La Cambe cemetery

Last year I shelfed this post because I felt some might be offended by it’s latter content. As I found out, there is still some very strong feelings about this cemetery in Normandy, France.


I have an interest in the history of the second world war and Normandy of course was a battle ground during the months of June and July 1944. On the occasions I have been to France, I have seen and visited few sites where battles took place, museums and Allied cemeteries but I’d never been to the German cemetery in La Cambe. We stumbled across it by chance on our way back to the house we stay at in Vimoutiers.

 The Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof at La Cambe, Normandie

I’m always cautious and respectful when taking images around churches, cemeteries or graveyards. In the picture above, there’s a family ahead and when they passed me earlier at the entrance to the cemetery, I could clearly hear they were German speaking and wasn’t to sure how they might react seeing someone with a camera, let alone an Englishmen, but as the saying goes over here …“Keep calm, carry on”

Thankfully a Leica rangefinder is discreet, quiet and small although maybe some would say a bit sneaky! Years ago as I was taking pictures, I did have a woman take offence that I was using a camera in such a place, so I do like to be mindful of where I am and not to disturb others.


Before walking though the entrance a sign tells you, Until 1947, this was an American cemetery. The remains were exhumed and shipped to the United States. It has been German since 1948, and contains over 21,000 graves. With its melancholy rigour, it is a graveyard for soldiers not all of whom had chosen either the cause or the fight. They too have found rest in our soil of France.

I can understand why some in France still have ill feeling about the existence of this place.

As I start walking quietly though the main a gate your meet with a small marble hall with the large letters on the wall ‘HIER RUHEN DEUTSCHE SOLDATEN + ICI REPOSENT DESSOLDATS ALLEMANDS’ translated, Here lie German Soldiers.

Although very uniformed and tidy, unlike Allied cemeteries there are no headstones or white marble crosses, just stone plaques with the names of the fallen with roughly carved black stone crosses in groups of five dotted among the trees. On the overcast but very warm day I visited there where two national wreaths, one French, one German on stands in the middle of the cemetery. A few smaller wreaths lie on some plaques but no flowers or poppies but what stood out to me was among the bare graves, one plaque was covered in flowers and pictures.

Below is the grave plaque of one SS-Hauptsturmführer Michael Wittmann the German tank ace who was killed near Gaumesnil, Normandie.

Michael Wittmann grave in La Cambe cemetery

I was surprised that his plaque was surrounded by coins, some fresh flowers, some not so fresh as well as pictures of him in his wartime uniform. I am well aware of the exploits of this man, his achievements as a panzer commander and his subsequent demise in 1944. Although there is no record of Wittmann being involved with any crimes, he was still a member of the Waffen-Schutzstaffel who themselves carried out war crimes throughout the war and was born out of one of the worst authoritarian regimes mankind has ever known. I think one must forgive that some individuals still have the misguided belief of having a ‘cult’ status is ‘OK’ regardless of the crimes committed by the same organisation that this man belonged to throughout the conflict.


One final point, outside the La Cambe cemetery there are various plinths on which there are famous quotes. One stood out to me;

“The question of peace is not a globe question but a personal question for each individual”

Karl Jaspers

All pictures taken with my Leica M4-2, Summicron 35mm f/2 ASPH and taken on Ilford HP5 plus film in August 2020.

Late shadows

As many of you know my work, I very rarely shoot colour film. So when I said to my wife I’m going to shoot some autumn pictures last Sunday, a voice came from the other room ”you are going to use colour?” So frantically looking in my photography fridge upstairs, luckily for me there was one last roll of Agfa Vista 200 colour film left, dated October 2018… Phew.

This shot hasn’t really got much in the way of autumn colour but I liked the late afternoon light and shadows across the cemetery. Only in post processing on the computer did I notice the grave in the foreground, the foot stone is propped up with white bricks!

Late shadows

Taken at Sheppey Cemetery, England on my Leica M4-2, Summicron 35mm f/2 ASPH with Agfa Vista 200 film.

Sacred

I noted last weekend that both Fishyfish arcade and Natalie Smart had both posted cemetery images as I had been shooting the same subject that day… How strange I thought.

Fishy did suggest “It’s the prophecy. It’s finally coming to pass!” maybe he’s right, we’re all doomed.

Anyway, shot at St Peter & St Paul’s Church, Borden, England. Some lovely old gravestones at this church cemetery, some are very weathered. This particular one is leaning around 30 degrees and so made the image easier to compose with the light and background.

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Taken on my Leica M4-2 with the Summicron 50mm f/2 lens on AGFA Vista 200 film, which I have now change to black and white. I wasn’t happy with the colour version and feel the monochrome has more impact.

 

Church yard

This is the church yard of Saint Germain de Montgommery, near Vimoutiers, France.
For me, an Englishman visiting France for the first time, since my childhood you notice things in later life that you’d never looked at in your misspent youth. The headstones very different to those in the cemeteries in the Britain which all stone, many are of metal construction and that many are damaged from the conflict of 1944. I noticed this one has an inscription which seems to be a very English name for this lady.

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Leica M4-2, Summicron 50mm f/2 taken Kodak Tri-X film with a yellow B&W filter. Developed in Kodak D76 1:1 for 13 minutes.