Photographs of War-Devasted Caen, June-July 1944

Scope and Content

The collection of photographs and postcards shows the war devastation of Caen, June-July, 1944. The devastation is shown from different elevations, and feature not only the most prominent buildings but also the extent of the damage beyond the central area of the city.

Administrative / Biographical History

Caen is a university city and commercial centre situated on the River Orne in the Calvados departement of northern France, in Normandy. It is a busy inland port, the river having been canalised (by Napoleon I) to the sea. The importance of Caen dates to the 11th century when it was a favourite residence of William I of England (William the Conqueror). An architectural gem, the city was largely demolished by Allied bombing and shelling during the Normandy Campaign of World War II.

As an important port and road and rail centre, Caen had been vital to Allied success after D-Day. The plan had been for the British forces to seize the city in the first day or two after the landings and then to take the battle out into open countryside and towards the Seine. When this did not happen, it was necessary to keep the German forces committed to the city and to prevent them from switching attention to the all out defence of the port of Cherbourg which was essential to the Allies and which the American forces were to take.

During the battle for Caen, the 14th century Church of St. Peter lost its famous spire, while the castle of William the Conqueror and the 17th century town hall were almost destroyed. However, three outstanding examples of 11th century Norman architecture were preserved, namely the Abbaye aux Hommes founded by William the Conqueror, who was buried there, and the Abbaye aux Dames founded by Queen Matilda, and the Church of St. Nicholas. The university which was founded in 1432 was destroyed, but has been rebuilt.

An imposing memorial to the Battle of Normandy (1944) has been erected in the old rebuilt castle as a peace monument and museum.

Access Information

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.

Acquisition Information

Presented by Professor John Orr, 1946.


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Seltzer, Leon E. (ed.). The Columbia Lippincott gazetteer of the world. Morningside Heights, N.Y: Columbia University Press, 1962. (2) Various published sources on the Allied campaign in Normandy, 1944.

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division.

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.

Related Material

The local Indexes show many references to Professor John Orr related material (check the Indexes for more details): papers of Professor John Orr (1885-1966) at Gen. 868-872 and Gen. 1842-1844. Orr held the Chair of French Language and Romance Linguistics. He was Chairman of the Edinburgh-Caen Fellowship.

Geographical Names