"The idiots they provided
us shelter near the railroad tracks!" These provocative, yet silent
words addressed our professors (we thought these words, but we did not say
them), while I heard the hiss that came progressively nearer, like the smoke
and coal dust of locomotives approaching rapidly through the passage to the
opening where we waited.
Some of us amused ourselves in the recreational
courtyard of the junior high Catholic school named "Le petit Sainte Marie",
which was in the center of Caen. Others were in the study hall, passing the
time by playing chess, cards, and girls' games. I was taking some shots at
the basketball hoop, while others got bored. I found my friends in the study
hall, however, because of the loud noise that was going to become louder and
louder, I quickly climbed a tree in the nearby chapel playground. I was afraid
of being hit by stray German anti-aircraft fire. "Without doubt, these
rounds of fire did not hesitate to respond to the eventual allied attacks
on the railway convoys that unfortunately passed quite near at that moment!.."
And then it was madness!... A booming explosion!...
The doors and windows shattered!... Immediately following, in the dust, we
could see only less than a meter in distance!... I hit the ground then as
the smelly dust and pungent taste in the air slowly dissipated what a
spectacle of ruins! Some were crying out moaning and wailing. I quite
well recognized the voice of Daniel Bompain I located him by sound,
trampling over some blocks from the collapsed public building. I was sure
that I was over him but I could not see him through this labyrinth of
fallen material. I said to him "help is going to arrive, and we are going
to get you out, hang on Daniel!.." In turning, I saw a hand moving, trying
to get a hold of something. I went and held the hand to give him a sign that
he wasn't alone, and to give him the encouragement to break free of the rubble.
I began to remove the rubble. It was long and laborious. Ah! There was the
sleeve of his vest. But, it was Joseph Magonete, an older student in the class
of philosophy. I repeated my eagerness to help, with the impression that no
progress was being made. But for God's sake, where was the head? Joseph's
hand fell back down into the hole that I had made, and began trembling. One
of my friends called to me to help him lift a large stone. It sounded as if
the voice was beneath something. I ran there. In just a bit of time, thanks
to our combined efforts, we uncovered the head of Pere Ciron, the professor
of Sainte-Marie. He lives! I returned to Joseph, not knowing if he still lived.
I relentlessly tried to free him without success. Cries of terror came out
of the damaged house located on the other side of the recreational courtyard I
rushed and asked the dust covered elderly lady, that I found perched
on an enormous barrel, to have the goodwill to wait for help, as there was
something more urgent at hand. I returned to work for Joseph's release. Forget
(a name, pronounced for-jay), an important comrade, was busy bustling about
next to me, to try and free from the rubble his friend Yves Desnee with whom
he had been playing chess just a short time ago.
Help finally arrived. Actually, the group
of helpers came quickly to our location, but the wait seemed like a long time.
Following, we were asked to leave so that they could do their work.
I'm 16 years old, and one of many teenaged
student survivors of this small school. I decided to gather my friends, and
discuss this matter at length: "We cannot return to the school of which
the Germans chased us from this morning, so we are all going to my mother's
home in Balleroy", a village 35 kilometers to the west of Caen.
Our small group, of which one had not decided
to jump into this wild escapade : "We cannot delay en route if we
want to reach a place of safe refuge before fighting breaks out ". We,
on Bayeux Road, met one of our professors, Father Rene Letourmy, who was worried
about us being without an adult chaperone. We informed him of the tragedy
that happened at the school, and that we were the survivors, as well as our
plans! "Good friends, he said, follow me!". He then had us get in
some trenches dug into a garden, which was an adjacent war addition to an
institution called Saint Joseph. "I will return in less than an hour!".
And getting on his bicycle, he departed.
Held back by having been disciplined (some
less than others), we slumped ourselves down in the trenches, scattered about,
in the extremely uncomfortable bottoms of the trenches... Pere Letourmy is
taking his time! We got out of the trenches to stretch our legs a bit, under
a sunny sky. What a beautiful spring day! Just five meters from here, a plane
did a low level pass, and dropped its two bombs, one from each wing. After
the explosion, the railway that allowed a small train to connect Caen with
the sea, was unusable.
During this time of waiting, I took the
opportunity to make a point: "No! We were not near a railway line when
we were bombed. We were almost a kilometer away! But this time they (the professors
and those responsible) insisted that we approach!!.."
Father Remi Letourmy returned. "We
spend the night here, and the next day we will decide" he said. He brought
Neighbors joined in the trenches. Next
to me was a grandmother and her grandson of around 5 years old. The intrigued
kid asked a lot of questions until it tired him out. I had the impression
that they were going to die soon.
"Death! Death was prowling nearby,
it seemed to me - death so close that it could be touched. However, God couldn't
you find me worthy of being accepted into heaven? I had, on my conscience,
an acceptable way to correct the thoughts and actions that I considered moderately
sinful and unforgivable (or maybe lethal), since I much prefer to please the
Lord. I must repent through confession with a priest and may he pardon me
of my sins in the name of God, in order that I can give myself the best possible
chance of going to heaven and receive eternal life."
My spiritual advisor, he that had been training me, was Father Louvet, who
was not with the group of Catholic professors that had joined us. I did not
want to go through the repentance process with Father Letourmy, as I was losing
confidence in him. There was Father Bigard, the English professor that I liked
quite well, and who liked me, and with whom I was a good student. But, after
my confession, what would he think of me? I hesitated for a longtime a
very longtime what seemed like an eternity then, between my eternal
hopes and the hope of preserving my reputation, in the context that we found
ourselves in, I could no longer, even though my physical form was resisting,
only prefer heaven and Father Bigard, in the name of God, gave me absolution.
I am relieved!
Hmmm! Machinegun fire? Sounded like it
was coming from the Saint-Gabriel Cemetery. Were there some Allied Scouts
near to us? The rhythm of these volleys became less frequent, and then it
was like the absence of war, during which time I thought about the events
of the past 24 hours.
During the afternoon of June 6th, we had
to create a geographical composition of which the questions were, for the
most part, on geography. I am a very good student in history and geography,
but I had absolutely not prepared this assignment, having thought that it
would not take place. Also, on the evening of June 5th, Father Beziers, the
professor of history and geography, came to me and gave me a small package
from my mother. I was not comfortable enough with his action to thank him.
This package contained a large cream - butter cake - 15 centimeters tall.
I hastened quickly to hide this cake in my student's desk. Father Beziers
returned to Balleroy where he presided over religious ceremonies, and also
brought me good news of my mother.
This June 6th morning, we were all awakened
earlier than usual by strange vibrations that shook the environment. This
continued and seemed to originate from the coast. In the wink of an eye, we
were diving for cover, and some of our landscape was leveled to the ground.
The bed was made, our clothes were folded and all our belongings were in order,
and we were prepared for anything that might happen. Contrary to the normal
habit of doing this in silence, we all gathered at the 3rd story window to
try and see some likely visual signs that might make it clear to us as to
what direction these vibrations in the ground were coming from. Now and then
I would leave my friends to selfishly serve myself a slice of Moka that I
moved the previous evening to the dormitory (that which mother had sent me),
that I was keeping in the bottom of my cupboard. The dormitory supervisor,
who had departed to seek news (since he was gone, we were able to talk), ran
into the dormitory and said to us: "The Allies are making an attempt
to land on the beaches!" "Where?" we asked him. "I don't
know!.." And then the head schoolmaster was before us saying "The
Germans are asking us to leave this little school. They want us to move to
a protected place we go to seek refuge at the Sainte-Marie School, in
downtown Caen, where we will be safe, for the Allies, who come to liberate
us, don't bomb the civilians. After breakfast, each of us were required to
take what we deemed necessary of our belongings, carry it personally, and
departed, for we had to leave that place before midday." Father Gouhier,
who had slightly less the look of a senator in comparison with Father Beziers,
turned, and we fell in behind him going towards the cafeteria.
During a sleepless night of anxiety and
worry, the tragedy that had occurred at the beginning of the afternoon continued
to haunt me, "Maybe the rescuers were able to save Joseph Magonete, Daniel
Bompain, and Yves Desnee? Maybe they were freed with other survivors from
the pile of rubble? I don't recall who else, and how many we were in this
place of sinister memories as I was concerned with the saving of my three
comrades." I felt guilty. "We wouldn't have had to leave the place
when the rescuers asked us to. We could have helped them! One must not abandon