Everyone knows the great American entertainer, Walt Disney. The 56th anniversary of his passing was recently on December 15. At the same time, much fewer people know that his ancestors came from Normandy from the small seaside town of Isigny-sur-Mer which is famous for its dairy products and salted caramel. In 1066, William the Conqueror gave land to many of his trusted soldiers after the Battle of Hastings, including Disney’s ancestors who were given the title “Lords of Isigny." They moved to England and the name d’Isigny was anglicized to Disney. Later, a part of the family moved to Ireland and from there to America, where Walt Disney was born on December 5, 1901, in Chicago. During World War I, he wanted to join the U.S. armed forces but was too young to serve, thus he forged the date of birth on his birth certificate and ended up as Red Cross ambulance driver in France shortly before the end of the war. Taking advantage of being stationed in France, he visited Normandy for the first time after WWI at the age of 17 in 1918.
During the Normandy landings, Operation PLUTO (standing for Pipeline Under the Ocean) and the two pipelines laid under the English Channel during the operation, Dumbo and Bambi, were named after the characters created by Disney. The famous Sleeping Beauty castle is said to be inspired by the picturesque island-abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy. Interestingly, the mosaic featuring the story of Cinderella in the castle at Disney World in Florida was done by former German World War II “master interrogator” of the Luftwaffe, Hanns Scharff who immigrated to the U.S. after the war and became a mosaic artist. He was famous for using a quite efficient technique of friendly and non-violent approach during interrogations. His method was taught by the U.S. military in interrogation schools.