John Lichfield: Our Man in Bayeux

A town fit for the heroes who report on conflict

Share

Almost all of the towns in lower Normandy were pulverized by Allied bombing in the summer of 1944.

They were rebuilt in functional, Legoland style just after the war, preserving only glimpses of the medieval riches which had been passed down through the centuries.

The lucky exception, the great survivor, was the small town of Bayeux, which had the great fortune to be captured intact by the British Army on the day after D-Day.

Bayeux, built from soft, silver-grey stone, is doubly a jewel. It is one of the most beautiful small towns in France and stands as a reminder of the lost beauty of Caen and Falaise and St Lo and Argentan.

Long before its miraculous survival in 1944, the peaceful town of Bayeux was already indelibly associated with war. Its most celebrated treasure is the Tapisserie de la Reine Mathilde, known in English as the "Bayeux tapestry": an immense, embroidered, 11th century cartoon which tells the story of the Norman conquest of England in 1066.

In the last 13 years, Bayeux has made itself into a global shrine to those brave journalists who cover wars, and, more widely, to all journalists killed in pursuit of the truth.

In 1994, for the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Normandy, the town created the world's only series of annual prizes dedicated to war correspondents.

Patrick Gomont, the mayor of Bayeux, claims that the town's tapestry is the "world's first war report". Homer or Herodotus might disagree.

All the same, the Bayeux Tapestry can still reasonably claim to be the world's first piece of war reportage in pictures.

This weekend I was greatly honoured to serve on the jury of the 2007 "Baxeux prizes" (or to give them their full name in French, the "Prix Bayeux- Calvados des Correspondants de Guerre".)

Any gathering of journalists is more likely than not to turn into an argument, and the jury, under the chairmanship of the experienced British war correspondent, Jon Swain, was an impressively serious and combative affair.

Should print war journalism be judged for its bravery, or its depth of analysis, or its quality of writing? Should television war correspondents be invisible or should they themselves become the heroes, or heroines, of short war movies? Should war photographs be judged on the beauty of their composition or the starkness or dramatic content of their images?

One of the entries in the television category was declared "almost indecent" by a veteran French member of the jury. He objected that the reporter spent most of his report from the Lebanese war of 2006 sprawling ostentatiously in front of the news.

The BBC emerged with enormous credit, winning first prizes in both the radio and television categories (and also second place in radio). The print prize went to a French reporter, Adrien Jaulmes of the Revue des Deux Mondes, for his brilliant account of "Amerak", the parallel world that has been created by the US army in Iraq.

A special mention should also be given to the people of Bayeux themselves. The town has a memorial where it engraves the names of journalists killed in pursuit of the news – a plaque was unveiled this year to the murdered Russian investigative journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot dead in her apartment building a year ago.

In a large tent on the edge of town there was an advance viewing of a French film on Anna's life and death, and a public question and answer session with Russian journalists.

A huge crowd of local people turned up and asked the reporters impressively well-informed questions until almost midnight.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband hasn’t ‘suddenly’ become a robust leader. He always was

Steve Richards
 

Costa Rica’s wildlife makes me mourn our paradise lost

Michael McCarthy
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence