The following "Diary" is a brief summary of Gaston's journey through the war that he wrote specially for me in about 1990. The set of other web pages are compiled from a seperateley written pile of notes giving his detailed reminiscences of those times (sadly with some gaps).
Gaston Eve as a new recruit, May 1941.
Two African women and a man: Jos Nigeria, 1942.
The Emir of Kano attends celebrations at the end of Ramadan 1941.
Gaston Eve driving Stuart light tank M3A1 Picardie.
Gaston Eve at the Sphynx, Cairo.
"Beirut. Almost all women wore a veil."
Fitting a new tank track segment.
Louis Michard on right. Paris 25 August 1944, stood for a free haircut.
18th JUNE 1940.
General De Gaulle calls for volunteers to fight for France and is tried in his absence and condemned to death for disobeying the French governments armistice with Germany. All volunteers are simultaneously declared traitors. The British government guarantees all Free French volunteers British nationality in the event of the war being lost [If Britain had lost it would have been unable to protect its "rebel" friends].
It seems a lost cause. Britain is on its own with its far-flung colonies. Germany and the USSR having both fought and defeated Poland share out that country between them and sign a non-aggression pact. All Europe is swallowed up. Britain has virtually no arms, all having been left in France when French and British armies were defeated in May and June 1940.
To its eternal glory Britain decides to fight on and to their eternal glory too, some 2600 men and women volunteer for the Free French forces. A Polish division formed in France from Polish citizens resident there is in our country having been evacuated on the Batori, mostly from St Jean De Luz on the Mediterranean coast. They decide to fight on, as do other foreign nationals here in small numbers.
30th OCTOBER 1940.
General De Gaulle calls for a second Free French tank company to be formed. The First Tank Company is already in Africa. Later a third tank company was formed and these three companies became the 501st Tank Regiment ( 501ème Regiment de Chars de Combat, 501 RCC ) in 1943. During the campaign in Europe a Fourth Company [Of Stuart or "Honey" light tanks] was added to 501 RCC.
16th NOVEMBER 1940.
Lieutenant Georges Ratard appointed company commander having recovered from wounds sustained during the fighting in France in June 1940. He had spent five months in hospital.
27th JANUARY 1941.
Gaston Eve goes to the Free French HQ at Carlton Gardens in London and with four other volunteers is sent to Old Dean Camp in Camberley which is the Free French camp. The company has no tanks as is the case for many British units and the first months are spent in much physical training and learning to drive motor cycles, vans, lorries and two small tracked and armoured vehicles which were the remains of the campaign in Norway where the Germans defeated British and French divisions, Polish troops and the Norwegian army.
28th AUGUST 1941.
In the previous weeks we had all had our teeth attended to, had inoculations and been medically examined for fitness to serve overseas. We were issued with the British colonial uniform, shorts, shirts and Australian hat. Also we had a mosquito net. On the 28/08/41 we were put in trains which took us to Liverpool where we embarked on the Northumberland a very substantial former meat carrying ship. There were about 3000 on board of whom 128 were of Second Tank Company and about 300 Free French infantry.
30th AUGUST 1941.
We sailed from Liverpool with no pomp or ceremony of any kind and watched the quay slip away without so much as one person to wave good-bye to. As we left Liverpool harbour, ships which had come from other ports as well as Liverpool fitted into the convoy. It was a very impressive and orderly assembly while the whole convoy was on the move and at that time everyone was on the decks. My recollection is that the convoy, which as it turned out was of 80 ships, was formed into four columns precisely separated from each other by what I estimate to have been 600 yards. There was about 400 yards between each cargo ship in each column. This was done to avoid too thick a target for German submarines. The speed of the convoy was set to that of the slowest ship.
On the outskirts of the convoy could be seen some battleships, cruisers and destroyers. There were to be a number of emergencies for which all aboard the Northumberland had trained for two days before sailing out so as to achieve an orderly and precise evacuation to the lifeboat or raft to which we had been allocated . These emergencies were notified to all on board by the noisiest klaxon imaginable, day and night. The klaxon went during the whole time of the emergency. When they sounded everyone had to leave everything behind and go on deck whether it was a submarine or aircraft alert. We never took off our clothes other than for seawater showers. At night we had to sleep fully clothed and our boots had to be tied round our neck by linking each boot with the laces. Nothing else was allowed.
Each company on board was allocated one small area in which we ate, sat and slept. The meat hooks which had been left in position on all the ceilings were used to sling our hammocks at night when the whole area was covered with them. In an emergency destroyers and cruisers would go at top speed through the convoy, their own klaxons blaring, so as to reach the point where the danger lay. Seen from the deck where all we could be was spectators, it was a most impressive sight. It was all a tremendous experience. The whole of the cargo ships carried troops and equipment of all kinds destined for Africa where the first crucial battles for survival were taking place in Libya against the Italians. The prizes being the Middle East's oil and the Suez Canal.
29th SEPTEMBER 1941.
We had to go as far away from the French Atlantic coast as possible as it was in the hands of the German navy and air force. After a month at sea we saw some lovely greenery on the horizon and it was Sierra Leone, Free Town to be exact. The whole convoy stopped outside the harbour under the protection of our battleships, cruisers and destroyers. We stopped about two days for supplies of all kinds particularly food. The African coast looked lovely after the continual grey of the sea. Some of the troops disembarked there and shortly after the Northumberland, escorted by what seemed to be a cruiser, set off for what we knew was to be our disembarkation port.
2nd OCTOBER 1941.
The Free French contingent disembarked at Pointe Noire which was a port in French Equatorial Africa which had rallied to General De Gaulle when its governor Eboue answered the call. We were put in a camp to await further transport.
31st OCTOBER 1941.
We left Pointe Noire for Brazzaville which was the main HQ in Africa for the Free French. The journey was made on one of those lovely African trains without windows and with a balcony to front and back. It was a lovely journey among lovely friendly African people who all had a smile to exchange with us. The Africa of 1941 was not what it is now. It was very primitive with African villages and no substantial buildings apart from at a few places like Brazzaville. The African wore no clothes other than to hide his penis. The African woman only covered the same area too. What was really nice was that it was all accepted by the African as a perfectly normal state of affairs as part of the normal routine of life. We fitted into it perfectly well after the original shock. Fifty years on it is funny to think that in our country bosoms create such an attraction.
2nd NOVEMBER 1941.
We arrived at Brazzaville and were taken to the Camp Colona D'Ornano named after one of the first Free French officers killed in the Tibesti Desert of Libya by the Italians in August 1940. We all had a further medical examination and medical help where necessary. Our Australian hats were replaced with French colonial hats which afforded better protection from the sun. We kept our British colonial uniforms. We knew then that we were intended to serve in Chad, an enormous distance away. I took the opportunity to visit Leopoldville as it was then called, by going across the substantial width of the River Congo by boat. I found the Congolese to be a very well built and very able race. We ate a lot of fruit there and bought bananas in whole branches. I also ate my first avocados. The nights were very quiet, with African music from surrounding villages, which was very repetitive but nice and of course drums. Throughout the whole of our journey from Pointe Noire to Chad we heard as we went along, deep sounding drums by which Africans communicated along the line of our passage.
14th NOVEMBER 1941.
We left Brazzaville on La Fondere a lovely paddle steamer of bygone days to which were attached two barges carrying our trucks and lorries as part of all the other equipment which left Brazzaville for Chad. The paddle steamer stopped occasionally to take on wood for its furnaces and this was always a lovely happy occasion with Africans milling around and accepting the most trivial presents with great joy. I have kept a precious memory of those lovely people who had nothing whatever but were happy and smiling. After a week on the River Congo [ Actually 12 days ] we arrived at Bangui on the Oubangui Chari River and disembarked from the lovely steamer with some regret. It turned out to be our last bit of luxury for two and a half years.
28th NOVEMBER 1941.
We drove away from Bangui with the trucks and lorries from the barges, which we were due to deliver in Chad. Bangui was a good sized town almost entirely made up of African huts. It had a lot of wildlife and even lions around its outskirts. We never shot any wild animals other than occasionally for the necessity of eating meat, antelope mostly and occasionally wild pig.
7th DECEMBER 1941.
We arrived at Fort Archambault ten days later having travelled the considerable distance from Bangui in an eternal cloud of dust as there were no roads, only tracks. Inhabited villages were few and far between, the deciding factor being water. Stopping in an African village was always nice. Our mosquito nets made life bearable at night. The nights, especially in mountain areas were bitterly cold and we always slept with a cloth wrapped around our tummy and lower back so as not to catch a tummy cold, which could be nasty and dangerous. At Fort Archambault I was one of ten of us, with one officer who stayed behind. Fort Archambault was a military town with a mix of Africans. It was a good sized place by the standards of those days.
We kept about 10 lorries as we were intended to go to Mongo a very substantial African village some 600 miles away to recruit African troops who were to be our infantry. Mongo was near the Sudan border and the journey was quite an experience. No roads of course, only tracks. On the way we stopped at a village called Melphi for two days, as the village housed the local French Governor for the region. It was a lovely place with moderate hills nearby. He had a gramophone which we enjoyed listening to as European music was non-existent. He also gave us some lovely food prepared by his cooks. It was like being in a dream world for a short time. He was not married but his companion was a most beautiful African woman from the Cameroon where were seen the most beautiful faces and pale skins among women of that region. I hope he married her when his term of office came to an end and he went back to France. Life being what it has always been, I doubt it.
The journey to Mongo took about ten days and we arrived in the evening. The village chief was called by the officer in charge and told to assemble his men in the village square next morning. It was just a matter of offering the right price. He'd line up several hundred, they were lined up naked. Some revealed the most horrible diseases when they stripped. The officer went along pointing at the ones he wanted to take. They were immediately put in the lorries. Within twenty minutes the lorries were full and we drove away. There were no goodbyes. Women and children wailed and cried round the lorries. It was a dreadful and cruel experience. I hope they survived the war and got back to Mongo. I spent my twentieth birthday at Fort Archambault where the ten of us lived in a hut made of leaves on bracken. We made up a meal of sweet potatoes and the little we had in variety of food which included a large tin of apricots which we had held onto for weeks and two bottles of red wine. We had this in the evening, after six pm when it was dark and the light was from two candles, which were not really needed as there was a lovely moonlight.
20th JANUARY 1942.
We left Fort Archambault with our Senegalese soldiers for Fort Lamy in Chad. Fort Lamy is now N'djamena. We ferried the lorries we had brought with us from Bangui to Faya Largeau near the southern Libyan frontier in the Tibesti Desert. In this area was being assembled the small Free French group which was destined to go across that dreadful desert to Tripoli and to link with the Eighth Army. It was by any military standards an epic and awful journey of which nothing has ever been said other than to acknowledge it. While in the area I met up with the Long Range Desert Patrol which was made up in this case of New Zealanders and Englishmen who travelled thousands of miles across merciless deserts to raise havoc to the Germans rear in Libya. It was one of those rare occasions when I acted as interpreter.
11th FEBRUARY 1942.
We left Fort Lamy for Kano in Nigeria where we knew the rest of the tank company was. The journey was very long and as always, on tracks. We had no transport of our own as all the equipment had to stay in the Fort Lamy area. We were taken to Kano by Nigerian lorry drivers who carried supplies between Kano and Fort Lamy and we made this very long journey sitting on the supplies heaped in the back. By then we were immune to misery, personal discomfort and suffering from such long journeys in an eternal desert. When we arrived in Kano we finally met up again with all the friends who meant so much to us.We were fated to stay in Nigeria for a year with British and Belgian Congo troops who were stationed there in case of attack from Vichy troops from Dakar, Niger and other French colonies.
We were often on the move in the whole of Nigeria over large distances and our General Stuart tanks stood up to it well although they were tanks with aeroplane engines which, when clapped out, had to be replaced. We knew that Vichy troops were at Zinder near the Nigerian frontier and at one time our company commander Captain Ratard got General Leclerc's permission to send Lieutenant De La Bourdonnaye and Adjutant Raveleau to speak to them as between Frenchmen to ask them to join us to fight the Italians and Germans, but they were insulted and sent packing. They were lucky to be allowed to leave Zinder and come back with the message that, if ever our tanks came there they would be received by anti-tank guns !
12th FEBRUARY 1943.
We left Nigeria heading for Egypt and Libya to be reunited with our companions of 1940/41 who were in the various small French units with the 8th Army including the 1st Tank Company which had left Camberley a year before us. To accomplish this journey we went first to Kaduna where there was a US Air Force base and stayed overnight at the airfield as we were due to take off at about 3.30 am. The Americans laid on a truly wonderful American breakfast for us at about 3.00 am. There was every kind of food imaginable which alas, we were unable to eat having been used for two years to the barest of diets. So virtually all the food stayed where it was apart from coffee, bread, butter and rolls. The Americans must have been shocked to have given so much time to preparing such a sumptuous breakfast for us and to have it almost totally ignored. Alas it was all part of the harsh life we had lived in the desert for so long where we were used to the barest minimum. We took off in American Dakotas which had been prepared for parachute drops with a bench along each side of the aircraft.
From Kaduna we went to El Obeid in or near the Sudan where after something like seven hours we landed for refuelling and a snack. El Obeid was a tiny African village with a grass runway and a hut. It was nice to stop there. We then went on to El Fasher which I think is in the Sudan. This was a shorter flight and was our flight terminus. We did not stop in El Fasher and were put in lorries which took us to the end of the railway line from Khartoum where, in the superb organisation of the whole journey, a train of sorts awaited us. It was made up of very old trucks and a small but powerful steam engine. The heat in the whole area was terrific and we lived on the barest minimum. The train journey across yet another desert was like all other such journeys, very tiring but by that time it meant nothing to us. Nor did we have any idea of what the outcome of all we had experienced would be. The one thing we had was a tremendous comradeship and faith in ourselves.
We reached Khartoum a truly big town and the train was met by another lot of lorries which took us to a British camp, the first one we had been in so far. It was made up entirely of tents and had no amenities. It had the very great disadvantage of being infested with sand flies which bit us cruelly. It was all part of life. I had spent a week in Kano hospital with dysentery which I caught the day after we landed in Pointe Noire in October 1941. I had to get medical help in Khartoum and an English doctor sent me to hospital. I only stayed there five days as a friend came to tell me the company was leaving the following day. I knew there would be enormous difficulty rejoining if I stayed behind.
26th FEBRUARY 1943.
We left Khartoum by paddle steamer on a lovely journey on the Nile. It was another lovely experience and I remember at one stage seeing on the riverside the most beautiful monuments of the Egypt of bygone days, and at another time some black mountains. Part of the journey was made by a train of that period and another boat which took us to Aswan. After that it was a train to Cairo at the end of yet another non stop journey. By then we could sleep anywhere and anyhow ! I was by then a long way from the lovely feather bed I left at 20 Wandleside Wallington.
10th MARCH 1943.
On arriving at Cairo we were taken to Mena Camp which was in the sand near the Pyramids and 7 or 800 yards from the Sphynx. We continued to live in tents and became the 2nd Tank Company of the 2nd Free French Armoured Division. [ Properly known as Deuxième Division Blindé, 2ème DB ]. By then I was a bag of bones and my dysentery troubled me. I had never given up since landing in Africa in October 1941 but the chips were really down. I could not keep my food down. An English doctor at Mena Camp sent me to Cairo Hospital which was French and staffed by nuns. After about three weeks I came out but a few mornings later when I woke up in the morning and tried to speak my voice had completely gone and I produced no sound of any kind. So it was back to Cairo Hospital where nothing could be done for me. I was told I would have to go to Beirut to see a specialist and I was given a travel warrant Cairo - Beirut. I was quite well and reasonably strong but could say nothing. I went to Cairo Station and saw the British Railway Transport Officer and got on a train through Palestine to Lebanon. A very long and through Palestine a very cold journey.
17th APRIL 1943.
I arrived at Beirut having travelled through Lebanon, a very beautiful land. Much of the journey was along the coast. When I first saw Beirut it was the most beautiful city I had ever seen. I went to the hospital and saw a French army doctor, a Colonel, who told me that I had a paralysis of my vocal chords. He said my only chance of speaking again was rest for several months, three good meals a day, wine with each meal and an aperitif for lunch and supper. I thought this a marvellous treatment even though by then I was still a very moderate drinker. I was sent to the Free French convalescence home at Sofar in the mountains outside Beirut and met there one or two old friends of Camberley days who had been wounded and some Legionnaires also in need of rest. I met two Legionnaires there. One was a little unbalanced due to his war experience and drank Arak and Pernod neat! The other was a Legion Sargeant I became good friends with. He too was from Normandy and was one of those stockily built men of that region. He was a modest and on the whole sober man. We went out together two or three times until he was fit enough to go back to the Legion. Like all Legionnaires of that period when he went out he wore all his medals in full. He had quite a few medals! We were fated to link up with his brigade (13ème Demi Brigade, Legion Etranger) in our last battle at Grussenheim in Alsace. I asked for him but alas he was no longer there having been killed in Italy with the First Free French Division. After about two and a half months I began to make a noise and then a croak and when I saw the specialist he told me that I would speak again. A month later I was speaking reasonably well and I got my discharge and a travel warrant Beirut - Cairo . I made this very long journey much looking forward to seeing my friends again. By then I knew that the company had left Egypt for Libya and was near Tripoli and that I was in for a really huge journey from Beirut to Tripoli.
1st JULY 1943.
Having arrived at Mena Camp I stayed a few days to rest. I got a warrant for travel from Cairo to Tripoli which involved train, lorry and boat travel. It was quite a journey.
9th JULY 1943.
I travelled to Tripoli [ By boat from Alexandria to Tripoli port ] with troops from British, New Zealand, Polish and Free French regiments who like me were rejoining their units. We were a very mixed group. On the journey we had with us about 20 Free French natives of Tahiti, a lovely cheerful group of men, who sang us the most beautiful Polynesian songs. I was never to meet them again as they did their fighting in Italy. They are a lovely memory. I hope they went home to their loved ones. From Tripoli I and a few other Free French went by lorry to Sabratha which was a small desert oasis some 5 miles from the sea. I had the great pleasure of meeting the crew and all my friends once again. The Free French had finished up the war in Africa in Tunisia where the Germans and Italians were finally defeated. But the authorities in Algeria, Morroco and Tunisia were Vichy French. General De Gaulle had been condemned to death by Vichy in 1940 and his volunteers condemned as traitors with an unspecified sentence. The British government had guaranteed the Free French British nationality in 1940, in the event of the war being lost. The Vichy authorities in keeping with our experience at Zinder where our delegates were insulted, told the Free French to get into their lorries or whatever and get out of French North Africa. The Polish, British, Australian, New Zealand, South African, Indian, American and other troops were allowed to stay. It was a very bad experience to be rejected in this way! At Sabratha we had to be fed by the 8th Army as the Vichy authorities had washed their hands of us. We stayed for four months in this desolate desert until General De Gaulle got the upper hand and we were allowed to enter French North Africa.
28th AUGUST 1943.
The company left its Crusader tanks at Sabratha and embarked in lorries for Gabes in Tunisia from where we were to take a train all along the North African coast to Casablanca where our new Sherman tanks awaited us. The whole train journey was made in cattle trucks but at least we could lie down in them. It was good to eat the lovely grapes which we could buy in North Africa. Better still to turn on a water tap at various stops.
9th SEPTEMBER 1943.
Arrived at Casablanca having stopped two days in Algiers. [While in Casablanca dad saw a charity premiere of the new Humphrey Bogart film, Casablanca. The money raised was he thinks used for French invalids and war widows. He has the programme.] We put our 17 Sherman tanks in working order and went back to Rabat where the 2nd French Armoured Division was being formed out of some Free French and some Vichy troops, as on our own we were too few to form a division. Much of the time was spent in divisional training. We lost our Senegalese troops who were not destined to campaign in Normandy.
11th APRIL 1944.
Left Casablanca by American liberty ship with our tanks in the holds and arrived at Port Talbot from where we drove our tanks to Huggate in Yorkshire to become part of the American 3rd Army. Shortly before going to France I was allowed 7 days leave to go home. I managed the journey in very crowded trains as far as London, where air raids were still on and was lucky to catch the last train to Hackbridge. I had been unable to warn I was coming and the house was in darkness, as it was past midnight. When I had left home in January 1941 I had taken a front door key with me, which I had carried all the time on a chain around my neck. It was fortunate as my parents, being very deaf, did not hear my knock and my little brother Ray was fast asleep. So almost three years after having seen my mother and father I opened the door, walked up to their bedroom and gave them what turned out to be a considerable shock by waking them up. I should have waited until the morning and slept in my bed which was still there but it never crossed my mind.
23rd JULY 1944.
Sent from Yorkshire to Bournemouth with our tanks on trains.
31st JULY 1944.
Went from Bournemouth to Portland where our tank loaded onto an LST (Landing Ship Tank) and in the evening departed for Normandy
1st AUGUST 1944.
Landed at about 5:00 AM near St Mère Eglise or St Marie Du Mont, I am not sure which. [The records shows they landed at Utah Beach, driving inland through St Mère Eglise.]
23rd AUGUST 1944.
Left Argentan in Normandy after the campaign there. We took our tanks non stop, apart from occasional engagements, to Paris.
24th AUGUST 1944.
At 9:20 pm arrived at the Place De L'Hôtel De Ville in Paris. There were three tanks Romilly, Montmirail, Champaubert and a company of infantry, the 9th Company, Regiment De Marche Du Tchad (RMT) [The company was nicknamed La Nueva]. Strange to say the 9th Company was almost entirely made up of Spanish Republicans who in 1940 had volunteered for the Free French Forces!
8th SEPTEMBER 1944.
Left Paris where I had met your mum at the Place De La Sorbonne on the 25/08/44. We went to Eastern France, Alsace, Lorraine with the American 3rd Army and American 7th Army where we were involved in intense fighting as had been the case in Normandy.
1st JANUARY 1945.
Sent to Lorraine as part of the Ardennes campaign. [ During this phase of the campaign they were attacked several times by units of "American" tanks, actualy captured US armour in use by dishonourable German troops. His notes on this are lost.]
19th JANUARY 1945.
Sent back to Alsace the Ardennes having been cleared.
28th JANUARY 1945.
Attacked Grussenheim with only 7 of our 17 tanks left. Within two hours we had only five tanks left. Of the five remaining crews two tank commanders, Lt. Louis Michard and Lt. Geoffroy De La Bourdonnaye, who had been sent to Zinder, were killed. A third tank officer was wounded as was Sgt Tank Commander Raveleau. Three crew members were killed by machine gun fire as they escaped from their burning tank.
30th JANUARY 1945.
Sent to central France. We were no longer a coherent company. Reformed with new recruits.
[ NOTE: At this point there is a fairly substantial bit of Gaston's story missing. Emile Fray has told me that they were sent to a military base, Camp D'Avord in Bourges. There they were given new recruits to train up as replacements for the casualties. Dad told me (but my memory is unclear on this) that he was on guard duty of some kind. Somehow he was near a petrol dump when it exploded causing him a new lot of burns on 9th April 1945. ]
24th APRIL 1945.
Sent to Germany by which time I was commander of Iéna 2. We crossed the Rhine at Benheim near Selts in the Basrhin and then went through Germany via Rastatt, Karlsruhe and Heilbronn. We crossed the Danube at Dillingen.
4th MAY 1945.
Then it was on to Berchtesgaden. In the goods yard there we found Goering's armoured train which we visited. It was totally intact and had everything inside; bedrooms, living room, kitchen, restaurant, conference room, bathroom, toilet and a very fine cellar. We left it all intact. It was then my eternal good fortune to have my tank and the Ulm sent up to the Obersalzberg where Hitler had his official and private residences. The Ulm never got there being stopped in a skirmish on the way and mine was the only tank of all the allied armies to stop its engines outside the main entrance to Hitler's official residence. By then it was about the 5th of May 1945 and on the 8th of May I heard on the tank radio that the war was over.
On the Obersalzberg Hitler's official residence had been demolished by the RAF a few weeks before we got there. It was an eerie experience when the few of us, my crew and a few infantry wandered through it and in its cellars. Behind the residence was the Platterhof Hotel where all his guests and delegations stayed. We had the duty to see that no one was in there and we went through its many rooms of all kinds. The restaurant and kitchens were very tidy but all the bedrooms had been slept in up to shortly before we arrived. They had obviously been vacated at short notice with items of clothing left around and chamber pots of urine left under the beds. Walking through the hotel, which was totally empty, was a strange experience. There was no food of any kind in the hotel, not so much as a biscuit. We went underneath it in its cellars and there found a superb cellar full of all kinds of alcohol, liqueurs, champagne and of course French wine. We had no right to take anything but after a four and a half year journey and no one but ourselves around we helped ourselves and empty shell cases in the tank became containers for champagne bottles and wines and we drank modestly until our demobilisation in July 1945.
Further up the hill from Hitler's official residence was what was called the Eagle's Nest, his private residence. There again we were the first to get there and we found a lovely house with beautifully tended gardens and fully furnished. It was totally intact and had been totally respected by the German people in the surrounding area and the German troops who had left there before we arrived. All doors were locked and we were not satisfied to look inside through its windows. We smashed a window to get in and had the extraordinary experience of walking through all its beautifully furnished rooms. It had many valuables and some lovely cabinets where were displayed inscribed gold watches presented to Hitler by the German people and many other items. I don't know what happened to its contents after we were relieved on the 12th May 1945 but the crew and I left everything as it was except for one oil painting of Hitler which we took off one of the walls. We put it on the front of the tank, one of the crew lit a cigarette, burnt a hole through Hitler's mouth and reversed the cigarette so he was smoking it. Despite all that we had suffered, all the dreadful experiences, it was our only act of vandalism if it can be called that!
It had all been a very cruel experience, including going to Dachau Concentration Camp since my tank driver knew his father to be held there. We should never have gone to Dachau. My tank driver Jean Brissé and I inquired from the inmates, by then in a dreadful condition, about his father and those who had known him told us he had died two or three weeks before of typhus. Seeing Dachau was an appalling experience, and for many years after I found the recollection of it unbearable.
[Brissé recieved a letter from his mother while at the Obersalzberg. It informed him that his father had been deported to Dachau, a tremendous shock amidst all the celebration. He was a mere 80km away! Upon their being relieved at the Obersalzberg Gaston and Jean went together by jeep to see if he could be rescued. They were too late, he had died. To add to the anguish two of his fathers rings were found and returned to Brissé ! Dreadful confirmation of his fathers fate]
The war over we were sent back to France and having volunteered for the duration of the war plus three months we were demobilised in July. Before parting, those of us who had been among the 128 who had left Liverpool in 1941 and were the original volunteers had one last meal together. Present were between 30 and 40 of us. Some of us had been wounded once or twice. Not all those absent were dead since in the savagery of tank warfare many were terribly wounded or burnt.
Very few of us were able to come back after wounds but I was one of the very few who could do so after five weeks in hospital. I was wounded on the 1/10/44 and again on the 9/04/45, when I suffered burns when we were sent back to the Atlantic coast, where a large number of Germans had stayed being unable to escape.
Of the 15 crew members who arrived in Paris at 9:20 pm on the 24/08/44 one was killed on 25/08/44, four on 2/10/44, two on 15/11/44 and last of all my tank commander Lieutenant Louis Michard on the 28/01/45. The fifteen of us had the eternal glory of being the first into the capital of the country we had decided to fight for when all was lost. It would have been lovely to all be there at the end of the war but alas there was never any hope.
Thank you for ever being mindful of what people like me did and had to do when Germany decided to conquer Europe and savaged the Jewish people, but my father Walter Edward Eve came home in 1918 and Gaston Edward Eve came home in 1945. Two very lucky men.