501st Aid Station in the church of Angoville-au-Plain

501GeronimoEmblemThe 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 place between American paratroopers and German Fallschirmjäger, which are rather elite German airborne infantry.

By Guido Wilmes
Translation Thijs Groot Kormelink

During the night of 5-6 June 1944, men of the 101st Airborne Division landed on DZ-D, behind the access roads to Utah Beach. Their objective was to cut the important Cherbourg – Paris road near the area of Angoville-au-Plain, which was captured quickly. At first everything went according to plan and elements of the 326th Airborne Engineer Battalion were able to take the bridges across the river Douve. These Airborne Engineers would then await the reinforcements coming in from the coastline. However, during the afternoon of D-Day, events were taking a serious turn. In the church of Angoville, built in the 11th century, an aid-station was set up for those who were wounded during the landings and the following firefights.

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In the 2nd Battalion were two medics named Robert Wright and Ken Moore. Together with Lieutenant Ed Allworth they started to search for wounded troops and brought them to the church in Angoville. Inside the church these troops would receive medical attention. At some point the Germans started a heavy counterattack against the defenders who were already dug-in. A group of 50 paratroopers under the command of Captain Francis Laberatori managed to blow up the bridges under the Douve. The Engineers and some paratroopers of the 501st PIR were forced to retreat due to the heavy clashes with the enemy. Lieutenant Allworth was with the medics in the church, but had to leave the medics. For he feared he would risk the lives of the medics and their patients if he, as non-medical personnel, would be among the medics in the aid-station.

The Americans retreated and left many wounded with the two medics in the church, which was starting to become overcrowded. Robert Wright and Ken Moore stayed with the wounded to tend to their wounds, among the wounded were not only Americans but also German troops. At some point, the Germans stormed the church and kicked in the doors. When they realized the medics were unarmed, and were treating men from both sides, the Germans didn’t interfere and let the medics do their job. The German troops even left a big Red Cross flag on the door, to protect the church from the fights that were taking place all around it.

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Ken Moore remembered: “At about dusk, we had 80 wounded soldiers in the church of which half of them were German, and a local 4 year old boy. Our own troops came in to tell us they could no longer stay. So we stayed with all the wounded who we mainly treated with their own First Aid equipment and German bandages. Not much later, a German officer arrived and asked if we also wanted to take in his wounded men, which we did. Everyone was welcome in the church as long as they left their weapons outside. During the night the cemetery was once again the theatre of heavy firefights, and again and again, armed American troops entered the church looking to take positions behind the windows. We kept having to send them away from the church, as we were having more trouble from our own troops firing at us than from the Germans. Two of our wounded died that night. The bitter fighting around Angoville lasted for three days and the village was captured and recaptured several times. At some point a mortar hit the church and wounded some of the already wounded men inside.” The 7th of June two German spotters, who were hiding in the church tower since the moment the fighting started, came downstairs to surrender. The Americans never realized the two were hiding in the church tower.

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The Church today
The church was heavily damaged during the fighting and all original medieval windows were destroyed. In 2004 enough money was raised to restore the church. Two stained glass windows were dedicated to the paratroopers of which one of them is specially devoted to the two medics Wright and Moore. As a tribute and as gratitude to Robert Wright and Kenneth Moore a monument was built outside the church as well. But probably the most tangible memory of their struggle to save human lives is one of the rear benches in the church in which you can still see the blood stains that were left there since the war. Due to their efforts an estimated 80 wounded men were saved for which both medics received the Silver Star.   

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The church of Angoville-au-Plain aan het Place Toccoa with the special stained glass windows, (in front you can see the monument remembering Wright and Moore).

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