On June 5th, 1944 I took the exam to receive
a certificate for my studies, without any indication of the events that were
about to come. The night of June 5th to June 6th didn't go real well for me,
as I was worried as to whether or not I passed the exam. In the morning, we
heard rumbling on the coast. I looked outside in the street a bit, and going
up the Guillaume Road towards the place of the small butcher shops was a tank
that was powered by bottled gas . I thought this to be quite extraordinary,
and overkill, as one shot from the tank would be enough to settle anything.
At 0130 we saw the first squadron of planes arrive from the west. They had
to pass over Carpiquet (near Caen), and then over our position, on the Saint
Martin Road. We saw them begin to drop their bombs over Saint Etienne. The
center of town (Caen) was targeted and bombed. We searched for cover inside
the house, and were then subjected to a second bombing within the same day,
identical to the first one.
For evening, we slept in a shelter constructed
by my father out in the garden. It was not comfortable, and it was not very
warm that night.
Journal of the Battle of Caen.
The first pages of this journal, which
are now missing, recounted, first of all, the days that we spent in the makeshift
shelter that had been constructed in the garden on Saint Manvieu Street, and
then our family's stay at the Abbey of Men. After a round of artillery brought
about falling stones from the structure of Saint Etienne, which led to the
death of a woman, and Bishop DesHameaux began conducting an absolution for
everyone, my parents then decided that it was necessary to find a safer place
of refuge for all of us. Thus, we then crossed a destroyed town, passing by
the Place of the Republic, in which the books from the library, which was
part of the town hall, were laying outside of what was left of the structure.
We then crossed Courtonne Place and had to carefully find our way in between
bomb craters that had been filled with water to finally arrive at the hospital,
which was in a shelter located beneath the clinic. Since June 6th, this shelter
had been used by the Germans as a mobile surgical unit. The Allied forces
were so close to this shelter on D-Day that the German forces hastily abandoned
it, leaving some of their wounded patients in torn and damaged uniforms.
.....That is how the entire day went. It
was my turn to help make soup. I made a wonderful find: 20 cigars and 8 cigarettes.
Then there was the lowering of the French flag. We followed the military operations
on a Michelin map.
Saturday June 17th, 1944.
We had to evacuate, but Dad was part of the civil defense, so he stayed. While
carrying the kitchen dinner plates, an artillery shell exploded 50 meters
from us, but we were ok. Here is the article that issued the command to evacuate:
Mayor of Caen - Leader of the Group.
You must evacuate your group on June 17th, 1944. Here are the first orders:
immediate evacuation by group and by your assigned route of all able-bodied
Before the evening prayers, a large formation of heavy bombers passed over
our heads. Many people were outside under the beautiful sun.
Sunday June 18th, 1944.
At 7:30, people were speaking in low voices. The English must not be far,
as the sound of tank battle is near. The weather is nice - some fighter-bomber
aircraft destroyed the German DCA (flak guns). At 8:30 p.m. the French flag
Monday June 19th, 1944.
Bad weather, I'm bored. This did not stop the tanks from firing. I wrote a
few lines at the hospital, in the area where folks pay their hospital bill.
Tuesday June 20th, 1944.
The weather was better. I was assigned to kitchen duty. Again some tanks are
near. I found a hot piece of metal that came from an exploding shell. I was
in the process of opening cases of tuna. We were restricted to the shelter,
even though the weather was nice, on account of the artillery fire. I helped
to butcher a cow during a calm moment.
Wednesday June 21st, 1944.
We started a 9-day religious ceremony. The weather is nice. I'm beginning
to get board. The day was calm without battle. Our house was hit by a 75mm
English artillery shell, but there wasn't much damage.
Thursday June 22nd, 1944.
Its nice out. Around 2 p.m., I went to the house whose roof was hit with an
artillery shell. The house had been looted, and the doors and drawers were
all open, which had been done by pry bar or gun. About 6 p.m., bombers came
and bombed the blast furnaces (Caen produced steel, and had a canal by which
shipping could bring in raw materials, and export finished products). Around
9:30 p.m., a barrage balloon flew over us.
Friday June 23rd, 1944.
Night was terrible. The English attacked Caen. The day was nice, but it was
not possible to move about because of the artillery activity between the two
warring armies. We killed a steer for butchering, and I got the two big horns.
For the first time since the invasion, I saw a squadron of German aircraft.
Saturday June 24th, 1944.
It was a beautiful day. The aircraft passed over us almost all day dropping
thousands of paratroopers. There was still an artillery duel going on between
the two armies, but not as intense as was before. The Germans retreated to
Le Mans, where there was a natural defense.
Saturday July 1st, 1944.
This was a day of bad weather. We began building a small wooden shed. Around
4 p.m. a man came and told us that the German SS was in the hospital, and
that it would be necessary to evacuate if we didn't hide. The Germans fired
their machineguns near to us, and we exited, but they did not come and take
any of the pigs.
Sunday July 2nd, 1944.
Today, Mr. Louvet left for Paris. A car took him to Livarot for some type
of work that he was called for, as he was a customs officer. About 2 o'clock
in the afternoon, black crosses were seen on aircraft flying above the town.
Four Spitfires then arrived and attacked. The Germans fought hard. Some machinegun
fire brought down an aircraft, but I don't know whose it was. Ten minutes
later, in spite of very bad weather, another battle started. A flaming aircraft
was descending, but I think it straightened out.
Monday July 3rd, 1944.
The morning was unpleasant, but the afternoon agreeable. Today it is calm
in the military point of view, except for some artillery fire at 9 p.m.
Tuesday July 4th, 1944.
Today the battle was solely between tanks. The English arrived at Pepinieres
de Kaskoreff. The day was unpleasant. Tomorrow I'm going to participate in
the service for mass, by reading liturgical responses.
Wednesday July 5th, 1944.
This morning I had to go look for coal, and I had been to Saint Louis. There,
around 9:30 a.m., some aircraft came and dropped their bombs over our heads.
These landed 200 meters from us and then again a series of bombs were dropped
- two of these bombs fell on the hospital, of which one did not ignite. While
I was yelling, the bombers were passing over our heads again. We got to know
an infernal machine: a launched grenade, which sounded like a roaring lion,
that knocked out the tanks.
Thursday July 6th, 1944.
On this morning, once again, the bombers bombed the bridges. One of the footbridges
was destroyed, but two still remained, and they would return tomorrow to destroy
the other two. I wrote by the light of an acetylene lamp that made funny noises,
causing the women to look with a funny expression on their faces. Some artillery
shells killed five cows in the park. We helped with a family that experienced
a difficult time - it was funny. The day was excellent for the aviators. It
was the most beautiful day since one month's time had passed.
Friday July 7th, 1944.
The day was very nice. Aircraft flew over us all day. I witnessed a bombing
by naval forces. During evening, 450 RAF bombers bombed the town with 2200
tons of bombs. The town was a burning inferno. Since the beginning of the
hostilities, the English had dropped 5000 tons of bombs.
Saturday July 8th, 1944.
The Battle for Caen has begun. The kitchen received a volley of artillery.
The midday meal made us skinny. In the afternoon, throwing grenades were utilized
in action, and they passed over our heads. The evening was terrible. We were
hit with scattered shells fired by Navy ships. The closest hit and exploded
just 150 meters from us. The night was very nice.
Sunday July 9th, 1944.
This morning the English were 500 meters from us. We heard the machineguns.
At 11:00 a.m., the English (or moreso the Scottish) arrived at the hospital.
They were warmly welcomed. I had my photo taken with a lieutenant. They were
numerous in the shelter. The odor of tobacco was prevalent at head level.
Chocolate was distributed. We heard the departure of the English artillery
batteries. The youngest amongst them was 19 years old.
Monday July 10th, 1944.
Nothing to report. I'm in the kitchen with the English. About 5:30, five artillery
shells landed on the ambulances. One English soldier and two Frenchmen were
killed, and two Frenchmen were wounded.
Tuesday July 11th, 1944.
The day was beautiful. I spoke with some English soldiers when, simultaneously,
six German aircraft flew over us. We headed for shelter. They passed over
all day, but six were destroyed. I went to bed early.
Wednesday July 12th, 1944.
We received artillery fire. The English left. I got the address of the lieutenant
with whom I was photographed. The Canadians arrived, and they spoke French.
Thursday July 13th, 1944.
We were obliged to remain there for the whole day, because of artillery activity.
The day was beautiful. For the evening, we prepared a social activity to be
held on July 14th.
Friday July 14th, 1944.
For the afternoon, there was a session of which the programs were:
New Grammar, At The Café, With The Friendly Soldier, A Serenade, History
of the Navy, The Man Phenomena, The Confession of a Lawyer/Notary, The Police
are without Mercy, The Absent Minded Doctor, and Crocheting.
This evening I celebrate Saint Henri, who has the same first name as my Dad.
Saturday July 15th, 1944.
Today, my cousins, Michel and Marie-Therese, are going out into the country.
I'm depressed, and would like to go away too, spoke of my feelings, but did
not go because of falling artillery shells, and thus remained in the shelter
and wrote in my journal. One shell landed on the front of the shelter.
Sunday July 16th, 1944.
The night was terrible - an artillery shell once again landed on the building
- never two without a third - watch that third one! We had to spend all the
next day in the shelter. The day was beautiful. I would like, perhaps tomorrow,
to go out into the country.
Monday July 17th, 1944.
The third artillery shell arrived this morning. I found the rockets. The news
was confirmed: I'm going this afternoon. The Canadians tracked down the spies
that were assisting the Germans by directing their artillery fire. I discovered
a 105mm shell across from us.
To my parents..
To my uncle..
from French by Thad J. Russell