I must write this down before I forget it. Remember the old man I helped one day when he felt ill? His name is Robert and it’s quite a time since we had a talk of any length. Today we started to talk about the war. He was 14 when the Germans arrived and took over the village. He’d just finished school and had been awarded a new bicycle for being a good student. The Germans took all of the good bikes, so he dug a hole on the courtyard behind his house, wrapped up the bike and buried it so they couldn’t find it and take it. When the soldiers went to the beach for a swim (they used to skinny dip apparently), he and his friends used to go down and cut the tyres of the bikes so they would have to walk back to the village. I’m sure that they got up to other tricks too. To get to work at the boatyard Robert had to ride an old bike with hard tyres, sometimes he told me people used hose pipes wrapped around the wheels.
On the day that La Rochelle was liberated he heard the church bells ringing so he sneaked into the village church and rang the bell. The German HQ was only across the road so he disappeared pretty quickly after doing that.
Life was very hard for the villagers. The men were taken away to labour camps and the woman, children and elderly had to manage the best they could. There was hardly any food. As soon as he could, he joined the French Navy. He was in French waters for a year or so, which was a ‘comfortable’ job after the war and then they sent him to Indo China until he finished his five years duty. It was a much harder life and he was ill while he was there. On one of his train journeys from base to base he met the girl who was to become his wife, their first two years consisted of exchanging letters
Coming back to France in the early 50s wasn’t easy as there were no jobs, so he became a gendarme and worked his way up through the ranks to Major – he came back to the village to retire.
That’s what I remember from what he told me.