Testimonies from French Friends
Testimonies from French — Friends July 2019
We are grateful to Colleen Green for these notes at two gatherings during Normandy Allies’ July 2019 program: our dinner with Philippe Josse and members of the Omaha Beach/Bedford VA Association on July 23, 2019 and our luncheon with Mayor Mireille Dufour and town leaders in Trévières on July 24, 2019. Colleen has faithfully recorded what we heard at those events.
Odile Josse translated at the dinner, and Geert Van den Bogaert translated at the luncheon. Our thanks to both of them.
Many of these witnesses have spoken with our groups several times over the years. They have helped us to understand the experience of French civilians and French Resistance members during the occupation and the landings. We are honored to have been with them and we carry their histories in our hearts.
JULY 23, 2019
EVENING MEAL WITH OMAHA BEACH/BEDFORD VA ASSOCIATION
Mme Odile Josse translates for Mme Lelarge
Madame Jeanne Lelarge was 10-years old and attending school in Trévières on June 6, 1944. It was 6:00 a.m. She looked out the window and heard the sounds of bombing taking place. She stayed at school that day and could see the bombs falling and the holes they created.
Somebody told the students and teachers to go to the trenches. Twenty-five people stayed in one trench until June 9th. She saw her first American soldier that day. The soldiers stayed at the farm. Throughout these days, she saw lines of bombs and fire.
Then she was able to come back to Trévières. Her parents did not know she was alive, and finally found out. Her granduncle came into the yard and she ran to him. She remembers how much she wanted to see her mother and father.
M. Claude Deligny
Claude Deligny lived ¼ mile from Trévières and had two sisters – 10 and 7 years old. In May 1944, living in Normandy was a quiet place.
Then, the bombs started coming. The Germans took over his aunt’s house. Tanks awakened them – they lived 15 miles from the sea. Shells fell from the sky – everyone went to the basement.
On June 15th, his cousins came to the house. A few days later, they housed injured soldiers here. They took care of the German soldiers. He remembers one German soldier calling for his mother.
On June 26th a shell fell near or on the house – they had to leave there and head south. The cows in a nearby field were mooing because they had not been milked. The Germans moved East toward Paris. He was with his mother and sisters and their home had been destroyed. There was so much suffering – no food – no clothing and it was cold.
Their father came home again in 1945 – they were a family again. Their uncle was a farmer and a German POW helped him farm. That POW left in 1948, but he came back to Normandy years later to thank his uncle and brought his wife along.
In 1947, after the war, they took bullets out of the trees.
Mme Odile Josse translates for Michel Boullot
Philippe Josse (seated) assists Michel Boullot with the PowerPoint program.
Michel Boullot was 4-years old when D-Day took place. My own memories of my family are good – we were poor but very happy. We were really not involved with the war.
Then on June 5, 1944, we were told to get into a ditch near our garden. We were 15 miles from the sea. On June 6, 1944 when the landing took place – I remember the canons and the bombings. (M. Boullot shared many pictures in a slide show.)
June 10, 1944: We had soldiers in our farmyard. The Americans had leaves on their helmets.
June 20, 1944: Mortar tanks came through and they were clearing everything. We were amazed by their size. Soon they began building an airfield.
July 2, 1944: I was on my father’s shoulders and saw planes landing. People came to see the flying machines with pin-up girls on the side. Trucks and jeeps from the US were everywhere. We still had a few apple trees. The US soldiers had extra supplies; we got to know these American soldiers. (M. Boullot shared with us a photo of himself taken with an American soldier in June 1944. He has tried unsuccessfully for many years to learn the name of this soldier and what happened to him.)
They gave us chocolate, other sweets, chewing gum and instant coffee. We gave them Cider/Calvados and they gave our families cigarettes. The soldiers gave cigarettes to the children, too.
The soldiers liked to relax in our field. We would cut the grass so they could play baseball. They gave us cigarettes for that, too. They set up a field hospital, also. The doctors helped deliver babies, and some came back after the war to visit.
July 20, 1944: The Americans really liked this area and as the war continued on into 1945, six thousand French women left with American soldiers. One doctor and his wife returned to France with their five children to visit. The Americans left and we hated to see them go. Black soldiers stayed behind to take down the equipment. We traded Calvados for tires. Ammunition and dynamite were everywhere. Some planes were left behind and the children played in them.
March 1945: Life Magazine came and took photos about our area during and after the war. Lots of pictures were taken. The magazine was published on May 7, 1945 and my family is on the front.
The summer of 1944 brought many changes to our area.
We have many memories of the Americans and the many friendships.
We think often of those who died; those who came a long way to free us.
I belong to the Fleurs de Memoir – my children and grandchildren put flowers on the soldiers’ graves.
We are so grateful.
JULY 24, 2019: LUNCHEON IN TRÉVIÈRES
WELCOMED BY MAYOR MIREILLE DUFOUR AND TOWN COUNCIL
M. and Mme Charles LeCardonnel
Close-up of one of the fragments Charles LeCardonnel found on his farm.
Charles LeCardonnel – Charles the Baker as he told us. He brought shrapnel to show everyone. He was 10 years old on D-Day. On June 5th his father told him, We must dig a trench and hide.
The Germans arrived with canons – we saw a plane get shot down. The trench was hard to dig – the ground was soft and wet. We would dig three feet and then it would fill up. We put planks down, covered the trench and stayed there on June 5th. We could hear the shells landing in the marsh and getting stuck in the mud.
Five of us lived in the trench – Mother, Father, Grandmother, my sister and me. Next morning, we decided to go to the bakery and the town was on fire. We wanted to leave so we went to a farm that is now a soccer field. We went to a ditch there; the farmer’s daughter was hurt, so we left. We went looking for a new ditch and just kept moving. We hid for a few days. We saw our first American soldier; his face was blackened as he rode in the tank. He kind of scared us – our town was in pieces, rubble. It was hard to see my town like that.
I remember children that died that day. The Germans were not very successful in stopping the Americans.
I lost my Dad when I was 52. I bought a house that had an out building and that is where I found this shrapnel. I painted the pieces so you could see them better today. I remember that I was in school during the war but only for half of the day. The Americans gave us jeep rides, chewing gum and candy.
Geert Van den Bogaert (our team member who translated), Mme Simone Lemiére, M. & Mme LeCardonnel, Mme Yvette Durand, Mayor Mireille Dufour
Mme Yvette Durand was 20 years old when D-Day happened and her first baby was only 15 days old. She lived near Port-en-Bessin. She could hear the shells but her town was really not hit.
Where she lived was the dividing line between the American and British beaches. She saw the British and gave them Cider and they moved on. Not a lot of damage in her area, but she could hear the shells flying over. The shells were coming from the ships, and she wasn’t sure where the shells might land. There was so much uncertainty at the time because they were not sure if they would live, if they would all survive.
Within days after D-Day, Trévières was wiped out. (The battle of Trévières was June 9-10, 1944). Mme Durand said that on the 70th Anniversary they recognized all the civilians they lost in those days.
Mme Simone Lemiére with Matt Stergios, NA participant
Mme Simone Lemiére lived three kilometers from the beach with her mother, brother and sister. On May 5th her Father, Desire Lemiére, was arrested and taken to Caen. He was executed on June 6, 1944; she still does not know where his body is.
The fields near their house were mined by the Germans – not good for the cows or children. The first Americans stayed three months and told the family to leave.
Only 17 years old, she built a shelter near a stream. Thirty people lived there eventually. There were three or four babies and they needed to be fed.
The shelling almost killed my mom; she needed to boil the milk from the cows to feed the babies. We gathered mattresses and food; we would go back for chicken or rabbit if we needed. The Germans would shoot at us if we were not careful. I had to use a white handkerchief once to show the Americans I was not German. We would wash the Americans laundry. I ALWAYS HOPED MY FATHER WOULD COME BACK HOME.
Later she learned about her father and what happened to him. Her mother never really recovered from this news. Thirty years after the war, she died. It has always been a mystery about the men shot in Caen on D-Day and where their bodies might be buried. Now, they may have some new clues and with the help of new technology and equipment, the bodies could be recovered. Currently they are raising money to help pay for the equipment. (A documentary has been done on Desire Lemiére, and a street named for him in St. Laurent-sur-Mer.)
She remembers her Father coming home late one night – she did not know he was part of the Resistance. The Gestapo chased him while he rode his bike. They caught him; she was at home with her brother and sister; they were just children.
Then they took him; we were upstairs and he didn’t come up to say good-bye because he didn’t want the Germans up there.
She believes there are good Germans and bad Germans. Five others were taken with her father that night. They would get reports back then that said he was doing fine. The Germans gave milk to Mom and she gave them bread. Some were good; this is kind of a gray area. They were nice to me but they took my dad.
An orderly came to the house one day to visit my sister and me. Two German soldiers had too much to drink and got drunk. They drove off the road and lost the Swastika off their car. The Germans threatened to take hostages if it was not returned. An old lady saw where it had happened and took them to it. The old lady called it a “rag.”