Engaged in War

Rivers were the roads of France since before Caesar led the Romans into Gaul. Towns were built on rivers for trade but, as the French learned, the rivers also brought disaster: the Vikings drove deep into France on the Seine and the Vire, then stayed and took over in the region named for the Norsemen, now ‘Normandy.’ William the Conqueror (a Viking descendant) used the Vire to launch his fleet against England. Almost one thousand years later, the Vire was to become the dividing line in another invasion: in 1944 it separated Omaha Beach from Utah Beach in the Allied landings in German-occupied France. Before then, and more recently, Normandy was peaceful, a picturesque countryside of farms that produced exceptional cheeses and more exceptional white-lightning brandy known as Calvados. The town in this photograph was destroyed in the war.