About the 10th of May we performed a major redeployment lasting a day and a night and arrived in the small hours, exhausted, at a very beautiful German village close by a magnificent lake [ The Ammersee ]. In the neighbourhood we found a hospital with German military casualties.
We should never have gone to Dachau Concentration Camp. Seeing Dachau was a disgusting experience. Since my tank driver Jean Brissé knew his father to be held there we 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. For many years after I found the recollection of it unbearable. [Brissé received 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! Confirmation of his fathers fate]
We re-entered France, but I became unwell, losing both physical strength and mental will. I have always thought that this was a reaction to all we had suffered and endured. It was at this time I was asked to volunteer for Indo-China. I had no more will to fight.
At the time of our demobilization the 30 to 40 of us remaining of the 120 FFL of those earliest days who were still with the company contributed the necessary sum to make up a final meal together before returning home. Not all those absent were dead, several having been terribly burned or wounded. Not one of those fine and dear comrades who joined at Sabratha and who went through so much with us was invited, not even Captain De Witasse, who did us the honour of visiting us at the end of our meal and speaking to us warmly. It was inevitable that that which had been forged first should emerge again last, and that we should meet once more in that spirit putting all else aside. Of our officers none could be there. Of our NCOs I saw only Henri Moulé because Adjudant Raveleau had his feet frozen at Grussenheim and hadn't returned. The atmosphere in that little French restaurant, served by French girls, was fine until the moment when toward the end of the meal a comrade asked for silence for our chums who were no longer with us. We had only been little boys of 17 to 20 years age in 1940/41 and in that moment all the misery of losing such fine friends took hold of us. Silence for minutes was impossible, there were muffled sobs and I felt the tears running down my cheeks. In such a circumstance maintaining silence was unbearable and a comrade began singing a marching song and little by little we joined in and it passed like that. It wasn't a very pretty song, the words were very filthy, but without it our sorrow would have overwhelmed us. There seemed no other solution, yet I have always wondered what the ladies who were serving us thought of us. I hope they understood! Towards the end of the meal Captain de Witasse, who gave us the finest example of bravery and fidelity, came and rejoined us and we passed our last half hour as "Tankers" with him. He then thanked us and this was a great moment for all of us.
Afterwards I went out into the vehicle park and took myself over to Montmirail where I passed 2 or 3 hours at my post as driver going over a heap of memories, re-living some moments with Lieutenant Michard. I didn't leave her until the lorries came to take us away.
I said goodbye to my comrades. My little Parisien was waiting for me at Sainte Lazarre Station. She accompanied me to Rouen to stay with my uncle. There was no engagement or request for marriage, yet I knew this was for always and I asked Odette to come join me in England when I had got the necessary papers.
Arriving at Dover, I began tackling the obstacles. There was I, in French military uniform with papers not in order. England was never welcoming if your papers were not correct. I was unable to go to my train, meanwhile my family were waiting for me at Victoria Station in London. My father, who had never minced his words, made a little noise and I was allowed to go home on condition I report to the authorities. I went back to the British airline that had guaranteed me my job when war was declared. Odette came and rejoined me. We were married on the 10th October 1945 and this, for me, was the perfect ending.
My most profound memory and that which I recall most often is of Lieutenant Michard. I remain proud of England, my country, however I hold a very deep affection for France and the decision I took in 1940 was the finest of my life.
When I returned home in 1945 I had nothing but the Croix de Guerre, given me by General Leclerc and some words of thanks from Captain de Witasse. That was Perfect! Of all the awards I have received in my life, that which has given me greatest pleasure was the thanks received from General de Gaulle on the 17th September 1945.
Please accept my apologies for any gaps or imperfections in my account. Nevertheless I wanted to write some words in honour of the 2ème Compagnie Autonome de Chars de la France Libre and of the 2ème Compagnie de chars of the 501ème RCC.
My thanks to you, my Captains !
Pilot of tank AUVERGNE in Africa for Lieutenant MICHARD
Pilot of tank MONTMIRAIL in Europe for Lieutenant MICHARD
Commander of tank IENA II, from March to May 1945
Grade : Sergeant
Engaged as volunteer 1160 in the Forces Françaises Libres, London, February 1941.