded to the front of
the church in order to be near the altar of as they wanted these men to
find a sense of peace should this be their last night on earth.

At one point two German soldiers, who had been hiding in the loft of the church, came down a
side set of stairs holding arms high in the air as they attempted to surrender
to these two bewildered American medics.
They told the German soldiers that there was no time for surrender…they needed them to go
out and fetch some fresh water as they needed their help tending to the wounded men.
The German soldiers willingly obliged.

As I type my recollection of this emotional visit with its surreal story,
I feel the warm tears filling my eyes.

There are so many links to a wide array of sites (some I’ve listed below) that can tell
the story of Angoville with greater detail than I can.
Those who are much more knowledgeable than I…

I wish I could somehow convey the tremendous emotions…emotions from humility to gratitude
that now fill me as I try to share and convey this individual tale…an individual story of duty and
humanity that is but one out of thousands of tales during this particular time of madness.

It makes me feel very very small…and given our current days and time…
I think we might all benefit from feeling small.

The fact that two men who fell woefully short in medical training saved all but two
of the men who were entrusted to their care…men from both sides of battle,
all the while behind enemy lines, is short of miraculous.

As miraculous was the fact that a mortar came crashing down through the roof of this tiny church’s
ceiling landing in the middle of and sticking with a thud smack dab in the center of
the anceint slate floor…

A mortar that did not explode.

Had it exploded, as it should have, the church would have been leveled and all the men killed…
leaving the village of Angoville as just another forgotten causality of war.

Some say it was the saints Côme and Damien who watched over this motley crew of wounded
soldiers and hapless caregivers.

“What allowed that medic to hold for 72 hours without food and rest?
Wright later explained…”The simple concern of helping other people.
When you do something that is worth doing you don’t think of your own life.”

In 1999 Robert Wright made a pilgrimage back to this tiny church.
He noted that “the church at Angoville will never be on the list of the important
churches to be visited in Europe. Yet however small the building is,
it does not prevent God understanding where hearts and prayer are.
They were many in this place.”

Robert Wright passed away at the age of 89.
His wish was to be buried in the cemetery of the same small church where he
had worked alongside Kenneth Moore to save the lives of 80 men.

His grave is simple and yet speaks voulumes in its simplicity.

Today there are only 53 people who remain living in Angoville-Au-Plain.
The local mayor asks those who visit to please remember the importance of this
special place.
I will be sending them a donation…the euros I brought home along with a US monetary donation.

I want to do so because places like Angoville are too important for us to simply allow them to
succumb to the fickleness of time…
because time has an odd way of making us forget what once was while we busy ourselves
so as to not see what will be but rather we allow ourselves to wallow in the current moment
which only hopes to swallow us whole.

There are two stain-glass windows which were installed not long ago which commemorate
the importance of this church.

</a

This will be the first of several tales that I’ll be sharing regarding the big retirement
adventure trip which focuses on the real reason for the trip…that being the visit to
Normandy, France, and the D-Day Memorials…

https://www.rockdalenewtoncitizen.com/news/local/a-veteran-s-story-the-little-church-that-could/article_47f87fc0-5330-554b-8326-4b8cb975a3d9.html

http://klondikes.nl/wordpress/501st-aid-station-in-the-church-of-angoville-au-plain/

https://www.aopa.org/news-and-media/all-news/2018/august/28/toccoa-georgia

14 comments on “The Church at Angoville

  1. atimetoshare.me says:

    I’m sure there are a million stories or more that occurred in that time. Stories of suffering and pain along with courage and love of fellow man – no matter what the cost.
    Sometimes we have to search for those stories. Sometimes there right in front of our eyes in the compassion and love we see in the little things. In times of trouble, it often seems hard to observe any of it, but with time it makes itself known. I love this narrative and look forward to more. You are my history hero.

  2. Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging and commented:
    Excellent post!!

  3. Wally Fry says:

    This is a great tour you are giving us, Julie, thanks so much. While I was serving in Germany I got the opportunity to see a lot of the battlefields and cemeteries in Belgium. It was very cool. Never made it to the French coast, though. Now, I wish I would have.

  4. SLIMJIM says:

    Wow thank you for sharing this!

  5. oneta hayes says:

    Awesome story. Thanks for telling it.

  6. Tricia says:

    Lovely post Julie, so inspiring to hear of the bravery and perseverance of men like Robert Wright and Kenneth Moore and the touching response of the villagers to this very day. I’ll have to take my time digging through these Normandy posts, they all look fabulous.

  7. Karen says:

    We were in France just a few days ahead of you. I’m sorry the weather couldn’t have been better for your much anticipated trip. While your weather wasn’t good, you took home memories and emotions that will always be with you. It is an area one must see to really appreciate the bravery of men.

  8. Dawn Marie says:

    A humbling tale indeed. Blessings to you for sharing.

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