Despite the Poitou-Charentes tourism website praising the Grande Conche beach (Royan - Charente-Maritime) as a ‘safe’ place to be, one holiday maker got a nasty surprise on Tuesday when his children pointed out something metal near the water. He picked it up to examine it more closely. It then promptly burst into flames. The object in question turned out to be an undetonated WWII phosphorous bomb.
Prior to WWII, Royan was a pretty seaside resort on the Atlantic coast, situated on the mouth of the Gironde estuary. But, by the closing stages of World War II, two German fortresses remained, grimly defending the estuary; this was despite the fact that most of France had been liberated. Once again Royan was in the thick of things.
For this wasn’t the first time that Royan had been the focus of military attention. Royan was fought over during the middle ages; the town eventually passed from French to English control and it became a city under Henry III. It was destroyed at the end of the Hundred Years War, but, due to its location, Royan remained strategically important for the next few hundred years.
In early January 1945, the order went out for an Allied attack; this took the form of an air-borne assault by over 350 RAF bombers and was followed up in April with a further attack, using both naval and aerial bombardment. At the time, Royan was thought to have been abandoned, empty save for a few collaborators and the Germans. In fact, some 3,000 French civilians were still in Royan and over half of these were killed or injured. During these attacks on Royan and the surrounding area, the use of napalm was pioneered and tested by the Allies.
During the 1950s, Royan was completely rebuilt and these days it is once again a thriving seaside resort. The population has grown from just 6,000 in 1946 to over 38,000 today. However, as in many parts of France, the legacy of undiscovered bombs is always a possibility. Happily in this case, the holiday maker suffered only light burns and hopefully this won’t deter future tourists from the beaches of the Charente-maritime?
Sheila Walshe-Blackmore - SFN Contributor