Less famous than the great exodus of May-June 1940, when several million French people took to the road during the German invasion, the exodus undertaken in the summer of 1944 by the inhabitants of Lower Normandy was nevertheless a massive phenomenon by regional standards.
Tens of thousands of men, women and children, including the old and sick, took flight ‑ on foot, in carts, sometimes taking their cows along with them. Some spontaneously took this action in order to flee the fighting, while others were ordered to evacuate their homes by the retreating German Army.
Sometimes travelling alone, sometimes in convoys, whole families set out, most of them following itineraries worked out beforehand by the Vichy government. For the inhabitants of the Manche department, these led into the Mayenne, while for those in Calvados, the main route took them to Trun in the Orne department. Some went much further, to Vendée or the Massif Central.
The journey was not without danger, as the roads were constantly under fire from Allied aviation, which did not always distinguish between civilians and German soldiers. Around thirty refugees, for instance, were killed near Vire, following a rocket attack by a squadron of American fighter-bombers.