Judith Dunn, Chair of Ilkley-Coutances Town Twinning Committee reports on the Ilkley-Coutances May 2024 trip - an enduring Entente Cordiale

A DELEGATION of 21 travelled to our twin town of Coutances in early May for another very successful visit.

A coach and three of our hosts were in Caen to meet us at the port and take us for a welcome breakfast nearby. We then went to the British Normandy Memorial at Ver-sur-Mer, within clear sight of Arromanches and the D-Day landing beaches. This structure, financed by the British Government, is an impressive open-air rectangle of stone columns recording the 22,443 service personnel from some 30 countries and under British command, who gave their lives in the Battle of Normandy in the summer of 1944.

The central section is dedicated to the 1,746 who died on 6 June itself. These heroes are also temporarily represented in an installation, Standing with Giants: a host of two-dimensional life-size black metal silhouettes, reaching almost to the shore.

Wharfedale Observer: Column number 138, commemorating Lewis Martin Column number 138, commemorating Lewis Martin (Image: submitted)

We were able to identify the four Ilkley servicemen commemorated on the pillars: Corporal John Edmund Hoyle, RAC, Fusilier Jack Hodgson RNF, Lieutenant Lewis Marten, RA and Bombardier Rayburn Oldreive, RA. It was a truly moving visit to an amazing place.

After lunch in Bayeux and a visit to the famous Tapestry and the stunning Cathedral, we headed for Coutances and an official reception in the Town Hall, hosted by the Mayor, Jean-Dominique Baudin. Councillor Catherine Cheater replied to the Mayor’s welcome on behalf of Ilkley Town Council.

Wharfedale Observer: A section of the poignant installation Standing with Giants A section of the poignant installation Standing with Giants (Image: submitted)

Over the next three days, we enjoyed an oyster tasting, visits to a craft brewery, the Coutances Museum and a wonderful private garden, as well as an excellent official dinner and a lavish faith supper. A walk among the dunes and on the beach at Gouville, with its iconic painted beach huts, and free time to wander the streets of Coutances with the Jazz Festival in full swing, allowed us to make the most of the sunshine. As it happened, that sunshine arrived with us and left with us: Normandy has suffered some epic storms in the last week.

Our group was a great mix of old friends and new faces on both sides; we were royally received by hosts for whom nothing was too much trouble. We had the pleasure of catching up with the former Chairman of the Coutances Twinning Committee, Jean-Paul Madelénat, and meeting his successor, Jacques Bréquet, whose energy and charm – and the enthusiasm of the whole committee – bode well for the future of our links. We look forward to welcoming a delegation from Coutances in spring 2025. Vive l’entente cordiale!