June 5, 2019

1944. Bill Downs' First Broadcast From Normandy After D-Day

The Heroes of Normandy


Bill Downs in Normandy

The text featured here is Bill Downs' script for his live broadcast to the United States from Normandy on June 14, 1944.

Edward R. Murrow was set to broadcast from London on D-Day, and he sent several of his men to the front. Charles Collingwood and Larry LeSueur landed at Utah Beach, while Bill Downs accompanied the British 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division at Gold Beach. Richard C. Hottelet made the first eyewitness broadcast of the invasion as he flew over Utah Beach in a bomber just minutes before H-Hour.

It was not until June 14 that Bill Downs was finally able to broadcast from Normandy, but even then there were difficulties. It was the first live broadcast from Normandy after D-Day.

According to Broadcasting magazine, 1944, Volume 26, p. 16:
To Bill Downs, CBS correspondent, went the distinction of making the first broadcast from "somewhere in Normandie" to be heard instantaneously in the United States. In his broadcasts, which was pooled to all networks, 6:30:30 to 6:35:50 p. m., EWT, June 14, Downs said that a 30-minute jeep would take him to where Allied troops were fighting, but that military security would not permit a more definite statement of his location. The broadcast was made via Army Signal Corps facilities, with again no more exact description permitted for the same reason.

Reception of this initial France-to-America broadcast was described as "spotty," but Downs' second broadcast some six and a half hours later [1 a.m. EWT June 15] came through with considerable improved reception. This and subsequent broadcasts were pooled for all networks, indicating that Downs was the only correspondent in the vicinity of the transmitter, as pooling has been generally discontinued wherever each network has a chance to get material from its own man.
Downs was not aware that he had made the first live broadcast until after the fact, and later attributed it to luck. John MacVane of NBC, who landed at Omaha Beach, nearly had that distinction. According to Ed Bliss in Now the News: The Story of Broadcast Journalism, p. 158:
The next day [MacVane] hunted for a mobile transmitter. Ultimately he found one—four had been destroyed—and got into London with a perfect signal. He felt he had the scoop of the war, but "a bunch of bureaucratic desk officers" said the frequency was wrong. Besides, no correspondent was supposed to come up from the beachhead that soon! Two days later, MacVane broke his ankle and got shipped back to England. The result was that the first invasion broadcast heard in America from Normandy was done by Bill Downs. MacVane heard the broadcast in London. He was, in his phrase, "not happy."
The text below is from Downs' typewritten script and notes. The actual broadcast, featured above, omits some parts of the script.
Bill Downs

June 14, 1944

I'm speaking to you from a tent somewhere in Normandy, that bit of a truly free France liberated eight days ago by the invasion of British, Canadian, and American troops. It is 6:30 AM over here––the ninth day of the invasion is only a few hours old.

I could take you right now in a thirty-minute jeep ride to where the Allied troops are fighting. You can get to some part of the front in thirty minutes no matter where you happen to be.

So much has happened in the past eight days that they seem like eight months to every one of us over here. Americans have died, and British and Canadians have died––and a great number of Germans have died. But the Allied forces have achieved what Hitler's henchmen said was impossible. We are in Europe to stay––and you have only to look at the face of an American doughboy, or in the eyes of a man from Calgary or from London, to know that we are not going to stop until we have completed the job.

All this comes under the category of making history.

The news from the front this morning is good––as a matter of fact we have had no bad news to report since the Allied forces crossed the beaches.

On the American sector's front, the troops continue to widen the bulge threatening the entire peninsula of Cherbourg. The British-Canadian sector likewise is slowly expanding. There are hold-ups at a village here or there which the Germans have strongly fortified. There has not been much forward movement around the city of Caen on the left flank of the beachhead.

But you might compare this bit of liberated France to a giant muscle which daily is becoming stronger as the sinews of war pour into it. As more tanks and guns and men pour in, the muscle expands.

Thus far the Germans have been unable to do much about it. However, last night and today, there are signs that the Nazi high command has finally been able to get some fresh troops into the line. The fact that it took a week for his first reinforcements to arrive speaks for itself as to the effectiveness of the Allied night and day bombing over the past months.

But as the Germans reinforce––and as we reinforce––there can be little doubt that a big battle is developing. In this sense, the Battle of France is a race between the supply systems of the opposing armies. The force that gains the superiority first will strike. You'll be interested to know that our supply position is all right.

I have heard so many stories of gallantry and pure guts since I have been here that it is difficult for me to begin. Heroes are not uncommon on this beachhead. I was lucky in my own personal invasion of France. I came in on a comparatively quiet sector.

As General Montgomery has announced, the battle for the beaches has been won. Sometime when we are not so busy, history will record the battle of the Commandos who landed behind the German defenses and disrupted the Nazis as they were firing at each other. Or of the Canadians who walked point blank into the German shore fire to silence the batteries.

And the most glorious single action of the whole invasion was performed by the American assault force. They clung to their position literally by their fingernails. They fought as no Americans have ever fought before. They were outnumbered, out-gunned with odds twenty to one against them.

They took their position coming through a wall of shrapnel and mortar fire and machine gun bullets that was terrifying. The casualties were high, higher than on any other salient.

The fighting men over here feel very strongly about that beachhead. I stood on the beach a day after the battle. There were American boys lying neatly covered under brown army blankets awaiting burial. I was talking to a young sergeant, from Michigan, I believe. He had been through the toughest of the fighting. He said with great bitterness: "You know," he said, "We used to have a great respect for the German as a soldier and possibly a sportsman. But on that beach while we were lying there waiting for a lull in the barrage, we saw medical corpsmen trying to help the wounded. They had their red cross arm bands high on their arms. There could be no mistaking them. But when they tried to help the boys, they were shot."

This sergeant spit on the ground and walked away. He turned and said over his shoulder: "We're going to fix them for that."

The men on this beachhead make me awfully proud that I am an American.

But the fighting is now many miles from the beaches. Here's what your men are doing tonight. The patrols will be out. A half-dozen men sneaking into enemy country looking for his strong points––taking a prisoner here or there––getting themselves fired at to locate a machine gun nest––scouting a Tiger tank or a Panther tank and marking it on a map. Sometimes two enemy patrols meet and there is a "little war," as we call them. Bitter hand-to-hand fighting with bayonet and knife.

Or if you're not on patrol tonight, you've cleaned your rifle and laid it nearby. Your slit trench is right at the edge of your blankets so that you only have to roll into it in case of shellfire or mortar fire. If you have a tank or a truck, you sleep under it––usually you don't have time to put up your pup tent, and any kind of roof seems good.

There is no definite front line in this Battle of France. I found that out the other day when I made a trip to within a mile and a half of the town of Tilly, directly south of Bayeux. The countryside is very close, with high, thick hedges along the roads. Patches of wood-land dot the countryside. The wheat and oats and rye are high, about ready for a good harvest. It is sort of a concentrated Iowa.

It is perfect country for snipers. We were driving down one road when we came to a clear patch. We heard the crack of a Spandau machine gun––and before we realized what it was, there was another burst of fire. The dust alongside our jeep spurted as if it had come alive. A sniper had taken a crack at us. Luckily his aim was bad. We got out of there in a hurry.

Further down the road, we came upon some very fresh Germans. They were lying in the road, killed only a few hours before. But we saw tank tracks and decided to follow up. Then we came to a group of Tommies crouching behind a group of farm buildings next to an orchard. We joined them and discovered to our surprise that they were men of the Reconnaissance Corps. They were looking for a German tank infiltration...needless to say, we were not. It was no place to be armed only with a pencil.

About that time, some German eighty-eights started shelling around the orchard. They drove us to the ground. During a lull, we turned our jeep around and headed for safety. You want a tank to ride that far forward.

When the votes of thanks are passed around after this war, the Allied air forces are going to get more than their share. Since this invasion began, I have seen exactly six Nazi fighters over the bridgehead. German bombers dare only appear at night, and they are not striking in any large force. You never look up at the sky any longer to see what's coming your way. You always know it's American, or British or Allied. The sky over our heads is Allied, just as sure as is the ground under our feet.

Not only have the Allied air forces kept the enemy grounded, they have also bombed and strafed military targets directly in line of our advances. It was dive-bombing Thunderbolts that helped save the position on the American beachhead. Rocket-carrying British planes are as good as artillery in attacking a German strong point. You hear nothing but praise for the air forces.

Naval bombardment, too, has played a big part in the success of the invasion. Point-blank fire from American and British destroyers knocked out pillboxes––heavy fire from fifteen and sixteen inch guns of the cruisers and battleships fly far inland to German occupied villages and heights. The burst of the sixteen inch shell is a terrifying thing––the Nazis know it.

And full credit must be given to the men on the merchant ships and part-time sailors who transported us over here. They have undergone bombing and strafing, collision and confusion among thousands of boats––but the supplies hit the beaches. Without them, we might as well go home.

But we are not going home until a lot of us see the ruins of Berlin. The men fighting on this beachhead are keeping something in trust––keeping this trust for the men whose bodies they walked on the beaches; they are keeping this trust for the honor of you people back home; and they are keeping it for the people of this section of liberated Normandy who showered them with flowers when they arrived.

This trust is victory and freedom from all things Nazi. It is pretty well summed up in the national motto of the French––Liberty, Equality, and Brotherhood.

This is Bill Downs in Normandy returning you now to America.

June 4, 2019

1944. CBS Announces Unconfirmed Reports of an Allied Invasion of Europe

German Sources Report Allied Landings in France

Robert Trout

CBS New York

June 6, 1944 - 3:00 AM

ROBERT TROUT: CBS World News, Bob Trout speaking. And again we bring you the available reports, all of them from German sources, on what the Berlin Radio calls "the invasion."

There is still no Allied confirmation from any source. Correspondents who rushed to the War Department in Washington soon after the first German broadcast was heard were told that our War Department had no information on the German reports. There's been no announcement of any sort from Allied Headquarters in London.

The first news of the German announcement reached this country at 12:37 AM Eastern War Time. The Associated Press recorded this broadcast, and immediately pointed out that it could be one which Allied leaders have warned us to expect from the Germans.

Shortly after 1:00 AM Eastern War Time, the Berlin Radio opened its news program with a so-called "invasion announcement." Columbia's shortwave listening station here in New York heard the Berlin Radio say, and I quote: "Here is a special bulletin. Early this morning the long-awaited British and American invasion began when paratroops landed in the area of the Somme estuary. The harbor of Le Havre is being fiercely bombarded at the present moment. Naval forces of the German navy are off the coast fighting with enemy landing vessels. We've just brought you a special bulletin." End of the quotation. That is the invasion announcement as heard from the Berlin Radio by Columbia's shortwave listening station.

Now here's what Trans-Ocean, one of the German news agencies, says, and I quote: "Early Tuesday morning, landing craft and light warships were observed in the area between the mouth of the Somme and the eastern coast of Normandy. At the same time paratroops were dropped from numerous aircraft on the northern tip of the Normandy peninsula. It is believed that these paratroops have been given the task of capturing airfields in order to facilitate the landing of further troops. The harbor of Le Havre is at the moment being bombarded. And," continues the broadcast, "German naval forces have engaged enemy landing craft off the coast." The Trans-Ocean broadcast, still unconfirmed, concludes this way: "The long-expected Anglo-American invasion appears to have begun." This is the full text of the German Trans-Ocean broadcast as recorded by the Associated Press.

The German broadcasts on the long-expected invasion by the Allies were relayed both to North America and to Germans in the homeland. Germans at home were told by DNB's [Deutsches Nachrichtenbüro] domestic broadcast at dawn in Europe. At 1:30 in the morning Eastern War Time, the DNB agency repeated the items describing what it called the "invasion operations." This was a departure from the usual DNB practice of giving fresh information at that time.

The German-controlled Calais Radio came on the air today with this announcement in the English language, quote: "This is D-Day. We shall now bring music for the Allied invasion forces." So said the German-controlled Calais Radio across the Channel from England.

Up to this time, almost an hour and a half after the first German broadcast, the United States Office of War Information, whose facilities will be used by American press organizations when Allied armies enter Western Europe, has not transmitted any information at all to support the German claims. Director Elmer Davis of the OWI rushed to his headquarters immediately when OWI officials advised him of the broadcasts from Germany. He told the United Press, "We have no more information than you have. I'll stay here until I find out whether the story is true or not."

Last night, Elmer Davis addressed the National Press Club on psychological warfare, and showed three motion pictures illustrating how the OWI was propagandizing on the war front. He had just reached his home when his office called him to hurry down. By 1:45 in the morning Eastern War Time, almost the entire public relations staff over at the War Department in Washington also had reported for duty.

Now, it should be remembered of course that the Germans are quite capable of faking this entire series of reports. Their main reason for doing so, in addition to trying to smoke out Allied plans, would be to try to start a premature uprising by the resistance movement along the Channel coast. But the French and the Belgians and the Dutch have all been warned about this possibility repeatedly, and you will recall that Prime Minister Winston Churchill some time ago warned that we could expect false alarms or diversionary feints before the big show began.

The British Radio, which at 1:00 AM Eastern War Time sent a warning to residents of the Dutch coast to evacuate inland to a distance of at least eighteen miles, might really have been broadcasting the latest in the series of such warnings that have been given to the civilian populations all along the so-called invasion coast of Europe. No other British report that might indicate that the invasion is on has been released, unless we are to take as significant the report from London half an hour ago that the Royal Air Force was over enemy territory during the night.

Even on the enemy side, there are clear reasons for doubting the German report that the invasion has started. The Paris Radio, at 1:00 AM Eastern War Time, said nothing about any invasion operations in its regular news report. In fact, half an hour after the first German broadcast announcing the landings, one German-controlled Paris Radio spokesman said of the war situation, and this is a quotation: "It appears we have been given another month of grace before the invasion will start. A press report from Washington says Roosevelt will come to London at the end of June. Surely this indicates the event will not start before the end of June," said the Paris Radio.

Well, as I said, there is as yet no reason to believe the German story. Nevertheless, because of high public interest in this country, Columbia is planning to continue overtime operations tonight to all of its affiliate stations until such time as the enemy accounts are proved false, or official word from Allied sources is forthcoming. You may listen to this network with assurance that all sources of news will be properly labeled, and that we will interrupt programs only with news of exceptional importance and will bring you frequent summaries of all information available.

The Columbia shortwave listening station here in New York has heard the British Radio report the German announcement of paratroop landings and report the announcement without comment. Then BBC followed that German announcement, which I've already given you, with this, and I quote: "Early this morning, people in German-occupied Western Europe received an urgent warning broadcast by a spokesman of the Supreme Command of the Allied Expeditionary Force. It was that a new phase of the Allied air offensive has begun. People living within twenty-two miles of the coast are particularly affected. The German overseas news agency," BBC goes on, "has been putting out repeated flashes. Here is one of them, quote: 'We have just learned that numerous Allied landing craft and other Allied warships were seen in the area between the Seine estuary and the eastern coast of Normandy.'" And that was BBC quoting the German report.

And now here in the studio with me is Columbia's military analyst Major George Fielding Elliot, and here's Major Elliot now.

GEORGE FIELDING ELLIOT: We must begin by assuming the—or understanding the possibility of that these German reports may be an outright German lie. We must also take into account the possibility that they may be a series of feints intended to divert the German defense and to draw the German forces to other places around the nose of which we actually intend to make a serious attack.

The report that a new phase of the Allied air offensive has begun, and the consequent request to the inhabitants of Western Europe to clear an area twenty-two miles from the coast, may be nothing more than an intensification of bombing attacks, or it may indicate the use of paratroops, or it may be, again, a part of the Allied attempt to throw the Germans off their guard.

But if we are to accept these German reports as having any value at all, there seems to be some uncertainty as to the location of the Allied landings in France which they report. It is clear that the Germans are saying that landing craft have been observe approaching the French coast between the eastern shore of what they call the "Normandy peninsula" and the mouth of the River Seine, where the port of Le Havre is situated. The Germans are also asserting that this port, Le Havre, is being bombarded, and that Allied paratroops are being landed near the tip of the Normandy peninsula.

What is not clear is the reference made to an Allied landing near the estuary of the River Somme, which is some distance northeast of Le Havre. This may possibly be an error for the Seine estuary, though the actual German translation has been checked several times here in the CBS shortwave listening station.

But to analyze all these German statements, what the Germans call the "Normandy peninsula" is undoubtedly the Cotentin Peninsula, at the end of which stand the port of Cherbourg. Allied forces would certainly wish, if they were actually landing in France, to obtain a well-equipped seaport as soon as possible, as such a port is essential in order to keep up continuous landings of troops and heavy equipment. We learned at Anzio and at elsewhere that it is not safe to leave such matters to the mercy of the weather, as has to be done when dependence is had on open beaches, or even small but undeveloped bays. Hence a double Allied attempt against the two key ports of northern France, Cherbourg and Le Havre, is well within the possibility if we are to accept these German reports that landings are taking place at all.

From the strategic point of view, there is nothing inconsistent in the report of the landing at the Somme estuary. There is no seaport of importance there, but the Allies might well wish to land on a broad front in order to divert the German defense as much as possible, and to keep the Germans from finding out, as long as we could, where the main effort was being made. The landing of paratroops behind the big seaport of Cherbourg would likewise be probable if a landing was really in progress in order to cut off a movement of German reserves toward that port, and thus facilitate its capture by the Allies.

But any military analysis must remain fragmentary and uncertain as long as it is based only on German reports which have so frequently proved to be unreliable in the past.

TROUT: That was Columbia's military analyst Major George Fielding Elliot, and I think that brings us up to date to the moment.

I'd like to repeat that there is as yet no reason to believe this German story which you have now heard. Nevertheless, because of high public interest in this country, Columbia is planning to continue overtime operations tonight, and I should like to take this opportunity to inform not only you, our audience, but to inform also the staff on duty at our affiliate stations around the country, that Columbia is planning overtime operations until such time as the enemy accounts are proved false, or official word from Allied sources is forthcoming.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, you may listen to this network with assurance that all sources of news will be properly labeled, and that we will interrupt programs only with news of exceptional importance, and will bring you frequent summaries of all information available.

This is the Columbia Broadcasting System.

June 2, 2019

1944. CBS Correspondents Report on the Normandy Breakthrough

The Allies Flood Forward
"A mortar platoon carrier passes a group of German prisoners being escorted by a military policeman on a motorcycle, Caumont, 30 July 1944" (source)
The reports featured here are from a 1945 collection of CBS broadcasts entitled From D-Day Through Victory in Europe, pp. 89-95 (large PDF).

On July 31, 1944, CBS correspondents Bill Downs, Allan Jackson, Charles Collingwood, and Ned Calmer reported from Europe on the Allied drive through France.

The chapter also includes a small part of Bill Downs' June 14 broadcast, the first live report from Normandy to be heard in the United States. Charles Collingwood had also recorded a report from Utah Beach on D-Day, but due to technical difficulties it was not broadcast until June 8.
BREAK THROUGH

The Allies flood forward, ebbing under counter-attack, slamming back with new advances. Robot planes begin to pound London. On June 27 the United States Seventh Corps took the surrender of Cherbourg. July 9 the British took Caen. Bastille Day saw the United States Army from St. Lo to the sea "on the move." Four days later it had cleared St. Lo. On July 20, Hitler was unfortunately not killed by a bomb. By July 29, the Allies had passed Coutances. Fifty-six days of the fiercest enemy resistance to an irresistible internal combustion from the swollen beachhead brings us to—

July 31

6:00 a.m.

ALLAN JACKSON:

In Normandy, this morning, American troops have entered Avranches, one of the main objectives in their drive down the Cotentin peninsula. Another column pushing down the coast is within three miles of the important port of Granville. All German attempts to break out of the allied trap have been repulsed, and our troops have taken many more Nazi prisoners. The total of German prisoners taken since the beginning of our offensive last Tuesday had risen yesterday to ten thousand men. Some of these were the famous SS German crack troops who threw in the sponge and voluntarily surrendered.

9:05:20 a.m.

DOWNS (from the British sector of the Normandy battlefront):

British tanks this morning have expanded their latest wedge into the German lines another three miles, making a total advance southward from Caumont of six miles since they started this new attack yesterday morning. Infantry and tanks are now fighting in the town of St. Martin, some six miles south of Caumont on one of the main lateral German supply roads, between Avranches and Caen.

This British wedge points southward like a finger, some two miles wide, with German troops on both sides of it.

For the first time in this Normandy fighting . . . infantrymen and machine gunners who usually advance on foot found the going too slow and found that they cluttered up the narrow farm lanes over which the tanks were passing. So the situation was solved by allowing the foot soldiers to climb aboard the tanks and to ride into battle with them. It is by no means a new idea but it has worked very effectively in this difficult battle country.

Several hundred prisoners have already come in and more are arriving. Many of these prisoners say they are members only of outpost German battle groups. They say that their main forces have been drawn back a few miles where a strong defense line is being constructed. . . .

You have no idea just how hard it is to get around in this close country. With men and material, guns and tanks crowding roads to the front, it's like trying to fight a war in the middle of a holiday traffic jam. I spent two hours trying to reach one divisional headquarters this morning and the dust is so thick that it coats everything like a layer of talcum powder. Visibility is sometimes less than three feet along the road. You literally have to use your windshield wiper to clear the dust from the windshield. You come back from these trips looking like an unbeaten rug and when you move you leave a small cloud of dust behind you as if some dusty spirit were following you.

We were held up for more than a half hour on one narrow dusty lane by a huge American-made truck. Tempers are short under such conditions and it didn't do mine any good when after a half hour I found that this truck, stopping us from going forward, was loaded only with hundreds of pick handles. Now, what they want with hundreds of pick handles this close to the front I couldn't and still can't imagine.

9:07:30

COLLINGWOOD (from London):

An American tank column has lunged forward all the way to Avranches, the French town which lies at the hinge where the Normandy peninsula ends and the Brest peninsula begins. This means that any German line to keep us bottled up in the Cherbourg peninsula has already been turned. Ahead of us now lies the whole of France, spreading out in any direction General Montgomery decides to advance.

The American push is proceeding in miniature blitzkrieg style. The armored column that has entered Avranches drove straight down the main road. In its wake, behind and on either flank, it left pockets of German resistance, still fighting hard, still holding on . . . we are still three miles from Granville, a coastal town 15 miles behind Avranches. And heavy fighting continues in the areas of Gavray, Percy, and Tessy-sur-Vire.

This concerted offensive in Normandy plus the stepped-up air bombardment, plus the spectacular, incredible Russian advances, add up to a general attack on Germany at a time when her internal weakness is evident for the whole world to see. That all the world can see it is shown by the present attitude of the wily Turks who have shown themselves to be very astute in keeping their eye on the main chance. . . . There are hints that are practically promises from Ankara that in the next couple of days Turkey is going to break with Germany. . . . At least, Von Papen and his German staff in Turkey have begun to pack up. . . .

11:01:50

CALMER:

We've really broken the bottleneck on the western flank of the beachhead in France. . . . In a fresh forward surge, American columns have covered eighteen miles in a day. They've crossed the See River at Avranches . . . have taken Avranches itself . . . Granville on the Atlantic coast has fallen and Brehal, six miles to the northeast, is also ours. The last of the Germans in this area are being mopped up . . . six enemy divisions have virtually been destroyed . . . two others have been badly mauled. All along the right wing the American First Army is on the move . . . we're moving forward and the enemy is falling steadily back . . . we become free to strike across the Brest peninsula or turn eastward toward Paris—160 miles away. Only below Saint Lo and Caumont is the enemy offering anything that even resembles a fight. . . . They have in fact regained control of Percy and Tessy-Sur-Vire, two towns we had previously taken. . . .

The British are doing more than holding their own around Caumont. And their progress is limited only by the speed with which sappers can clear the densely laid mine-fields. . . . The whole allied offensive in France is fitting into a pattern: while we strike, the British hold, and when the British move forward, we land the diversionary support.

At the other end of the European pincers, the Russians continue to move westward along a thousand mile front. In the past 24 hours, another two thousand populated places have been over-run. And tonight . . . the Russians have already opened a large-scale attack on the eastern suburbs of Warsaw. . . .

In their drive toward East Prussia, the Russian armies have advanced to within 15 miles of the frontier and to within less than sixty miles of Insterburg, one of the vital rail hubs of East Prussia.

In the air war over Europe, a thousand or more of our bombers went after scattered points near Munich and Ludwigshafen today. . . . For the first time, so far as is known, the enemy sent jet-propelled fighters against our ships. . . . While we were hitting Germany from the west, other bombers from bases in Italy picked up the attack over the Balkans. Storage plants near Bucharest and the oil fields at Ploesti were bombed. . . . On the ground in Italy, the Germans are fighting doggedly to hold their lines before Florence . . . if any of us tonight are feeling resentful about war conditions or our own sacrifices, we might think about the Englishwoman who said today: "A doodlebug just hit my house and I'm bombed out—my husband is a prisoner of war—and my sons are fighting at the front—but I've still got my job in the war plant."

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.