When his town was about to be bombed, Fr. Aubourg risked his life to save it.
On June 6, 1944, the famous D-Day, the assault of the Allied forces on the coast of Normandy, was the start of one of the most formidable military operations in history. On the success of this operation, named Overlord, depended the outcome of the war against Hitler and the Third Reich.
But the fighting that followed in the countryside of Normandy and the towns of the region brought devastation. Rouen, Caen, Lisieux, Le Havre … Many cities in Normandy were more than 50% destroyed and thousands of civilians lost their lives.
Surprising as it may seem given its geographical location—it’s only a few miles from the D-Day beaches—Bayeux is one of the few cities to have been spared. This “miracle” is due to a Benedictine priest, Fr. Aubourg (1887-1967).
He had been a monk at the Abbey of Solesmes (world famous for its Gregorian chant) and at the time of the D-Day landings was the chaplain of the community of the Sisters of Charity in Saint-Vigor-le-Grand, a village bordering Bayeux. At the gates of Bayeux, the Saint Loup bridge was destroyed, and the Germans were waiting in ambush. The likely outcome was that the Allies would bomb the town.
However, during the night of June 6-7, 1944, Fr. Aubourg heard a noise, as if the Germans were leaving their position. The next day, very early after celebrating Mass, Fr. Aubourg hurried to alert the Allies of this development.
Having been assigned to ministry on the Isle of Wight for several years (after leaving the Abbey of Solesmes), Fr. Aubourg spoke English very well. Therefore he was quick to announce to the British officers that the Germans had left the city.
At first suspicious, they checked the priest’s information to confirm it. Once it was clear he was right, the decision was made: Bayeux would not be bombed.
In a letter dated June 20, 1959, brought to light by Fr. Soltner, archivist of the monastery of Saint-Pierre de Solesme, and on which the French website Ouest-France reported on a few years ago, Fr. Aubourg recalled this episode. “I have been called the savior of Bayeux, but I am unable to say whether I saved Bayeux,” he told the reverend priest of Solesmes.
“I only know that on the morning of June 7, 1944, during the Battle of Normandy, I risked my life to alert the British, who had landed the day before and were stopped five kilometers (about 3 miles) away, that they could enter Bayeux, which the Germans had left during the night. And in fact, the Allied tanks arrived an hour later. “