Posts Tagged ‘WW2’

Motoring through the sleepy ruralness of France’s Limousin region with its gently rolling hills, mile upon mile of wheat fields, crops of sunflowers interspersed with oak and beech woodland you’d be forgiven for thinking that life here has been much the same for hundreds of years.

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And to a certain extent it probably has but an occasion in its recent history has left a scar so deep that is unlikely to ever recover. For a small town just north-west of Limoges memories from seventy years ago are still raw; events shouldered alone while the attention of the allied world was focussed on the major battle raging in the north of the country meant that no-one shared the agony of this small, tight-knit community.

On the 10th June 1944, just four days after the Normandy landings Oradour-sur-Glane, a prosperous little market town, was razed to the ground by the German S.S, its inhabitants brutally massacred.

Women and children were rounded up and locked into the church which was then set alight; men were rounded up into smaller groups, machine-gunned down, covered with hay and fuel and their bodies burned. Some were burned alive.

 There were very few survivors. On that fateful day, 642 inhabitants of Oradour-sur-Glane lost their lives.

After the war, a new Oradour-sur-Glane was built nearby but, on the orders of General de Gaulle, the original town was to remain exactly as it had been left after the atrocity as a memorial to its fallen.

Today there is a sombre visitor’s centre which leads you through a tunnel under the road to the original town where you are free to roam along the streets and view the devastation. There is no charge.

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Rusted cars remain exactly where they were torched seventy years ago; tram lines are still visible, running the length of the main street; an old sewing machine, battered yet still recognisable, has been left in the charred ruins of the tailor’s shop. Patterned ceramic tiles, fallen from the wall of the butcher’s store lay heaped on the floor while where the old garage was, an enamel placard advertising Renault Cars is still just visible.

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The butcher’s shop

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The Girl’s School

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The Church

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The Post Office with tram lines in front

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The main street leading up to the cemetery

At the top of the town, you cross a grassy flower meadow to the old cemetery. Only here is there evidence of human intervention – the place is kept respectfully neat and tidy while the ornate headstones provide testament to the truly shocking reality that so many families perished on the same day. There is a newly built underground memorial hall to the inhabitants of Oradour-sur-Glane. Every name of those who died is engraved on its walls while encased in modern, light-filled  vitrines are some of the artefacts taken from the victims or discovered amongst the wreckage. Spectacles, pocket watches (with the hands stopped between the hours of five and six in the evening – the time of the massacre), pots, ceramics and the metal handles of handbags – all serve as reminders that this atrocity happened to ordinary people just like us.

As you pick your way carefully back towards the visitor’s tunnel along the cobbles separated by mosses and self-seeded wild flowers the atmosphere in the ruined town is one of reverence – people walk quietly around the shattered buildings each with their own thoughts, taking a few poignant photographs.

The preserved wreckage of Oradour-sur-Glane is a very powerful memorial.

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At last, with much pride and an unashamed streak of nepotism, I can announce that Son has published his first book, an historical account of the 101st American Airborne’s time spent in our green and pleasant land prior to the D-Day landings of June 1944. ???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

After three years of extensive research which has taken him from the wilds of Wiltshire in southern England to the American Wild West and from Normandy to Holland and back again, he has pieced together archive photographs, anecdotes and interviews with veterans, the aim being:

“… not only to tell the history of this famous division during an often overlooked part of their service but to give an insight into how their relatively short period of time in England has left its mark nearly 70 years later.”

The division was made famous in 2001 when the miniseries Band of Brothers hit our screens and it was from a fascination with this that Son began his quest to discover as much about the whole division as he could. His goal was for the book to be ready to coincide with 6th June this year – the 70th anniversary of the historic Normandy invasion which was the turning point of WW2. After a few close shaves with proofing and the fine print, his book is finally published and for sale on Amazon.

You can check out his book here for UK readers and here for America.

Son will be over in Normandy for the celebrations in June – they are always extensive but this year promises to be even bigger and better as the Queen, Prince Phillip and President Obama will be in attendance. As I did last year, I will be writing some Normandy related posts in the run up to the 6th  of June and re-blogging the wonderful video of Son’s 92 year old veteran friend running up the mountain he first ran in 1942.

Where to next, I wonder …

 

 

 

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Mum and I were sifting through a box of old photographs recently when we came across a few from her school days, during the war.

After she had taken me on a little trip down memory lane at her all girls’ boarding school, where she attended as a day pupil, I scanned them in so she could send them to an old school friend by e-mail, she said I could do what I liked with them which probably wasn’t wise. They are just crying out to be captioned.

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Imagine Mrs Maltravers’ delight as she persuaded her Housewifery class to help tackle her son’s bedroom

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Try as she might Cecily, already in trouble for wearing an over-patterned apron, couldn’t suppress a giggle as she added a few magic mushrooms to the pie she was preparing for the Governor’s annual dinner that evening.

Feel free to join in.  Mum will be amused…

(You might need to click the image to see a larger print – I wasn’t going to fidget with any more technology after last week).

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My mother was ten when war broke out in 1939. She and her family lived in the countryside just south of London, at Addington Palace Hotel, where her father was  manager. He had worked in the catering industry since leaving the army in 1918 at the age of twenty, having served in the First World War for four years. Mum remembers clearly the family gathering around the wireless in their sitting room to hear the grave news that war had been declared.

At first, life at the hotel went on as usual and then the departure of many local school children to more rural locations began. My grandfather would not consent to my mother and her sister leaving; the hotel seemed safe enough, he wanted to keep the family together and there was very little news from Europe until the evacuation of Dunkirk in May 1940. Some of the rooms at the hotel were commandeered by the British army for officers; troops were stationed in tents along the driveway leading up to the Palace. The toll house was used as a guard-room.

In July 1940, the family were able to witness at close range the planes fighting in the Battle of Britain. For over three months the skies above the hotel buzzed with the sound of aircraft. Addington is within a few miles of Biggin Hill, one of the many small airports used.

By 1942, the army had moved on but the village was thrown into great excitement – the Canadians were coming! Troops were billeted in houses all around the village, and again, rooms at the hotel were used for senior officers. The Mews, a separate part of the hotel, was also taken over for accommodation with a canteen and there was to be a parade ground. Everyone at Addington Palace now really felt part of the war.

The Canadian soldiers were only too ready to make friends in the village, organising games for the children – football and races on the village green.

My mother is far left, sitting on the windowsill

My mother is far left, sitting on the windowsill

Christmas 1942 was the most memorable of the war. The soldiers arranged with my grandfather a children’s party at the hotel. All the village children were invited, entertainment was provided. The soldiers dressed up in fancy costumes; there was a ventriloquist act and a film show. With food now being rationed, as good a tea as possible was provided.

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The party was talked about for a long time afterwards – my mother remembers it vividly and still has the autograph book containing the signatures and messages of some of her favourite soldiers. She has particular reason to have such fond memories of the Canadians. In 1943, her father died suddenly. The sympathy and kindness shown to her and her mother at this time by the soldiers was overwhelming, in particular by the Canadian chaplain, Norman Sharky, and Colonel Bell-Irving.

Later the same year, the Canadians moved on – one day they were there, the next they had gone and my mother never saw them again. It remains her greatest regret.

Post script.

My Sofa Loafing historian has since discovered that his Grandma’s Canadians were from the 2nd heavy ack-ack regiment and left Addington to protect the British coast at Dover. Col Bell-Irving was awarded the OBE when his regiment shot down enemy aircraft during their first engagement.

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The Juno Beach Centre, in Courseulles-sur-mer, (east of Arromanches on the way to the port of Caen at Ouisterham), is a very informative museum dedicated to Canada’s contribution in World War Two. The centre houses several rooms, each devoted to a different area of the war. We spent a morning there a couple of years ago with a french-speaking Canadian history student who guided us outside onto the beach to explain the Canadian assault on Juno. She lined us up in regiments and explained how fourteen thousand Canadian troops landed on 6th June facing heavy machine gun fire as well as mined obstacles.

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In front of the Centre is this beautiful memorial to the fallen.

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