Monday, 8 October 2012

The Rebuilding of Vire After WWII


Map of Vire 1944
The Vire Museum has had an exhibition this year on the rebuilding of the town after the 2nd World War and one Saturday they were doing a talk in English.  So I took the opportunity of going to a talk I could fully understand.

I knew Vire was heavily bombed, along with other towns in Normandy.  The reason for this was to slow down the German reinforcements on the 6th June 1944.  Vire was a major crossroads and it was decided that to block this would help the allies cause.

Leaflets were dropped on to the town (pop. 6500) beforehand to tell residents to leave.  Unfortunately they were blown westward about 20kms and landed in the St Sever Forest.  Some leaflets were found and rushed into Vire but they were then assumed to be fake by the local council. They soon found out that they were not.  That afternoon the first wave of bombing started. Residents then quickly left as a second wave of bombing was due later that evening.

Vire 1944
350 people were killed in the bombing.  The Americans carried out the first wave of bombings and it is believed this actually saved lives. They were not very accurate and did little damage to the town.  The RAF carried out the second wave of bombing and hit the target heavily.  If the raids had been the other way round than the death rate would have been much higher.

Like many of these things it was not only the bombing that caused all the damage. Fires afterwards made it worse and, also, many of the building had been built supported by the adjoining buildings. When one of the supporting buildings fell it took the next one with it. The latter reason also meant buildings that looked all right then collapsed as its supporting building was demolished.

It is also thought that some buildings, although safe, were demolished.  There were two reasons for this.  One reason was incorrect surveying and the building classed as unsafe. Secondly the companies contracted to remove the rubble were paid by the lorry load and demolished buildings to take more loads than necessary.  Pre-war Vire was at the top of a very steep hill and many local farmers refused to come to the market as this hill was difficult to get up.  The rubble from the destroyed city was used to make this slope less of an incline.
Section of Prefab

Children's Adjustable Bed
After the war the re-building of Vire was planned.  But in the meantime pre-fabs were shipped in to house the people (some are still standing today).  Before the war Vire had 10 baths for a population of 6500 people.  These pre-fabs had toilets, bath rooms, cookers, fridges etc.  And if you had children you were given an adjustable bed.  It meant only one bed had to be made whatever age the children were.

Rebuilding in Granite
The mayor of Vire, at the time, was keen to rebuild in the local tradition of granite buildings plus try to keep the layout similar to the old town.    The original plans were fantastic and very forward thinking.  They incorporated the future increase in the use of cars, covered shopping areas and many other ideas that would have made it a lovely place.  But like all these things the shopkeepers wanted one thing, other businesses wanted something else, etc.etc. (same old story!) and this caused many delays in getting started. Central government was concerned that things were not moving very fast, to get people back into homes and businesses up and running again, so had to intervene as they felt the plans would took over 50 years to implement.

1950's Flats
This meant other building methods had to be used and now  the centre of Vire is built with granite shops and apartments.  Then surrounding the centre are buildings of 50's and 60's architecture and some are quite ugly, but needs must.  Nevertheless the town was re-built and dragged into the 20th Century.  Houses now all had toilets and baths. 
Old Clock Town

It was an interesting tour and gave a good insight to why Vire is now like it is today. It is not the most attractive of towns and it would have been lovely if more of the original plans had been used but on practical terms you can understand why later decisions were made. The tour also gave a good background to the town's history in those times.

And I must add that there has been much work done to improve Vire over the last couple of years, cobbling the streets, better street furniture etc. and this is still ongoing today - as the Old Clock Tower (one of very few remaining pre war buildings) photo shows.  Also walking around today taking the photos I appreciated the place much more due to understanding this recent history.

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