The forgotten emblem of French-American history that saved D-Day soldiers

As the world marks 75 years since the D-Day landings in Normandy, one French abbey is again the scene of grisly battlefield surgery, writes Hannah Mermin.

The forgotten emblem of French-American history that saved D-Day soldiers
The battlefield hospital recreation. Photo: Abbaye de Longues-sur-Mer

The 12th century Abbaye de Longues-sur-Mer was occupied by the Germans during the early part of the war, but it is believed that after British and American troops landed in Normandy and began pushing on through France, it was co-opted to serve as a temporary field hospital.

And it is this history that is being remembered by a Belgian medical charity, which has created a reconstruction of the 28th US General Hospital – which saved the lives of thousands of Allied soldiers during the Second World War.


Volunteers are recreating the temporary battlefield hospital

Visitors will be able to watch as a team of Belgians, led by Bram Dermout, reenact surgeries using the original medical tools that American medics used during the period.

L’Abbaye de Longues-sur-mer, like the hospital it is hosting, reminds us of the all-encompassing nature of World War II. 

It was a United States Congressman, Charles S Dewey, who owned the abbey during the war.

Following the invasion of Poland on September 1st, 1939, the French military authorities evacuated all children and elderly people from Paris and sent them to villages throughout western France.

Longues-sur-mer received 85 people, most of whom were children.

Mr Dewey and his wife Suzette were determined to help. They transformed the refectory building of the abbey into a canteen where they provided these 85 refugees with two meals a day; the refugees lived with families in Longues-sur-mer village.

The Deweys stayed in Longues with the refugees until October, when the refugees were moved to the south of France.

Charles and Suzette sailed back to the United States on the ship Manhattan, built for 900 passengers, but filled with 1,800.

When the Deweys returned at the end of the war they found the abbey still standing, but with a huge swastika (which has since been removed) on the dining room wall. The Germans had used the abbey as a headquarters.

It was during the chaotic period towards the end of the war, as the Germans retreated and Allied soldiers gradually moves through France, that is is believed the abbey temporarily became a hospital.

“It's quite likely, because it's a large building with walls that keep the temperature cool, which is ideal for receiving the wounded. The position of the abbey of Longues-sur-mer was also strategic at the crossroads of the roads of Arromanches and Port-en-Bessin,” Belgian volunteer Patrick told France Info.

But the contributions the Dewey family made to the abbey go far beyond these two months of 1939.

In the 1930s, for example, the Deweys hired a group of architects from Chicago (Holabird & Root) to design the abbey’s vegetable garden, which was to be modeled off of George Washington’s gardens at Mount Vernon.

There are still plans for both the Mount Vernon gardens and the abbey’s gardens on display at the abbey.

Every so often the local Longuais come and tell stories about the Deweys and their abbey during the 1950s – Charles and Suzette hosted annual Christmas parties in the refectory where they gave toys to all the children of the village.

The d’Anglejan family, who bought the abbey from the Deweys over 50 years ago, is determined to protect the abbey itself and the abbey as an emblem of French-American history.

In March, the abbey was selected as one of 18 sites in France to receive funding from the French heritage lottery. This much-needed funding will allow the d’Anglejans to restore the roof of the church, which was destroyed many years ago.

The battlefield hospital can be seen at Abbaye de Longues, Longues-sur-Mer, Calvados, until Sunday, June 9th. To find out more about the abbey, click here.

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Everything you need to know about France’s 2022 summer sales

In France, you can only shop the best deals twice a year - during the soldes. Here is everything you need to know about this year's summer sales.

Everything you need to know about France's 2022 summer sales

They happen twice a year – Each year, France has two soldes periods: one in the winter, usually starting January, and another in the summer, usually starting in June.

This summer, the soldes will start on Wednesday, June 22nd in most parts of France and run for four weeks, so even though you might be tempted to go on the first day, keep in mind they’ll be going on for a while.

They are progressive, so items will be continuously marked down as the soldes wear on. If you wait, you are risking that your favourite t-shirt might sell out quickly, but if you’re lucky it might end up marked down even further.

During 2020 and 2021 the government altered sales dates and time periods to help shops cope with closures and lockdowns, but now we’re back to the usual timetable.

This is the only time stores can have “sales” – Technically, the soldes are the only time that stores are allowed to have sales, but the definition of ‘sale’ is important.

Basically, the French government qualifies a ‘solde‘ as the store selling an item for less than they purchased it for.

During the rest of the year discounting is allowed in certain circumstances, so you might see promotions or vente privée (private sales, usually short-term events aimed at regular customers or loyalty-card holders) throughout the year.

In these situations the stores might be selling items for less than their original price, but they are not permitted to sell the item for less than they bought it for. 

Shops are also permitted to have closing-down sales if they are shutting down, or closing temporarily for refurbishment.

They are strictly regulated by the French government – Everything from how long the soldes go for to the consumer protection rules that apply to the very definition of ‘solde’ is regulated by the French government, and the main purpose of this is to protect small independent businesses which might not be able to offer the same level of discounts as the big chains and multi-national companies.

Whether you shop in person or online, the same rules apply.

As a consumer, you still have the same rights as non-sales times regarding broken or malfunctioning items – meaning you ought to be entitled to a refund if the item has not been expressly indicated as faulty. The French term is vice caché, referring to discovering a defect after purchase.

On top of that, stores must be clear about which items are reduced and which are not – and must display the original price on the label as well as the sale price and percentage discount. 

READ MORE: Your consumer rights for French sales

They started in the 19th century – France’s soldes started in the 19th century, alongside the growth of department stores who had the need to regularly renew their stock – and get rid of leftover items.

Simon Mannoury, who founded the first Parisian department store “Petit Saint-Thomas” in 1830, came up with the idea.

Funnily enough, this department store actually is the ancestor for the famous department store Le Bon Marché. His goal was to sell off the previous season’s unsold stock in order to replace it with new products.

In order to do this, Mannoury offered heavy discounts to sell as much merchandise as possible in a limited time.

The soldes start at different times depending on where you live – The sales start at the same time across most of mainland France, but there are exceptions for overseas France and certain départements, usually those along the border.

France’s finance ministry allows for the sales to start at different times based on local economies and tourist seasons. 

For the summer 2022 sales only two parts of metropolitan France have different dates; Alpes-Maritimes sales run from July 6th to August 2nd, while on the island of Corsica they run from July 13th to August 9th.

In France’s overseas territories the sales are held later in the year.

You might qualify for a tax rebate – If you are resident outside the EU, you might be eligible for a tax rebate on your sales purchases.

If you spend at least €100 in one store, then you qualify. You should hold onto your receipt and tell the cashier you plan to use a tax rebate so they can give you the necessary documentation (a duty-free slip).

Then when you are leaving you can find the kiosk at the station or airport dedicated to tax rebates (détaxe) and file prior to leaving France. For more information read HERE