Historyczne punkty orientacyjne

​​Abbaye aux Hommes and Lycée Malherbe : the "health havens" of the Battle of Caen​





​​On 6 June 1944, Caen was bombed. 10,000 inhabitants abandoned their homes or left the city, and the Croix-Rouge (Red Cross) and Défense Passive (Civil Defence) teams sent the wounded to the health posts and hospitals. Refugees were sent to the reception centres that had been set up during the Occupation. Thousands of Caennais (people from Caen) flocked towards the hospitals of Bon Sauveur and Lycée Malherbe (Malherbe College), where they survived until the city’s liberation.

​​​Lycée Malherbe became the main place for family reunification. Shelters were built with different rooms, a link with city services was established, and food stored and distributed. Others fleeing settled spontaneously in the Abbatiale (church of the abbey), or in the Palais de Justice, another improvised reception centre in Caen.

The Lycée’s dining hall was turned into a hospital to treat the wounded. Huge red crosses were painted on the roof of the Lycée and the Bon Sauveur buildings to signal to allied planes that refugees were present in the centre of the city. Other red crosses were installed on the ground. For more than a month, nearly 10,000 people lived under the protection of the Red Cross flags. 

Just days after the first bombings, more than 4,000 people occupied the Lycée, the abbey and its cloister. They ate food they had brought with them, or from provisions stored in the Lycée. However, these reserves were quickly exhausted. The Red Cross teams set off through the streets of Caen in search of food supplies. Gradually, the Lycée became a huge store of sugar, cheese, butter and pasta boxes. The kitchens offered two meals a day to all refugees: from 8 June 1,500 meals were prepared daily, which increased to 15,000 from 13 July.

The bombing on 7 July completed the destruction of Caen. 2,500 tonnes of bombs exploded in the central districts, and the Allies launched their general offensive on the city. On 8 July, Canadian troops arrived at the gates of the city, and on 9 July they entered, joining with the British troops that afternoon. To celebrate the partial liberation of the city, an improvised ceremony took place by the entrance of the Lycée. United in front of a tricolor flag, British and Canadians soldiers, Red Cross teams and Civil Defence members, together with a few Caennais still present, began singing La Marseillaise, the French national anthem. It was the first time the song had been sung since June 1940.

On 19 July, when the right riverbank was liberated by Canadian troops and the Caen FFI (French Forces of the Interior), there were 4,300 inhabitants in Caen. As the front line moved away from Caen, the Lycée Malherbe gradually emptied of its refugees, leaving the municipal services and allied authorities to organise the return to normal life of thousands of inhabitants, in a city largely destroyed, and bereaved. 


Mairie de Caen, 5 Esplanade Jean-Marie Louvel, Caen, 14000