The “Civilians and the Liberation” space, located on the first floor of the museum, evokes the bombings that preceded the Liberation. Mostly Allied, these terrible bombings were the cause of numerous civilian casualties in the Second World War.

This shelling had the effect of tarnishing the enthusiasm of the Norman population at the time of their liberation. The meeting between civilians and soldiers is illustrated in all its complexity in the rest of this journey.

Many Norman towns are more than 70% destroyed: reconstruction promises to be long and complicated. The last part of this space is entirely dedicated to him.

The exodus in 1944

The Falaise Memorial recalls the figures: “45 million civilians dead and 30 million civilians displaced or refugees” – figures on the scale of the results of the Second World War (1937-1945) – and also specifies that for the first time throughout history, there have been more civilian than military casualties.
From 1940, whether soldiers retreating or civilians fleeing the atrocities of war and its share of repression, millions of French people took to the road, often on foot, with meager luggage.
The chaos is total, on the roads, but also on board the crowded trains. To cope with this wave of travelers, cattle trains were requisitioned.
If the main destination is Paris initially, many civilians subsequently take the South-West route.
Not everyone returned to their hometown at the end of the war. The large cities in the “Free Zone” are thus saturated with refugees (whom Pétain called “fugitives” in 1941).
At this time, Lyon and Marseille will see their population increase considerably.

This exodus is one of the most important mass movements of the XNUMXth century in Europe.

The bombing of Normandy towns

Arriving on the first floor of the museum, we discover a space entirely devoted to the terrible bombings that Normandy experienced.

Une  normande fouillant dans les ruines de sa maison à Orglandes, le 17 juin 1944
A Norman woman searching in the ruins of her house in Orglandes, June 17, 1944

Allied troops landed on the Normandy coast at dawn on June 6, 1944. France was on the verge of regaining its freedom, after four long years of Occupation. This unforgettable date will remain engraved in the minds of many as a symbol of joy and great promises.

Yet this day, bright for some, will remain synonymous with heartbreak for others. As “The Longest Day” draws to a close, many Normandy towns are already devastated by bombs. Several thousand victims perished under the ruins. The following night, the next day or in the following days, many other cities will suffer the same fate.

The bombings suffered by Normandy in 1944 – which took place before and after the D-Day landings – were among the most violent of the Second World War. There are numerous civilian casualties.

The Norman population took refuge underground, in underground passages, cellars and old quarries to protect themselves from bombings. These weeks spent in very precarious conditions are particularly trying and leave terrible memories.

Beyond the considerable material destruction they caused, these strikes caused between 50 and 000 victims, including 70 in Normandy alone.

The suffering of the Norman population, particularly due to the bombings, was exploited by propaganda.
The Vichy government and the collaborationist parties seized it to try to turn the population against the Allies. 

Civilians and soldiers in the Battle of Normandy

As you continue your journey through 1st floor, poignant images appear before your eyes illustrating the complexity of the relationships between civilians and allied soldiers.

In 87 days of the campaign, more than 2 million Allied soldiers, more than 438 vehicles, more than 000 million tons of equipment and supplies were landed in Normandy.

In total, in the liberated regions, there are around four soldiers for every single inhabitant... Such human concentration is not without causing some tensions.

Despite the bombings, which destroyed more than 75% of many Normandy towns and led to numerous civilian casualties, the Norman population expressed their gratitude to the Allied troops who came to liberate them.

The joy of Liberation is followed by distrust and incomprehension.

The presence of armies in operation disrupts the lives of populations fleeing the fighting. During the first days after the Landing, the welcome given to the Allies was cautious: civilians feared the return of the Germans and feared reprisals for those who had sympathized with the Allies.

For their part, the allied military are also on their guard and are suspicious of civilians. They fear the presence of deserters or enemy spies.

The Falaise Memorial strives to illustrate this cohabitation between civilians and soldiers which is as surprising as it is unprecedented.

The reconstructions

The last podium in this space is naturally dedicated to the phase which promises to be long and complicated: reconstruction.


France emerges deeply damaged from the conflict. With 80 buildings and 000 buildings destroyed, Calvados alone represents 180/000th of the total destruction.

At the end of June and the liberation of northern Cotentin, as throughout the month of July, the refugees who had remained in the surrounding countryside returned home. But in August, the rapid advance of the armies amplified the flow which did not completely dry up until the spring of 1945.
It is clear that this irrepressible need to return home is almost uncontrollable by the French armies and authorities.

Life is resuming thanks to national and international solidarity, but the population must live in the ruins. The temporary cities are overcrowded and unsanitary. While waiting for the construction of new buildings and residential houses, from 1950, the entire country was going through a serious housing crisis.


Beyond international support to contribute to the recovery and reconstruction of the country, the Allies transferred 765 German prisoners of war to the French authorities. This workforce, spread throughout the national territory, works in sometimes inhumane conditions. 

The space devoted to reconstruction presents in a new light the long road that France must travel to “get back on its feet”.