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Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Day 37 - "You will krepeer, - starve in a concentration camp"

"All this was too eagerly and well prepared for me to take the risk.  These thoughts were flashing through my mind in a matter of seconds but another reversal of thinking was also saying to me, you are trained, you know the luger isn't loaded, take it, its the last chance you will have, the luger is heavy and the weight could make it a good missile, throw it at the living skeleton behind the door and then jump your accuser no matter how strong he is and what hidden weapon he may have, and out you go through the window like a bird to freedom or eternity.  The trouble was I couldn't fly.  I was getting in a mood or a trance, if you like, with the temptation.

It was coming to split seconds now, when suddenly, from nowhere, a small hurricane or inward draught occurred and the windows were thrown or rather sucked shut with a very loud thunder clap which woke the three of us out of this provocated vacuum atmosphere of foreboding.  The figures in this drama started moving again awakened - just like a scene in a movie.  A whirlwind of most divine nature had saved me at the very last minute as time had been ticking dangerously away for me.

Who knows what could have happened there!  I am very strong, I know that, all the Fynaut's have always been strong but so was my adversary and the poor soul behind me was a wiry little devil waiting with his pistol at the ready.  They must have realized that I was never going to talk or bend even under torture.  I was not that type and I would rather die.  It was a waste of time for them.

In a harsh voice, after having tapped away again on his typewriter and underlining it with red ink, he said,

"You will krepeer, - starve in a concentration camp"!

Sentenced to die, that was my verdict! Just like the inquisition which they seemed to have copied, that was the ordeal, the last solution.  No courts, no justice, no trial or anything!!!!

He called the guards to take me back now.  I didn't act like I seemed very impressed, just walked away as if I was going calmly to a firing squad but it was not to be yet, concentration camp, he had said, another chance for me after all!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

To be continued ...

Day 36 - A glance full of hatred!

"At this point every one of us was being interrogated in sequence and who knows what was going to happen after that - so we all felt a great sense of urgency!

One day we were nearly caught when one of us was being called out; it was with Carlos I think, a sullen looking guard brusquely opened the door without us having heard him coming.  We were just having a jolly time with our hoard when the door flew open, everything dropping in front of his boots.  He just starred at the hoard as if drugged and as if he couldn't believe his eyes.  Lucky Strike Packet, matches and all spread out on the floor beneath his feet.

In the interval of surprise, one of us managed to kick it under the bed and across.  As Carlos was going out he covered the whole scene with a wide gesture and sweep of his arms.  Either the guard couldn't believe his eyes at all, or he was seemingly hypnotized or didn't know Lucky Strike from anything else.  When the door closed behind him we couldn't believe our luck for the moment!  That could have been the "mittard" or dungeon for at least three weeks -  which would have blocked our ability to escape due to our absence.

The dungeons in a fort built during the middle ages were terrible things to live in, just a deep pit where you were completely forgotten, especially by Richelieu.  Carlos came back with the news which we had expected and that was that we had no time to lose and had to be quick with our plans. Shortly after, Carlos came back from his interrogation - it was my turn.  This was a dilemma, I knew that, fearing the worst I was led to a room near the street which I noticed because of the noise of the traffic and the sight of some tram lines.

A Gestapo agent with his cap and overcoat filled the room with his bulk.  I noticed what appeared to be a hard or very strong character sitting behind a table with a typewriter.  He was a thin, raspy looking skeleton of a man, with flat ears -  more like a tramp all in all.  He was desperately and wildly gesticulating to his strong partner.  The scrawny one was in plain clothes and drably dressed at that. 

When I entered the wretch withdrew but left the door halfway open thus reminding me of a previous occasion, not so long ago.  I had an instinct for symbols or things like that; he was still watching and waiting on orders to jump in, I could sense that very well.  It was a set-up, a trap carefully planned by both and it stunk, I also didn't like the way he had sized me up when I entered, giving me a glance full of hatred!

The stern Gestapo man told me to sit down now.  He began softening me up and sounded very much like a lawyer, for my benefit, combining clever double talk of accuser and defender.  He told me that I had been locked away for a very long time, away from home, parents, family and friends and if I co-operated with them I would be united with them and could re-enter society.

He then said, would I now like to tell him who my contacts were and where I was going, seriously!  "By the way" he said, "Your friend told us everything anyway".  I knew now that he was lieing because Daniel didn't know anything like that except; that we were going overseas and so did they, so that was too easy.  So, I said, ''It was just a mischevious prank by mislead youths and that we were going to shoot lions in Africa".

At that he lost his temper and smacked me in the face.  "You mean shooting German soldiers", he said.  I didn't reply to that, that was a bad moment.  I heard a slight movement behind me, probably the other one.  He was tapping madly on the typewriter and I could feel my face tingling from the smack. After thinking for a moment, he suddenly stopped and placed his luger on the table within my reach, that was it, the moment the other one had waited for too.

He now suddenly stood up and acting in an absent minded way turned his back towards me and walked over to the window throwing it wide open so that I could hear the traffic below, hooting cars, trams, bicycles passing with bells ringing and people chattering.  Even that in Fort-Du-Ha, I hadn't heard for a long time as it was hermetically sealed and thus closed to outside noise.  What a temptation, that was the idea!  The devil and the demon: the luger, the chance of a jump, just for the taking, the lamb ready for the slaughter and maybe a coffin and hearse waiting

To be continued ...

Monday, 30 January 2012

Day 35 - Thanks to The Resistance and all those helpful souls!

"We had a small light table and chairs and it didn't take too long before we tried out the spiritual bit!  Our days were long and boring, the establishment worked on us like mad with the usual questions.  Maybe it was the ongoing tension of not knowing how long we would be in prison or whether we would live or die - the usual questions one would ask in our predicament.

One day, Janeck set up a contraption of which we asked questions and it seemed to work like mad on the usual questions!  The Spanish captain was skeptical about his answer, which of course was a negative one.  Janeck and mine came to the point where we would meet again on a hill somewhere in the middle of Germany.  The others were saying that somebody must have put his foot under the table and it was all a bad joke in the worst possible taste.  I don't think that happened at all, but it was better so, some started to get worried about the whole affair and Janeck fully agreed to do better and finish it off.

After that incident tempers became short and people flared up at the slightest excuse as if an abstract or evil atmosphere was constantly around us.  It could boil down to the fact that when people are confined together in a small space that tempers become frayed or was it something else, a created reaction. 

As we took a siesta one afteroon, I was suddenly awakened by terrible screams coming from Zin Zhnn, both Janeck and Reiss were masturbating him and we quickly made them stop such practices.  The old captain told them off and Zin Zhnn said he was going to call the guards if further attacks occurred.  Somehow, Zin Zhnn got himself out the next day - either he got transported or he really was a ferret after all?

We were all changed to different cells and lost track of each other shortly after that.  I was put in the last cell of the block on the same floor touching the stairways of the French quarters.  Here was an older and more mature group from different walks of life and mostly from Bordeaux, it seemed.  This would top my education and knowledge of this place called Fort Du Ha a good deal.

It was the same kind of cell I had left but with a vault hump in the right hand corner on the window side.  This is where the stairs were underneath for the French guards who were contracted out; on the right day, we would have a break out when we found a way to hack through the hump and discover a solution that wouldn't compromise or incriminate the French guards -  who would have to be involved.

As it was now, they were feeding us chickens, cigarettes, Lucky Strike, Camels dropped by and for the resistance, bread, meat, chisel and hammer, all through the skylight which we eagerly hauled in.  We had long conversations, as well as sent letters and messages.  They could easily watch the enemy from this lookout without being seen.

It didn't take long before entering that cell that they took me into their confidence, I had to be taken in by them and trusted, of course!  Otherwise you were a goner anyway with the people present as they were; we had as our top leader a man called Carlos who looked like, The Sentimental Agent, one of the best known entrepreneurs of Bordeaux.  He was supposed to be the son-in-law of Martial Foch, who supplied the resistance as well as the Germans.  We also had Fiesche, a Corsican police inspector, well in with the resistance, he was one of the leaders and also a councillor of renown for his political activities and a genuine Corsican gangster.  Our politician, Fiesche was short and strong with a big moustache, this gangster was a James Bond type of man.  So, we formed a complete set ready for action.  Time was all too short for our schedule now and the Gestapo were trying to get us on to transports.

During this time, I managed to write a letter to my mum and had it sent home by a secret route and it did arrive!  My mother still had it at the end of the war and showed it to me.  By that letter she was able to ascertain my whereabouts thanks to The Resistance and all those helpful souls.

We were planning the time and date of escape now as we could feel it was becoming more urgent by the minute ......

To be continued ....

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Day 34 - Brave Women singing the "Marseillaise"

"The bars were flatish held together by a traversed pair palming the vertical ones.  There was also a wooden box, trapped in front of it, preventing the prisoners from looking down as well as drawing attention to a little light coming in from the sky.

The cells were similar to the underground vaults reminding me of old casemattes we had once found in the woods around Ostend - left by the Spanish to stall their horses. Flush french toilets were added, a convenience not available at Caserne-Boudet.  Once a week, we also had communal showers in the old tower, we had to walk in a circle as we showered.. There were lots of guards, a small army around us and within the fort itself.

The first cellar allocated was on the ground floor and was intended for use by select hostages according to the coloured strips on our doors, we found that out later ...  

Sometimes, we could hear prisoners being taken away early in the morning.  We often heard brave women patriots singing the "Marseillaise".  These women helped to boost our moral and pride in the cause, which was all we had left!

One of the inmates of my cell was a tall, thin, broody southerner from the "Midi" Toulon or Marseilles.  He had a grey patch in his forelock inherited from father to son from generations back.  He had been at "Mers el Kebir", near Oran when the fleet he was aboard had been scuttled by the British, resulting in a lot of wounded and dead.  He wasn't very glad about the treatment he was getting but everybody thought it necessary not to fall into German hands with Darlan!  Sacrifices had to be made, this was going to be our epitaph, unavoidable circumstances!

During the next weeks, I was taken to the next floor and lost my brooding companion and most of my former inmates.  I made new acquaintances and  met again with Maxwell, an old Spanish Republican captain, The Gypsy; Reiss, the young Pole, Janeck Paderwski and the last new member Zin Zzn, a most unusual name.  Zin Zzn came from Eupan-Malmedy, the small German canton ceded to Belgium after the First World War.  Zin Zzn was an unknown factor,  a homosexual and we suspected, a ferret, planted amongst us.  We were careful not to say anything that would incriminate us when he was around.

The food was worse and I don't know what happened to the Quaker parcels that had been regularly sent to us.  We had cheese biscuits at the weekend that must have been donated by the Red Cross.  One weekend, due to bad storage, they were hardly edible and stuck in your mouth and could have choked you if one didn't swallow lots of water.  The only thing we could do  was to stack them behind the box put in front of the bars where we got fresh air. Having forgotten about the biscuits for a few weeks, "Reiss" The Gypsy, tried them again and announced they were okay. 

Probably the air and the draught at the bars had taken the badness of the mold out of them.  It was like Mana from heaven to us, a miracle!  For now, we had so many biscuits, this helped to alleviate our constant hunger,
a bit ....

One day, Maxwell suddenly left us, he was dragged out of the cell and after that we never saw him again, he wasn't released either ....

To be continued ...

Friday, 27 January 2012

Day 33 - To me it looked like a place of no escape!

"Everything was coming to an end, we were only a few left.  One day "Discipline" took us to a corner of the kitchen.  I could see that there was a way to get out, the walls were old like an ancient castle, at a slight angle, and roughly hewn and would be quite easy for someone like me to climb.

As I was studying the walls, I suddenly felt "Discipline's eyes on me and I felt like he was guessing my thoughts.  He had a smile on his face, almost daring me to try.  That plan would have been alright if I could get away from the inside and had sufficient time to climb unhindered, but with someone watching all the time it would be imposible.

Shortly after that incident a "Secherheitsdienst", security counter intelligence of the Gestapo came to see us to check our papers.  We were also inspected as to our general condition and cleanliness, very much like army procedure.  When he looked at my hand he said, "that is healed now you can go on transport".

"Discipline" was in charge of the inspection.  He spoke to the prisoners very sternly and told them off if he found dirt or any crinkles, like a father figure.  The protestant vicar we never so again but somehow I think he had a chat with the S.D. man about us.  The vicar was a tall, dark eyed, silent type of a man moving in the mysterious way of mysticism that he portrayed.  In contrast, the S.D. man looked silent and strict, mostly sharped face too, a nervous snappy man in movement and manner.

The S.D. man was a prototype of one of the teachers I had know who had turned traitor.  To me inquisitors and turn coats seem to inherit the same look and ways of undertakers.  Even their uniforms and signs symbolised the dark side of the regime.  At the end of the inspection the only thing he said to us, in a shrill croaking executioners voice was, "You lot are due for transportation, first you go to Fort Du-Ha for preparation".

I didn't know whether this move was for better or worse.  What I did know was going to transportation would get us out of the rut we were in now and maybe there would be another opportunity to jump or roll off the trains.
It also meant, that after Fort-Du-Ha we would still be alive and well.  How much so, after that, was the question!

We departed the same way that we had come in, handcuffed from Caserene-Boudet annex to the old fort of Du-Ha.  We were sent to the political section,  we entered through a big ancient gate resembling the entrance of a fortress.  We then came upon an enormously wide, ugly round tower in the centre, behind which was a square with buildings extending in all directions resembling an octopus.

To me that looked like a place of no escape .....

To be continued

Day 32 - A tribute to Sophie Scholl

Source: National Post Vol 14 No. 78 Friday, January 27, 2012
Writer Tony Woolfson

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Day 31 - Enlightenment!

"One day, in a little cell like room, I became covered all over with big scabs, like Job in the Bible story.  Lacking in vitamins I suppose, or the food, I don't know! Maybe it was the fleas, lice and bug bites gone septic but it took its time to show up!

One night, I felt desperate and started meditating and was at the point of giving up when I came closer to God.  I even felt ready to confess to any priest and ask forgiveness for sins I hadn't even committed!

We were given time off to see a German priest in the chapel across from our cells.  Of course, we were closely guarded.  A man in a German uniform gave us a sermon and some asked if he could do anything to help us, to which he responded, he would try.  I am afraid the man could do nothing at all, it was out of his hands but he certainly tried.

Then in all this,  my scabs fell off, in one night,  by themselves and what a relief that was more divine than any priest or traditional taboo could have achieved for me.

Divine, I believe, because in all my efforts to prove it to myself and understand I realized that there was a force at work that stood above it all and everybody was bound to do his or her duty to it, according to his choice, "To Each his Own.................."

To be continued

Day 30 - Buchenwald medal and picture!

Picture of Louis on South African identity card during 1970.
Plus picture of his Buchenwald concentration camp medal.
On the fabric is a metal part with symbolizes that he was in two different camps, Auschwitz and Buchenwald as well as in a prison near Bordeaux, France for approximately a 4 year period during the German occupation.

Day 29 - A Tribute to Maxwell and Others Brave People!

"One day one of the guards we called "Discipline" put the radio onto the B.B.C and walked away leaving us to listen.  By this time, my hand had healed nicely and I had no after effects from it, I could move it. !!!

The last guard was younger than the previous ones and his name I can't recall.  One day he was very upset after returning from leave as most of his family had perished and he had also been reprimanded by his superiors for allowing thirty inmates to escape from the top floor.  They took the bricks away from the window, bent the bars upwards and used their sheets knotted together in strips to get to the street below and flee.  This was done dodging between the patrols and the guards at the gate.

Only a few were brought back, the rest got away.  So the guards continued to tap bars and watched us like mad.  Nevertheless, one day my luck came!  We found ourselves cleaning the anti-room used as a store room near the street.  It had no bars or bricks built in and very dirty, as we swept the dust began to swirl upwards, so the guard opened the window for air.  At the same time, some mice were disturbed and they came out from among the furniture as we moved in with our brooms.  Like a cat on the chase he and my mate were after the mice.  They took off towards the passage with the guard and my mate in hot pursuit.

I was alone standing straight in front of the window.  Looking outside to my left and right I saw just the sentry at the big gate returning.  I waited for a chance for him to turn away from my view.

My opportunity vanished with the return of my guard.  He was very flustered and blowing from his run with the mice.  Looking at me and then at the window he quickly realised what could have happened and shut it.  He went very red in the face and took us quickly to our rooms, ignoring everything else.  I bet he had a shock.  He wasn't quite sure of anything, neither was I.  We both had our regrets, I am sure, for our failures.  Such opportunities only come once they say.

I remained there for 9 months and I began to think they had forgotten about me as everybody was going out on regular transports, all before me.  There was only a couple like me left.  In between the big room and the soup run I continued my education.  We had nothing else left except professors and members of the diplomatic corps as well as a few others.  The professors took great delight in teaching us in the evenings and weekends when most of the guards were off duty.

The guards arranged for us to have the Red Cross and Quaker packets distributed and we had competitions as to who could produce the best looking cake in the straight bowl.  It was a mixture of French bread blended with the ingredients in the packet, from jelly to all kinds of biscuits.  It was amazing what came out of it, like that we had an interest and made it last.  One poor soul from Lithuania could only hold out for a short while as he was famished and then he set upon it like a wild animal.

The bugs were still unbearable and I saw one person wrapping himself up like a mummy, only to make it worse.  The bugs got in between and underneath the material.  He had big blobs really swollen up to an enormous size and he cried like a child.  We couldn't console him his mind was deranged.  Listening to the professors talking about Ghengis Khan, Kublar Khan and the light of Asia Buddha brought him back into the fold with us!

Then there was Professor Beck from, The University of Tarbes, talking about his re-generated potatoes, produced in his lab.  The Nazi's were after his work on potatoes as well as he studies of locusts.  These studies started just before the war in Mauritania and Senegal.  He made an effort to farm the locusts and experimented with making them sedentary so that he could produce an ideal food from them, a kind of flour meal.

To top it all, there was Maxwell of Brussels talking nine languages fluently and teaching us the rudiments of them all.  We even went as far back as Sanskrit with him.  There was a real Gypsy amongst us too, looking more like a Sikh.  He was taken as a Sikh on the frontier of the Pyrenees, unable to explain or write in our languages he was a suspect and they took no chances with him.

Within a week, Maxwell was able to converse with our Gypsy in his own Romany.  He started to teach him to read and write in our language.  One day, Maxwell disappeared on one of the transports and as he was Jewish there was not much hope for him!

At that time, I didn't know what happened to the Gypsy but we met again later.  Maxwell left us a statement on the real origins of the Gypsies.  He said that they were an early nomadic tribe from the Punjab regions who travelled westward towards Europe after the big migrations of the Indo Europeans.

I also met a Polish cadet, Janeck who tried to cross the mountains dressed like a boy scout.  He had made his way from Poland to Greece via Transylvania where he was eventually captured.  Later on, he told me that he had killed a couple of Germans and changed his name from Pareuski to Borofski.  When the Germans caught him, they let his beard grow for three days, which proved that he was older than the boy he tried to make himself out to be, so that was it for him"

To be continued ...

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Day 28 - Vermin and Donald Duck!

"I was feverish by the time we were herded into a largish hall.  The guards were joking around and making signs of the gallows and stringing us up.  I didn't like it, mostly, I think, because I wasn't feel too good and I felt very much enclosed in that hall because it didn't have much sunlight.  The building was old with bars on the top of the curved windows and reeked with a musty smell of age.

What a way to go I thought.  I preferred to be executed in the sunlight and in open air.  I mumbled something which nobody understood, it was something like a last wish.  I must have been really delirious.  People pointed at my hand and somehow that explained it to them.  I wished they would leave us alone now.

When we were sorted out they put us into cells, which were converted rooms with the same curved windows, bricked in with bars.   I thought that we might escape from the third floor, the bricks were loosely placed.  The rooms were quite big containing a lot of people who would be available to remove the bricks.

Those big rooms were my first quarters and the conditions were not very good.  One latrine for all of us, which had to be carried in an out and cleaned.  The senior prisoners and new inmates took turns at this task.  They dished out watery soup and rations.  There was also some wooden bunks and each of us had a bowl and a metal cup.  In that room there were twenty four people!

The biggest problem or rather plague was the vermin that swarmed through those buildings.  All kinds of vermin and so many appeared.  It made one wonder whether they had just poured them out of a big bag to make life difficult for us.  From daybreak onwards we were kept busy delousing and the Germans were fully cooperative with this process.

At night the only chance to delouse was when the guards put the lights on to see whether we were still there.  When the lights came on we heard the guard's heinous laugter, like hyenas, as they saw us killing the bugs creeping everywhere and stinking from drinking our blood.

In the evening, we usually put our cups and bowls under the table legs, chairs and beds enabling everybody to have a turn at sleeping on those objects.  The bugs still dropped from the ceiling sensing the warmth of our bodies.  We just could not rid ourselves of the bugs.

Eventually, the bugs reached the German quarters.  However, it took time before disinfectation took place. The Germans seemed to enjoy watching us and the bugs.  By the afternoon we managed to get some time for a nap, that is if the guards didn't come and tap on the bars.  We were also allowed to have an exercise run in the square between the buildings with machine guns trained on us.

During the afternoon, we were allowed to smoke from cigarettes supplied by the parcels from the Quakers and the Red Cross.  Usually, Tjitane and Gaulois, very heavy, real black tobacco.  In the short time allowed some prisoners collapsed after taking a quick puff and inhaling.

Eventually, we found a way to snip the ends off, turn the cigarretes around, light it and take a few puffs under the surveillance of the guards. We would extinquish the lit end, put it in a tin and take the best butt end inside making a light when everything was quiet.  We used what they called "Amadou", from coat padding and small flint stones.

One of the guards, who we called "Donald Duck", was a non-smoker.  Donald Duck could usually smell the smoke from a long distance.  He would follow the trail of smoke and then stand in front or our door quaking and looking like a duck.  Nobody looked and sounded more like a duck than him.  He never gave us away either, so no extra punishment was received.

Our guards were mostly old reservists pressed into doing their job.  "Yup", another guard was always hearing things when nothing was there and vice versa.  He helped himself to our food parcels and everything else that we possessed.  The guards had access to our belongings and it was Yup who replaced my slashing knife with a dirty little pen knife"

To be continued ...

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Day 27 -Escape, Recapture and Interrogation!

"Önce downstairs, the main Gestapo agent gave a speech for the benefit of the inmates, brandishing his pistol and knocking on all the doors saying that he would have me shot in the morning.

Just in case he felt like shooting me now in his worked up frenzy I thought I had better be ready for any eventuality.  With my back towards him, I opened the knife that was inbetween both of my hands and with a backwards movement could have slashed his throat but his three seconds hesitation to shoot me changed the situation. Maybe, now I could have grabbed his luger and started shooting getting the other prisoners out in the process.  It was all in the hands of the gods! 

Suddenly, he ordered his soldiers to throw me in the further cellar pushing the door open in his hysterical rage. This saved us all from further trouble for the time being.  This is how I entered the cell, still fuming, teeth clenched firmly, chin forward.  I heard the door clanging and closing behind me without further ado.  The prisoners surrounded me and jumped back on seeing the knife. Daniel was there as well.  Everybody had been aware of the escape and the turmoil it had caused.  They said a woman had been shot in the erratic shooting and had been wounded in the arm.

Gently, they took the knife away from me and hid it.  Now, with sympathetic understanding surrounding me my adrenalin started dissipating and a sense of feeling came rapidly back.  Within a few moments I didn't know what to do with myself the reaction being so strong. I was given the only bunk on which to rest and relax.

After what I judged to be about an hour the pain subsided and the Germans said I had to get ready to leave.  I just had time to tell Daniel to keep his mouth shut and that was the last I heard of him until the war ended.  Later,
I heard that the knife was used by the prisoners to break out, this happened after Daniel had gone!

I was taken upstairs to the second floor and they put my arm in a sling giving me the V.I.P. treatment, disinfectant, ointment, bandages and all.  They took me to the balcony window, showing me the height, laughing and saying you certainly won't jump again.  Little did they know that I had jumped heights like that before.  I was ready to do it again but they held me firmly and the sling was no help either.

Putting me in front of a typewriter and watching me they started the process of interrogation.  What they wrote I had no idea but I guessed it to be the worst.  Very likely to be treated as very dangerous.  The only thing they asked me was why I tried to escape.  Not to give anything away, I said morosely, "Because I was afraid and I didn't want to be shot".

Once a prisoner you couldn't tell them just anything! Anyway, it was better to be wise and use the point of least resistance.  That same evening I was  carted off on the first transport put together, Daniel was not in it!  As a companion I had a giant Corporal who did not leave my side for a minute.  That was a bad sign he even accompanied me to the toilet.  I lost my chaperone when I got to Bordeaux but handcuffs were put on me instead.  In fact, everybody was handcuffed and with two full vans we were transported though the town.

I attempted to wriggle out of the handcuffs, some people can, but it was to no avail.  Maybe I could jump from the van but it proved to be impossible.  Our journey ended at a place called "Caserne-Boudet", an annex of
Fort-Du-Ha.  The place was overcrowded everybody was hitting back at the Boche.  The awakening had taken place.

I was still convinced they were going to execute me.  Maybe they had found out that I was the leader through Daniel.  He couldn't tell them very much about my contacts as that was safe in my head.  He could, however, inform them that we were heading to North Africa or England.  I trusted him to keep silent as I would have done ...

To be continued ...

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Day 26 - I was just sorry for my Mother .....

"The next three hundred metres I ran in record time and turning in from the far corner I saw a small German van swerving wildly.  It was coming out on my right, hoping it was empty I turned swiftly around it and then acting nonchalantly, like a pedestrian passing by, I tried to jump in the rear to escape my pursuers altogether.

To my surprise, it was packed full with German soldiers holding on to their rifles, maybe called out for my capture!  I knew I couldn't run too far now and turned into the street from which they had come.  They were shouting and screaming at the driver behind me to stop.  At this moment, the street looked long and empty making a perfect target for a hunted animal, me in this case.

That's the way I felt, like a hunted animal.  My hand was still bleeding after rubbing it on my face to keep the hair out of my eyes.  Otherwise, I could have jumped the portals.  There was only one thing left to do, jump over the first fence, which was a privet I saw on the right, which I did and ran to the rear of the building entering the kitchen of this corner house.

Once in the house to the complete surprise of both of us, there was a housewife pressing her clothes on the ironing board.  One can imagine our expressions!  Only my presence of mind could save the situation now.  So, speaking in French, "Les Boches me cherchent je veux me cache".  Her instant panic was enough to tell me that it wasn't going to work as she dropped her iron and started screaming.  I was done for where I stood!

Coming out faster than I had gone in I trusted my luck.  I headed towards the wall of the next house climbing onto a coal box and leaning on my hand now, which was feeling very painful.  I was in a small cul-de-sac and luckily for me a back door was open which I quickly entered still hearing that silly woman screaming which gave my whereabouts away and impeded my escape.

I never understood her attitude, unless she was struck by sudden shock and fear which she couldn't overcome.  This situation proved to be part of the bad dream I had had in Belin Belier when I slept near the tomb stones and still my struggling was far from over.  One against so many, this seemed to be the story of my destiny!

I was completely encircled now and upwards was the only way left to me as I climbed the stairs.  Looking down from the first turn I could see their shadows
from a covered position in the women's garden.  I had no weapon with me except my knife to fight.  My only chance was the roof.  I couldn't reach the gutter without being an open target as I would have to lean out and become visible.  So, I tried the doors on the next landing.  The doors were all closed and none of my hurling myself at the doors was of any help, far too strong for me.

This was a dead end for me; suddenly feeling very tired and helpless by the obstructions in my way, plus the loss of blood and all the commotion around me, I decided to go down, as a last resort, very indifferently.  I was just sorry if my Mother were to hear that her son had been shot.  I could still see her intense look when she said her good-byes as if to remember me for all time.

This was it now, decision without fear, descending calmly down the stairs and reaching the bottom.  Wondering which way to go, the front or the rear.
I noticed a plain clothes Gestapo agent lurking at the back door which made up my mind.  He had the door half open now and was slowly raising his luger and straightening the barrel.

I put my hands up in the air quickly, claiming to give up, but looking him right in the eyes now and I saw doubt and fear!  Walking forward at the last moment I jumped on the door holding it and pushed the luger back upwards.  He pulled and no shot came out of the weapon.  The surmise was that there was no bullet in the chamber or that he had forgotten to release the safety catch on both occasions.  At this moment, this was not for me to analyse!

Was it Russian roulette that had saved my life or divine intervention, my time had not yet come.  The front door eventually gave way under the repeated battering of the Gestapo's rifle butts but nobody could shoot with me being in the middle.  Before such a thing was contemplated, I was kicked into the street before the line up of soldiers whose rifles were pointed straight at me.

I found I was the centre of attention.  The French people were everywhere behind the soldiers, jeering them and supporting me like their champion.  I felt proud and patriotic.  The Germans too were aware of it and I could feel their admiration.  I was handed over to two uniformed Gestapo, grinning again, they were always doing that!  They grabbed my arms and hands and  tried to turn them on my back, which I resented as they hurt me pushing them far too high.  The right hand, I managed to drag back and out with the strength that was left in it, it was my bleeding hand.  I took the lapel of the Gestapo's coat and it got smeared with my blood.  The French onlookers put their arms up and gave me a round of applause! 

The Gestapo looked at his blood stained coat and swore at me more frustrated than ever now!  That was the best recommendation I could get.  I walked proudly back to the hotel, my hands free just like the general in Eben Emaille.

Once inside all hell broke loose and all the pent up feelings of these cruel people were released.  They jumped on me with a sadistic and revengeful unison, thumping, beating and pushing me with about everything they could lay their hands on, from truncheons, belts with "God Mit Uns", on and sticks.  The ones wearing coats were the worst of all keeping it up until they were completely out of breath.

I didn't fall down or lose consciousness but instead become senseless to it, every extra beat became very heavy for me.  I was beyond pain, switched off.
Their amazement at that was higher than mine.  I was just dazed and sullen, almost wondering what all the fuss was about......."   They started telling me that they could have killed me and that they were such crack shots and that they had aimed at my hand, which seemed to me very clever considering I was a moving target!  Also, I was congratulated on my bravery.

Short of awarding me the Iron Cross they then stopped their false flattery and were getting ready to carrying me off downstairs to the converted cells or dungeons......."

To be continued ...

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Day 25 - Shot in the wrist and running!

"We were led to different rooms, our belongings taken away for inspection.  They immediately started to interrogate us.  After everybody had been questioned we had the privilege of being kept back.  The Gestapo quickly rattled questions at us and I told him that we looked for work as the other job had finished.  They checked through our pockets and even afterwards checked our naked bodies.

The Gestapo found a photo of my grandparents, parents and I, in front of our cafe in Ostend.  Nothing special about that except it showed Pale Ale and Guiness Stout advertised in the windows.  One Gestapo shouted, "that's English"". One of the other Gestapo interjected and said that some of the Flemish used to import their beers, which we did...

They then asked another seemingly innocent question after they found the schedule for the trains to St. Jean De Luze, which was another stop nearer the border...  There his reasoning stopped abruptly.....   I realized I had to leave now or never.  There was nothing else left to do.  I knew about the cruel torture methods once you were in their hands and the weakening of the spirit and the body with it, nobody knew!  You had to make up your mind to resist beforehand.

I did not feel ready for that yet!

Looking around like a cornered animal I noticed a Gestapo man tired and dozing in the next room, which had access to a balcony where the double glass doors were open because of the midday heat.  Daniel was just putting on this clothes and the other prisoners were being shuffled away to lower jails or cells.

This was my opportunity!  I had a folded knife in my hand which had been overlooked during my search as it was held in my clenched fist when my hands were up.  Daniel was nearly dressed so I shouted, "come quickly",he froze as usual! Far too slow with his guard holding him.  I was off like an arrow from a bow, swift, light footed with my sandals on for fast running.

The dozing man never woke up as I passed him in my lightening run, which I had anticipated.  Literally diving from the railings on the balcony, disregarding the drop from the first floor to the pavement, I put my hands on the balustrade to make a good jump which I had rehearsed a thousand times before.

Unfortunately, my foot must have dragged a bit because one of the straps on my sandal must have got caught.  My foot touched the upper bar and I started turning in mid-air and coming with a thump down on the pavement.  I landed on my behind and back, the impact of which gave me a slight concussion but luckily for me no broken bones, just a dent in my pride for the poor jump.

Within a few seconds I noticed the hulk of a grinning Gestapo man above me leaning over the balcony and struggling to get his pistol out of the holster and putting his finger on the trigger.  To his complete amazement and mine nothing happened, the bullet was a dud!

I quickly got up and made for the first corner I could see to try to avoid the shooting which I knew would follow, running in a zig zag fashion to make it more difficult to take aim.  So far so good!  I escaped just the same, not the way I expected it but away!  Just before taking the blind corner for cover the salvo's went off and one of them pierced my right hand entering through my wrist and coming out of the palm of my hand slightly touching my fingers, it felt like a heavy blow.  The rest of the bullets flying around my ears which were deafening.  I held my hand more by impulse than pain and turned the corner, blood was pouring which caused me to hurry more to be free of the firing ....."

To be continued ....

Typing that made me feel tense and sad for what my Dad suffered  so I am stopping right here!

Friday, 20 January 2012

Day 24 - Caught in the Dragnet!

"The train started moving, nobody got off and the Gestapo officer started going from compartment to compartment and when he saw us he shouted, "Don't Move!" and took our papers away from us.  Soldiers were guarding the corridors all along the speeding train.  We were trapped like a bunch of herded animals.  I could have kicked myself.  The Gestapo officer rushed to the rear of the train using the same tactics.  I said to Daniel "Come with me into the corridor, never mind the papers and luggage", but he was so slow!

We chatted to a young soldier and he took us to be one of them.  I then checked the next door from my position to where Daniel stood talking and made a sign for him to come over.  I already had the handle in my hand but Daniel was too slow! I was just about to utter the word, "jump"", when all of a sudden a Gestapo came in, Luger in hand, pointed at us and harshly told the soldier off and shouting at us, "what in the hell do you think you are doing up there"?

Too late now we had lost our chance, we were pushed into the compartment again and within a few minutes another victim was pushed around by the Gestapo officer's helpers and came into our compartment.  This woman turned out to be the real prey they were after, we were just extra fish caught in the dragnet.  Now I wondered whether he recognized us from before!

About fifteen of us were caught, that is a considerable haul, I think.  From then on the Gestapo man got very pompous and busy.  Chiefly, interrogating the woman and concentrating on her.  She was still young but not a teenager  either.  I never got her name, it wouldn't have been real anyway.  According to our Gestapo man she turned out to be an agent or a spy.  Looking at her intently and then back to us he said, "it is because of people like you that these boys are going to be shot, now"!

Well, on this there was no doubt whatsoever about our fate.  I had had enough of Daniel dragging his feet and it was now everbody for himself, now to make the best of it and to get away when the first opportunity arose.

The trip to Biarritz was very sombre if not depressing; the sun was shining, the shimmering haze clearing up over the countryside making it even brighter.  No concerted attempt was made to escape by those individuals left to their own thoughts as he disappeared from our compartment to others.  Obviously he had other victims who were just as important.

It was a pity because it had to be done now as it was probably the best moment to escape while were were still fit.  I thought we could jump the guards and gestapo and in the confusion roll off the train into the isolated countryside -  using the free ride to get closer to our destination.  The massacre would be ugly but what were the odds!  Each individual had their own knowledge of what awaited them as well as torture and afterwards execution.  In this way we reached Biarritz junction and I had just seen a glimmer of sunlight reflecting on what looked like a small yacht harbour or bay full of white painted boats whose brilliance caused me to shade my eyes.

I knew the Gestapo in the occupied zones were stretched to breaking point so I had to quickly look for an opportunity.  I had previously heard of patriots being caught in the fields being made to dig their own graves before being shot.  This thought made me even more determined.  As the train came to a stop we were herded off and lined up in the hall under the scrutiny and watchful eyes of the guards, rifles at the ready.

There were people behind the guards and I noticed an elderly woman wearing sunglasses that nodded as she made a recognition amongst us.  We were marched off now and I saw more of the bay to my right which I tried to memorise.  I made up my mind that this would be the place to make a get-a-way.  I would dive into the water and swim just below the surface and  advance under water to just the other side of the boats.  I had trained for that and liked it.  I would have to get rid of my clothes under water as they would become heavy.  If they were shooting the bullets would be ricocheting on the surface and they would think after a while that I had drowned.

Afterwards I found out that there was no water behind the quay at all, just soft mud, which I couldn't see from where I was walking, nothing but quagmire and very smelly mud with rocks scattered here and there around.
That would have been the end of the road for me

So in a little while we arrived at the hotel, their centre for all operations in the region.  It was quite a famous hotel because of King Edward the Seventh holidaying there and that was it's name.  Now it was the Gestapo's headquarters.

I looked very intently around before entering to assess the situation ..."

To be continued ....

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Day 23 - A Gestapo starts taking snapshots of us at Dax station!

"The little town was teaming with troops and we told the proprietors that permission had been granted, smiling at us they said no need for that and let us enter  They have us a  room under the stairway and entrance.  Well tucked away and with no windows for a quick escape, just a small partridge hole.  We asked the maid to tell us the time early in the morning when she brought the coffee and bread so we could catch the early bus.  There was only one per day and we had to make good on that one.  We couldn't stay around any longer.

The idea was to get off at the coastal zone and begin walking from there as well as selling our luggage to make extra cash. The rest was up to luck, intuition and skill in dodging the patrols from there!

In the morning we were taken completely by surprise as the maid was late.  Then Daniel had to play and flirt with her and I had the feeling that the bus had already left at 7, which it had, and I was already becoming very angry by the minute.  When we arrived at the bus stop we were told it had already left, indeed, and that was the end of my patience.

I said to Daniel, "I have got the feeling that it is not good to stay here another day, so let's take the train and jump from it before it enters the station at Dax", maybe there was a stop before that.  Everything was running out, time and patience as well.  I started to feel very touchy with Daniel.  I couldn't hardly drag my feet anymore yet we were so close to our target.  The other possibillities could still be used if this one failed.  The current decision turned out to be a mistake.

After quarelling back and forth we decided that it was now or never together.  So far alright! The dice was thrown now! After all, this game was nothing but a gamble.  Approaching Dax rolling along at a steady pace everything looked so nice and peaceful and quiet we took a chance to try the station carrying our luck too far!  

We got off the train a short distance before the station.  However, there was no chance at all, we had it, the place was suddenly swarming with troops and  sergeants and officers in plain clothes looking like American tourists, shouting and giving orders.  This was a trap set by the Gestapo and we had fallen right into it.  Just the same I told Daniel to get on the next train.  Suddenly, the usual Gestapo officer that we had seen several times before was in front of us on the platform taking snapshots or pictures of us ..."

To be continued ...

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Day 22 - A Premonition of Disaster!

"One day Daniel got so fed up, he wanted to get more food from his uncle and took off.  After three days he came back with a hoard.  I thought I had lost him too!  Now, I said we must take our leave and with our new provisions we easily made it across the fields.  Daniel said he had met the same Nazi again and others who seemed to be busy with their investigations.  At about that time, Rommels North African Corps had retreated from Benghazi and Tobruk and were sent to rest still wearing their tropical uniforms.  In the evening we found them singing and drinking in the locals, mostly white wine.

I think it was time for us to go anyway, I put it to the manager and he was sorry to see us go.  He offered to help us by saying he could move us to Maquis of the Coreze if we wanted to...  Our mind was made up and the worst gaps in the bridge had been finished. After the pay out the next day and a good meal we went to rest in the old cemetary.  The only peaceful place was among the graves and we were not watched or bothered, the grass was green too!

The Germans were busy, we watched them doing a lot of exercising keeping their troops on the go, we observed their assault tactics and were quite impressed, they fell down on their knees after creeping and running after an imaginary enemy as well as rolling away from imaginary shooting, it was excellent training.

We fell asleep and a nightmare suddenly woke me up.  I felt an enormous fear.  I am sure it was a premonition or warning of disaster and I should have taken heed.   In my dream, presenting itself in black and silvery flames, a very pale man of death visited me, I believe as a warning of imminent danger ... I tried to shake the feeling off by telling myself that is was probably due to the presence of the gravestones plus the steak we had eaten had been a bit rotten!  I boiled it down to this combination.

We packed our belongings and took the first bus to a place called Mont-de-Marsan, which we reached in the evening to be greeted by a bus full of school children all happy and gesticulating.  The country was rising now and we could see the foothills of the Pyrennes in the haze. We left the country of D'Artagnan behind, called Aquitaine and moved towards the country of the Basques now with lots of sheep rearing and horses to lovely mountain views ...

Looking for the usual hidden restaurant and hotel, which didn't take too long, we found one ideally situated near a mountain stream and we checked in.  Casually asking for a room they gave me the usual answer, "Go and ask the permission from the Kreiscommandatura".  Once they found out that we were trustworthy they let us in, they knew the name of the game, so did we!

It was a dangerous game like everything else it could cost them dear if they were found out, from a severe fine to closure or even deportation and who knows what from there to the camps.  Anyway, there was still a good bit of honour around and nobody gave anybody away unless ... "

To be continued ...

Monday, 16 January 2012

Day 21 - Being Harrassed by the Gestapo!

"Comfortably seated we made for the frontier leaving my Mother with verbal messages about possible rendezvous points for George, if he followed later.

At the border we waited till the guard was changed and the french guards came along and when we were alone, we had cigars to give them.  The growing of tobacco in Belgium had no restrictions unlike in France.  It was taken as a gift.  They knew that we were all involved by now and so were they but we helped each other.

In no time we made for Compiegne and I didn't like the police who were watching the station.  They gave us a long look!  Carefully, I went to Gourcy dodging them and fulfilling my mission and using the pass without arousing any suspicion.  Once there it didn't take too long for me to find out that the place was hot and reeking with treason.

We quickly retraced our steps and took a different route making for Paris instead.  George couldn't have possibly found us if he had escaped from any incarceration, but you never know, I also knew that he would still try.  The advantage with Daniel was that he had an uncle seventy kilometres south of Paris in Pithiviers district well hidden behind the Orleans-Forest.  His Uncle  was a horse dealer and well known to other farmers.  This was the place to hide for a while with lots of food available and dense woods to hide in.  We just skimmed Paris and got out as quickly as we could in a great haste.

We made good time to Pithhiviers and everything was as we expected and we  received a marvellous welcome.  Daniel's uncle collected us at the station as he had been pre-warned of our arrival by telephone.  His aunt and uncle talked to us for hours afterwards.  Daniel's cousins were a nice couple of boys working hard and helping out on the farm most of the time.  Their dad said that when the time came he would hide them in the nearby forest where there was already a group of The Resistance and they would join them.

There were still wild boars in these woods.  We saw the damage they did on his land to his vegetables the following morning.  We stayed over a week and left loaded with an extra bag just filled to the brim with food.  On the way we stopped in a town with a big cathedral along the railway.  I think it must have been a famous one!

We arrived in Bordeaux safely and went to a lonely bistro close to the harbour.  After a good meal without ration cards! we got to talking to people who knew and pointed out a contractor who was looking for workers to help him in the "Landes" repairing a bridge.  The company was from Paris called "Sotramet" and so this was the ideal chance for us to proceed with caution to our destiny.

George we never saw again till after the war, he told us that he went as far as Bordeaux and then turned back.  The contractor took us to a place called Belin-Belier.  A Gestapo man in plain clothes looked at our papers but the boss said we were in his employ and he would look after us, so we were left pretty well alone.

The break was needed to enable us to slowly explore our re-entry to the coastal zone and also to build up our finances again so that we would have money when we needed to move on.  The work was pretty hard, it consisted of repairing a worn out and frail bridge.  There were lots of mosquitos in this place, it being moors and fen country, forested, lots of beautiful grass snakes and turtles.  The food was different here and the work was harder than we had envisaged. Artichokes and beans every day with little or no meat.  Rations cards were arranged and issued to us, so this made us in order for the rest of the area.

The crew, like us, consisted mostly of hide-aways, some from as far as Paris, some were Spanish - republicans and maqisards at the ready, it was like a transit camp.  When at work on the river, we had our problems with the swift current underneath, boards dropping down and then having to get them back. 

Once we had an argument with a bad tempered Spaniard who disappeared at different times in a deep hole in the river while pulling the planks back and dragging a pontoon but it turned out alright in the end.  The friendship was tense but bearable.  We had started to sing the Volga boat song for him and he was not amused about that.

We even managed to see a bull-fight in Bordeaux at the weekend put on by Portuguese, but shame on them, the Spaniards had to save the situation and jumped into the ring just when the air-raid alarm went off.  When everything was over we all left and had a swim instead.  My dive from the high board was quite enough and turned out to be a complete flop so I had had enough of it!

Returning home again we were harrassed by the same Gestapo man of before.  The manager was present and vouched for us again and got us out!  That is something, I remarked to Daniel, we have got to avoid travelling on this line!"

To be continued ....

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Day 20 - Madam De Nile and saying Goodbye to my Mother!

"I took a last look around the countryside aware that something was going on!  There was more than the eye could meet.  Nearing the top of the slope I turned to the right and noticed split sticks with a piece of paper containing words at intervals with more of the same containing messages that could be arranged pertaining to assembly points and times of droppings.

I walked on until I came to an open field, more like a short landing strip to me, which indeed it was.  After all this I came back to my starting point and noticed a little hamlet almost hidden by the foliage which stirred my curiousity.  I first went to the Cafe-Bistro where some of the locals were playing billiards and they invited me to have a game.  It is probable that they had seen me and had watched my movements for a while before this.  After a few pernods, we chatted away and it turned out that they decided to take me into their confidence.  They were doing resistance work and were interested in getting new recruits.

After taking my leave, I was glad of the information I had gathered and quickly left Gourcy-aux Loges bearing in mind that the trail I had recently found was not because of my friend George!  I returned to Compiegne junction to get the first train back to Brussels.  I was lucky because my pass was in good order still and I found no harrassment on the train.

I went straight to my Aunt Helen and after a good reception and telling them of my urgency to get to England because of my close association with George and his pursuers.  My Aunt got someone to come over who cross-examined me and asked all about the information I had gathered in Soissons, concerning the cables and bunkers in the ridge.  It turned out that this area was intended to be used for some of the new weapons they had in mind and the General Headquarters which were to be installed there in case of an invasion.

The lady in question was told by my aunt of my wish to get to England and the fact that I was being pursued because of my previous exploits.  She looked me straight in the eye and said: "You go to St. Jean-De.Luz, to Hotel-Du-Tourisme and tell them you are sent by me - mentioning her name, Madam De Nile, and that was it; for all the contacts I had had this one was the most important and I just knew I had to take her advice...

With this information I proceeded on my way to Ostend, looked up George but he had literally gone underground and instead I met Daniel who had just received his shoes and papers, ready to be transported to Germany...  "There is no time to lose" I said, "ÿou come with me"!

At this point, it was the goodbye's to my mother that I will remember for ever, she knew that something was in the offing and came with me to the small cross-country train which I was taking as a precaution.  The departure was very moving of course, like the soldiers going to the front in "Farewell to Arms".......

To be continued ...

Day 19 - Something was brewing in those hills!

"Once outside the zone we changed our direction and made for the French Border which passed somewhere betwen Mouscron and Hallcwyn without any trouble.  Arriving in Lille, where we made a short visit, we slept in the roomy hall of The Station and gathered as much information from travellers as we could.

There was work in Albert near Arras so we headed for there on the direct line.  On the train we got even better news about the ancient Soissons and Reims regions, they were building certain fortifications on the old ridge over there, we had to find out more, this could be important, maybe a second line or for the use of special weoponry.  It turned out to be both.  The contractors were busy engaging people when we arrived so we fell straight in there, we were installed in an old glass factory Gourcy-Aux-Loges near the crest of the hill.  Firstly, we looked after the storage of the incoming material near a bend of the river which the Germans used for swimming, we had two guards with us  all the time who looked like Austrians, more like Laurel and Hardy types.

One day we took off and hid in the straw to have a nap after investigating all the thick copper insulated wire coils we found stacked up, there was more of that than anything else to come.  Something important was brewing in those hills!

We thought the guards would soon go but they stayed longer than we expected, all this time guarding a big barrelled fire extinguisher on wheels inbetween them, we kept looking behind the bale to see them go but they didn't, after a time, annoyed and fed-up, the Laurel one kicked the barrell in some place and by accident found a valve that opened up and something spluttered all over them, in a short time they were covered in a white liquid.

The Hardy character one swearing and telling the other one off, we burst out laughing and then crept out steathily.  After us, the guards left and we had no time to set the place a light because of the soldiers entertaining themselves in the front.  They took us to be delegated helpers and didn't take the slightest notice of us at as we passed them by.  In one of those light moments we just managed to get out in time but kept in mind a chance for a later attempt, maybe night time would be better!

Soisson was a nice little town full of young girls our age looking for entertainment  and pleasure as the war was dragging along, not marriage either, more serious matters could wait.  This kept us fairly busy, the town's attractions of cinemas, dance halls and general sightseeing and roaming the wild hills nearby.

Soisson is known for the vase of the same name, where Clovis the King of Franks is supposed to have meted out a Solomon's judgement on two of his warriors who were arguing and drawing swords over the Roman Celtic booty.  He just hacked the enormous and precious vase to pieces solving the problem at once, which is to this day depicted by the statue in the village square.

I believe Joanne of D'Arc slept and passed through Soisson too, anyway, the food was still edible, good bread and madeleines for us to fill up on.  The dance halls were swinging to the sound of Tartacala the gypsy girl.

The sun shone on our trenches as we dug the windswept ridges to drop the big cables and ourselves in, after the roasting of potatoes enriched with butter or fat, cooked on a stick over open fires.

Occasionally, we dug up the bones of the old fallen soldiers from the 1914-18 War, which were cereomonially reburied by the villagers in the war graves cemetery.

Things went along like this for some time, until one day, I couldn't find George returning late from one of his escapades with the girls.  He left a note for me to say that the Gestapo was after him, he'd packed up and returned to Ostend.

I thought I had better follow without making myself too conspicuous ..."

To be continued ...

Friday, 13 January 2012

"Day 18 - The Passes were Perfect! Spring 1942!

"Otherwise we had a pleasant day in that town gathering presents and tins of biscuits unattainable at home.  Our exploits and earnings here enabled the people at home to have an extra ration for once while we were being fed here.  One of the other objects we bought was a beautiful knife with an inlaid bone handle, a spanish style flick knife, made for hand to hand fighting, which we knew we could use to defend ourselves if necessary.

I then spent time in another place south of Cherbourg named Brickebec and Quetehou.  While I was there I became ill and during my stay in the barracks with a fever I became acquainted with a secret group of Gaullists and other resistance groups doing the same as us, infiltrating and monitoring.

They talked me in to being available for operations with their cause.  Things were going our way.  They only one left with me now was Everaeart who joined them and was there when the invasion took place.  I didn't recuperate well enough and was sent home on sick leave.

As the people at home knew of my endeavours they tried to circulate news to help me find proper contacts.  I still had to physically improve my weakened condition left me feeling short of breath and coughing.  I also had my arm lanced because of infected boils.  My Mother was worried so I took it easy for the winter and continued studying at the trade school.  It was a welcome interval, we all had come to know each other again. 

There was no respite from the regular bombing which were intended for the convoys and flak guns.  Our Allies considered our position and tried for military targets only.  I gave information on all the things and installations I had seen to the monitoring teachers at school and this information found its way to England and everything was kept up to date.

Some cinema's are reopened and were showing German U.F.A. films and propoganda pieces grossly overrated.  Austrian films showing comics were not too bad.  In this way we heard of Zarah Leander who turned out to be a Russian spy in the midst of the German High Command.  We also saw Marika Rok a Hungarian dancer and cabaret star.

There was also boxing still at its peak with Karel Sys going to fight Ole, Tandberg in Sweden.  He was a Cassuis Clay style of boxer and not damaged in any way.  In fact, the whole team were excellent boxers. They would pay for their collaboration after the war with their promoter, Theo Vanhaverbeke.

I didn't hear from John anymore, I couldn't trust him too much and then one day I was watched by a blackshirt while at the doctors.  I was sure it was me that he was after, one got that feeling of being under observation.

There is little I can say about this episode except that I passed the time studying  more and one evening under the curfew, I fell into the cellar of a bombed house after leaving the cinema.  I lost consciousness for a moment and then somebody helped me out of the hole.  I had cut the side of my face open which held me up for a while.  In the interim I met two old friends George and Daniel and I asked if they would come and join me in  going to England or North Africa.  They were interested and by the Spring of 1942 we were ready for this operation to begin.

I took George on a trial run and Daniel was nowhere to be found.  George was an expect at forging passes and official stamps, we passed the coastal limit zone across Pachendael's old bridge controlled by the Germans who saluted us. The passes were perfect."

To be continued .....

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Day 17 - Tod's and Caught in the Middle Again!

"The next day John arrived and gave me a good telling off.  I told him that I had missed the train.  He than told me that my mates had told him everything...!He was responsible for me and said put it all down to experience.  The same evening we were back in the fold with the others after a hectic trip across Normandy and arrived at "Le Petite Swiss Normande.  The Tod organization was present with architects and supervisors, also with a few ramrods assisting.  It was a quasi militarised organization of drop-outs, army rejects and a few old ones.  They were dressed in light khaki uniforms.

In the morning, after John had introduced us, we were briefed and John departed to go back somewhere, Belgium?  We were taken to an open clearing at the summit of a hill.  From what I could make out it was a pyramid built tower structure with a central control and a huge screen similar to that found in a drive-in cinema but grilled and facing the seaside.  It appeared to be Radar but not quite as sophisticated as the British Radar.  Their specialists resembled air force personnel. 

The work we had to do was  jolly hard work.  The rock face was hard and difficult.  The slower we worked the less the Germans would be able to use the Radar but the ramrods and supervisors saw to it that we kept hard at work.  Moving the tiploaders tracks I found back breaking.  I seemed to get all the load to myself.

When we had finished the building and screen on the hill they took us further afield to Beaumont on the left side of the Cherbourg Peninsular, then to St. Pierre LÉglise which was in front of a large convent. I believe, that later, Pierre-Eglise was used by the Americans during the invasion as a landing sight, near to Utah Beach.  Beaumont had another Radar that was very vulnerable to straffing and attack.

One of the Tod men in charge was a typical bully ordering everybody around in the worst possible manner and we thought he was in need of a hard lesson.  One day we decided to teach the bully a lesson.  While he was picking up dirty cement bags he called us "Dirty French", he then made a huge pile of the cement bags and set light to it.  The flames went up very high and burnt the camouflage nets...  His smile quickly froze when he saw the chain reaction.
Most of us acted as though we hadn't seen anything till he started screaming fire and then he started to panic, running frantically with buckets of water until it was under control.  He then suddenly disappeared from the scene and we were never bothered again.

We also had a fearless strong man in our group called Jan.  One day, it didn't take too long for a fight to start after the German soldier's started singing, "We are sailing against England" and referred to the bombing of Coventry.  Jan was involved in the fight and got stabbed in the back by a short dagger like bayonet as he was tackling two of them at the same time.  The rest of us got rounded up by Tod's military police and transferred to "Tod's" security jail.  Jan was taken to hospital and lost a lot of blood but survived he was given sick leave and never came back.  The rest of us had a day in the cooler and afterwards we had to run behind their bicycles towards the convent a couple of miles away before we were dismissed.

On our last day, we had a shopping spree in Cherbourg.  As there was no suitable transport we took our chances and travelled partly in a french dustcart standing upright, holding our noses and then later in a picturesque little train rolling along the coast.  We finally reached Cherbourg in safety to find that a raid had been made on the beach incurring a number of casualities.  Some of the casualties were from our group who had been mistaken for Germans.  This was our lot to be caught between the various fighting factions.  An unpleasant situation inflicted on us because the German's presence was everywhere".

To be continued ...

Day 16 - Louis at the Gate to Buchenwald!

Translation of the sign on the gate means "To Each His Own" or Everybody Gets What He Deserves!

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Day 15 - Paris and Stage One!

"We were soon cosily tucked up on our train to the South-West and for Le Mans now, the landscape changing to sunnier and more pleasant countyside, not so harsh looking as the North.

As we listened to the French talking we gathered that they had had more than enough of the Boche.  Eventually, we were taken to be northern Boche with a more proud bearing.  We had another stop over at Le Mans for Cherbourg.  Long enough for another visit to town.  We had a good hearty meal in the German canteen for which John had coupons.  The meal was typical Nordic, a thick soup and a big plate of meat, potatoes and veges, with custurd pie for dessert.

We walked up the sloping avenue till we reached what looked like the central square.  It is always amazing how one can pick up exactly what one is looking for.  In this case, a biggish bistro with girls which turned out to be a brothel of course.  After ordering the wine the girls came in to join us and we had one called Suzanne Bardot.  To this day I still wonder about that connection!

There were Germans around going up and down the stairs in full force.  At the same time you could notice the French patriots everywhere talking and sitting conveniently at the tables.  Somehow, they realized that we did not come for the usual information.  That is the way it was done and we have fallen into the right place.  Suzanne told us very trustingly that every week or so an English agent came for pick-ups and took them to the coast of the Vendee or Bretagne, to be transferred from the French fishing boats to the Royal Navy trawler somehow under the nose of the Germans.

There it was the contact just like that!  On this she left and attended to other customers.  We had found what we needed.  Now, we had to lose John and stay behind and make good for a week or so.  We had no rations or passes and didn't know anybody or have much money left on us either.

It had to be done alone, a group of three or four was too compromising.  So we left the bistro deep in thought seriously pondering the whole subject.  I decided I would make a go of it somehow while strolling back to the station because time was up.

John was ready for us and at any moment the train would arrive.  Once on it the train would take me far away.  I had to look for an opportunity to stay in the station.  The locomotive came hissing and steaming in on the other track like a huge monster.  My nerves were tense and I kept to the rear of the group quickly looking everywhere.  John in the lead ran with the pack to the other tunnel to get to the other track.  I was trying to lag behind them when they all entered the tunnel.

I passed stealthily along the other side of the wall and took the stairway.  Down they all went in a rush not observing my absence in their hurry and excitement.  They climbed on the train which suddenly departed quickly in the same manner as it had arrived.  Nobody seemed to miss me and I kept a bit in the shadows out of their view.  Good bye! When the train was a good distance I have to laugh loosening the tension of my subdued fears and now in relief, I had made it to the first stage!

I could just imagine John looking all over the train compartments and starting to ask questions.  I hoped they would keep quiet for my sake. The first thing was getting my bearings here.  I started chatting to two french porters, telling them I was lost, after missing my train, which was the unvarnished truth after all.

They told me that the best thing to do was to go to the Renault works as they needed people and from there get myself established.  Well and good I walked towards the place after looking around to find it and then in the process got myself an enormous aperitif. On going back to get my few belongings I took a chance in the German canteen again. Indeed, I got myself another hearty meal but also the attention of a nosy lieutenant asking me all kinds of questions.  He tried German in my dialect but ended up talking English which we both had a working knowledge of.  From there, after excusing himself,  he somehow got to a telephone and soon I was picked up by the German police and taken to their headquarters.

I don't know if John had signalled from somewhere and somehow but they treated me well on someone's orders!  They were not yet Gestapo and I had a comfortable room but was closely watched....."

To be continued