Post image for The arrest

The arrest

January 27, 2011

July 10th 1944, the Allies were progressing down country slowly, liberating the population from the grip of the German occupation. They were still to reach my parents’ village in this part of Normandy. Times of terror as the oppressed fell victim in the last throes of a losing army, a most dangerous and unpredictable period.

Movement in the school yard. Footsteps on the gravel. DEAD OF NIGHT. Light wrapping on the door. Mother pulls the blackout screen slightly to look through a tiny gap. Three shadows cowering against the wall. Father was out scouting with the dog, on another Resistance errand. In the dark, she makes out two of the faces, friend! She rushes downstairs to let them in.

Over the last two or three years, the school house where they lived had become a “safe house” where my parents could hide fugitives and Allied personnel till it was safe to process them on their way, mostly to the coast of Cornwall. BBC coded radio messages secretly received on my parents’ “illegal” set would confirm later that the escape had been successful.

Two of the men were part of the silent army dedicated to the war effort, the third a rather battered and bloodied young man in great pain. Shot through the ankle, a severe wound. Michel, a French pilot (strangely enough called by the same name as my brother), was shot down the day before and rescued up country by the two farmers. Dodging prying eyes, they walked him and carried him 10 miles across fields to bring him to what they knew was a safe haven.

My brother, me and my father

My brother, me and my father

By the time Father came home from his errand, the farmers had been dispatched and Michel was heaved upstairs to bed in the spare room, undressed and washed. The wound was too extensive and the pain too obvious for my parents to apply general first aid. Medical attention was urgently needed and Father hopped on his bicycle to fetch a doctor in the next village, known to be sympathetic to the Resistance.

In the next few days, Mother learnt a lot of nursing skills and at last, the pilot began to show signs of improvement. He revealed that he had been involved in a dog fight. He was pursuing an enemy fighter plane through the clouds and got him (his 8th kill). As he came out of the cloud, he was downed by a USA AF Thunderbolt expecting the Messerschmitt to emerge first. “Friendly Fire”!

By now, it was nigh impossible to go outside without the great risk of being arrested, captured or shot and the population stayed in hiding in their homes, such was the panic on all sides. Needless to say that there was no question of Michel moving on to a safer place, even though my parents felt they were being watched. Soon, the first sounds of the approaching Allied forces could be heard in the distance, increasing the sense of immediate danger.

Lunch time, August 2nd, a car outside. The gate was flung open and two Gestapo officers marched to the front door, accompanied by an ex-gendarme who had joined their ranks. As they entered the room where the family was having lunch, they announced that they were going to search the house as they suspected some fishy goings on. They soon found Michel upstairs, brought him down and started questioning Father, Mother and the wounded man. Getting no cooperation from their quarry, some degree of violence was applied, to no avail. Finally, Father and Michel were whisked away in the German car.

Mother closed the door, pressed her forehead against it for a moment, taking stock of what had just happened. When she turned round, her face hardened and white with the shock, she asked the maid to carry on with her duties, nothing was to change, the Allies were on their way.

A week later, Father’s bundle of clothes were returned. Mother refused to think the worst and rather took it as a ploy to weaken her strength. She also knew she was being watched… but only at night! She stayed committed to her duties as a Resistant and took on what she could of Father’s work.

Another two weeks and the village was liberated.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike Reed January 28, 2011 at 11:21 pm

Annie (if I may),

Just wanted to say how much I like this blog (which I found through Abi’s Twitter feed). It’s fascinating to hear these stories, terrible as they often are, told with such vividness and immediacy. I love the way you write, with great economy but real verve and texture.

So sorry as well, of course, to read of what happened to your father. Few of us these days are called on to show such courage, thank heavens, and it’s hard to believe many of us would show it so forcefully.

I read a lot of blogs about what’s going on in the fizz and bluster of the here and now. It’s easy to think that’s all there is. Your blog is a terrific way to remind us of the value of the recent past. Thanks for sharing your memories and musings – and I love your paintings too!

Great stuff – keep up the good work!

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Annie Thom January 29, 2011 at 9:52 pm

Mike (if I may),
Many acts of bravoury are carried out both in times of war and in times of peace. Some are recognised, some fall unnoticed, some are long forgotten.
My parents adventures may sound extraordinary. In their context though, they are a testimony of the fighting spirit of the oppressed, the timeless and universal spirit that keeps the human race going.
I feel so lucky to be able to carry the torch, in my own way.
Thank you for your appreciation.

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