The Story of The British Garden in Caen

The Mayor of Caen, Senator Jean-Marie Girault, turned his eyes to the wide stretch of ground (about 40 acres in all) surrounding the Mémorial, and conceived the idea that the Allied countries whose forces had taken part in D-Day should be represented there by a memorial garden.

The Americans, British and Canadians were all approached, and supported the idea. On the question of a site, the Americans and Canadians favoured the valley below the Mémorial, but General Harris was unhappy with this suggestion, because he did not want visitors to have to cope with flights of steps or take a lift. He asked the Mayor to place a garden on the plateau, close to the Mémorial itself, and after some delay this was agreed. A Committee, chaired by General Harris, continued to meet twice a year to pursue the project and accumulated the necessary funds, which included assistance from the French Government and the European Commission.

The British Support Committee prepared plans for the Garden and arranged a ceremony to lay a foundation stone in the area next to the Mémorial. Very sadly General Harris died in 1999 before the Garden plans could be realised. However, planning continued, and, in June 2002, an important meeting took place in Caen with the local technical staff, Mr Reg Maxwell, the Garden designer, and Lady Harris. Design proposals to the French authorities, which after close examination, resulted in conclusive approval for the Garden scheme.

Thanks to French labour and planners in Belfast, the Garden took shape between 2002 and the autumn of 2003 and was officially opened by HRH The Prince of Wales at the 60th Anniversary of D Day on 5th June 2004: a fitting climax to the project.

At an earlier stage, it had been hoped to employ labour provided by FARSET, an organisation in Belfast which helped people who were out of work, to construct the garden; unfortunately, this option became impractical. At a Meeting, it was decided that French labour should be used to prepare the garden, except for the structures. Special thanks are due to Messrs. Taggart & Co. in Belfast, who planned the upper structures free of charge; wonderful financial support for the project.

The City of Caen agreed to level the ground, put in water and draining, and provide a huge quantity of topsoil, as well as preparing different areas for the entrance, the fountain, the Naval monument, and to lay the foundation stone, which became the Royal Air Force monument. Work on the garden started in 2002 and was finished by autumn 2003.