I was 20 years old in 1944. We were farmers
and lived at Houesville, in the region called the Manche. Living conditions
were difficult. We had some cows that gave us milk, and we made butter that
we traded the nearby baker for bread. We traded for all sorts of things, and
this is how we survived.
Since 1942, I was recruited to work for
the Todt Organization, and was employed to work on the construction of German
bunkers at Cherbourg. The city was bombarded, and I ran away one time, but
the Germans came and arrested my father. I was obligated to then return to
Cherbourg to stand before the Germans. They made me sign a document that stated
I was to be considered a deserter of the German Army. Initially, they thought
for a moment of sending me to work in Germany, but finally decided that I
would stay and work there.
I was sent to Fort Roule, where we dug a tunnel under the fort, which housed
large artillery guns that moved on rails so that they could be used when needed,
and then stored.
At the time that we worked for the Germans, and were paid 48 Francs per day,
also receiving a small portion of bread, 40 grams of sausage, and 40 grams
of butter, and stayed in the South America Hotel in Cherbourg, in which 40
workers shared one room, sleeping on bunk beds.
There were also some Russian women who worked with us. They were at the coastal
train station to unload cement from the arriving trains. In the evening, they
made the crossing between the train station and the hotel escorted by German
guards, were required to carry a stone on their heads, and were not allowed
Towards the end of May, the bombings intensified and this made things very
unpleasant. The planes flew low over Cherbourg and strafed the city, while
the German flak guns blazed away. In some cases, the flak guns mounted up
on the mountains did more damage to the houses and chimneys than to the planes.
I fled a second time, and this time they didn't find me. I decided to flee
with a friend, and we spent nine hours on foot to go from Cherbourg to Houesville,
taking only the backroads. I hid near to our farm, and, as events unraveled,
the Germans never returned to get me.
At the beginning of the month of June,
there was an increase in aerial activity, and we saw numerous observation
aircraft. I thought that something was brewing, but did not know precisely
what. My uncle said to me "If ever there is an invasion by the English
here, say to them: Be Welcome". I have always remembered these words.
On the evening of June 5th, when night
fell, we saw the first planes. They flew at a low altitude and dropped the
first paratroopers. The amount of planes intensified during the night, and
we found paratroopers throughout, at Blosville, Houesville, and Angoville.
Parachutes of all colors were then seen strewn about, the nylon and cords
hooked onto various objects.
We all remained at the farm, and didn't move all night. We heard machinegun
fire, explosions, and saw flares illuminate the sky. We didn't sleep at all
that night, and, a bit later, planes arrived towing gliders, which then landed
around Hiesville. At dawn, paratroopers came to the farm and knocked on the
door, asking the location of the Germans. They spent a moment in the farm's
courtyard before leaving, and were part of the 101st Airborne Division.
The next morning, some of the animals were out in the fields next to the farm,
and I went out to care for them. The hedgerows were filled with paratroopers,
and they asked me where the Germans were. We were young and unaware, and walked
everywhere out in the country.
During morning, the Germans, whom were holed up in the pastures, tried to
escape through the areas that they had flooded . I found myself on the border
of the flooded area, and I saw some American paratroopers arrive. I pointed
out the escaping Germans to them, and the paratroopers fired some shots around
them, without hitting them. The Germans turned around and returned, with their
hands in the air. The paratroopers took them and returned to the village,
and, upon arrival, shot them, leaving their bodies in the ditch.
The village Houesville had been liberated
on the morning of June 6th, and only a few Germans remained that had tried
to hold the town any way they could. Impossible for them was the crossing
of the flooded area and three rivers.
During the weeks following the D-Day invasion,
I had the habit of going for a walk on the road that went to the Grand Vey
at the Madeleine. The sea was covered with ships, and the amphibious ducks
were shuttling materials from the ships to the beach. I went down and took
a walk along the beach; I should've paid attention to the military police,
as they did not trust just anyone.
At Houesville, the mayor housed an American
officer. This officer was in charge of handling the mail, and went back and
forth by jeep to the beach where he met a small, fast boat that carried the
mail to and from England. One day, the mayor's son and I went along with him
down to the beach.
While he was delivering mail, we went for a walk on the beach. The military
police came and took us to a tent set up in the dunes. After having discussed
with them for about an hour, they took us by boat to England - the region
of Southampton. The sea was covered with boats ready to depart. During this
time, the American officer had located us - I don't know how he did this,
but the following day we made the return trip to France. The American officer
was waiting for us on the beach with his jeep. While we were returning to
the house, my parents offered him a brass lamp that he took with him.
I then worked for the Americans, who employed
us to assemble prefabricated hangars. This work lasted for about four months,
and this helped us greatly because there was no other work in our area.