June 1, 2019

1944. Report from Liberated Bayeux

Bayeux's Unofficial Holiday
"Two little girls being hoisted to the platform to present a bouquet of roses to a French War Correspondent who had addressed the enthusiastic crowd in Bayeux following the town's liberation by Allied forces, 9 June 1944" (source)
From the Daily Mail, June 10, 1944:
Children play; bells chime and shells whine overhead

By BILL DOWNS

This Norman town of Bayeux, only some 60 hours liberated, has declared an unofficial holiday. Everyone has put on his Sunday clothing.

The streets are lined with men, women, and children, and lots of dogs. The women and children smile, the men look grim and wave their hands.

Only the dogs remain quiet. They have seen so much fuss over the comings and goings of tanks and vehicles that it's old stuff to them.

Everyone who has one has dug out a tricolour flag, and the whole town is spotted with British flags from goodness knows where. You stop in the streets and a crowd gathers. Your jeep pulls to a corner and boys are all over it.

But it cannot be called riotous welcome. It is more a welcome with reservations—the reservations are only a mile and a half away.

A basket of eggs

The booming of German guns and the stutter of their machine guns are reminders to these people who have lived under the gun for some four years that liberation takes some getting used to—and it has to be made to stick. Somehow you can't blame them for these reservations. But our good armor and good will are slowly convincing them that this is not a Dunkirk operation and not a Dieppe raid.

The peculiar thing about this battle is that the French civilians are doing their best to ignore it. Not six streets from where a machine gun was operating, the residents of Bayeux were having their afternoon coffee, and the children were playing in the streets.

Turkey for dinner

I believe the children were actually enjoying the excitement. To them it was a come-to-life movie. There were eight children living in this house. It was shared by two women, both of whose husbands are still prisoners in German hands. An elderly man and his wife also lived there.

They said the uncompleted fortifications around the town had been built by local labour. The Germans paid four shillings a day for this work. Many of the men of the town have been shipped off for conscript labour in Germany.

The hotel gave us a treat for dinner. We had a cold hors d'oeuvre of potato salad and some German sausage. Then we had what was ordinarily the main course—mashed potatoes, mixed with some minced meat.

Then followed the treat—excellent roast turkey and peas. French cooking has not deteriorated under the Nazi rule. There is just less of it.

The underground

Walking down the main street, I came upon a brand new battle insignia. It is worn around the left arm and worn only by civilians. It is the red, white, and blue bandeau of the Fighting French. In the middle of this bandeau is the Cross of Lorraine.

These armbands are brand new and only recently handed out.

The civilians wearing them—and I saw half a dozen in the crowded street—grin self-consciously and give the V-sign. Many of them did not know themselves that their neighbours were members of the underground.

These people for four years worked in groups, but few knew who composed the group. They knew only that leader immediately superior to them. It is a proud day—the first day that they can come from underground and show their true colours. They are proud of them, as well they should be.

The sun is now setting and the artillery and tanks have started an evening bombardment. Big guns behind the town are sending their shells whistling over the hotel as I write. Somehow, with the peaceful appearance of this Norman community with its church bells chiming, and the smoke scenting the air, as housewives prepare the evening meals—somehow, all this noise is very vulgar and out of place.