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The Etobon Project

First Germans

At around 2 p.m., we intercepted two motorcycles. One guy on the second motorcycle was killed, and one on the first was gravely wounded. The second, disarmed, was cared for and watched over. At 4 p.m., a light tank stopped at the crossroads. The 25 mm cannon fired and the fifth shell set the tank on fire. My buddies got inside the tank and brought out the driver, who was seriously wounded in the buttocks. The other occupant escaped into a field of rye. Everything happened quickly. The wounded man was lain on the grass and bandaged up.

There’s an Alsacien named Schubert in our section who questioned the German. We learned that he was from the Panzer Division and that the enemy was numerous. Sensing resistance, Fritz remained hidden.


"This Battle Will Be Tough"

Lieutenant Cauvez decided to send for men to report to the commandant’s headquarters about the section’s difficult situation. I was designated, with no hope of returning, to inform the commandant. I left with the deputy corporal, the rifleman and the loader, towards a patch of woods 3 kilometers away. It’s about 11 p.m., and we move slowly and carefully, because we can see the flashes of grenades and tracer bullets all around us.

When we arrived to see the captain, the battalion’s commandant, we reported on our section’s difficulties. His response was to order the officer to position us in front of the woods. Since our ammunition was running low, we decided to travel by the woods. It was smarter than getting ourselves shot like rabbits.

We moved through the woods and the 234th artillery regiment officers stopped us and asked us to leave the woods with the horses and get to the first village to turn them over to the authorities. The deputy corporal had been in active service with the dragoons. He lowered the stirrups, gave me a few tips and – voilà – I was a horseman. I did the best I could. The horse didn’t throw me off. Walk, trot and gallop became my new world, even though I wondered sometimes whether the horse was over me or under me. I was never on a horse before, except for the wooden ones on the carousel at the fair. We accomplished our mission and the horses were returned safe and sound.

It’s now June 10, 1940. Since we had no more contact with the 33rd Infantry Regiment, we were put under the command of the 8th Engineers of our division. Listening to the TSF we heard General Weygand, who said, “This battle will be tough and success will be difficult.” Not a very encouraging speech during this “difficult” time. Just wait, we’ll see what the future holds.



Retreat to Châlons sur Marne

Tuesday, June 11, 1940

The officers of the 8th Engineers turned us over to the 310th Campagne Artillery Regiment. Retreat: the order was given by the 310th’s commandant to get on board a truck or bus, headed for Châlons-sur-Marne. Everyone is sheltering in the immense cellars of the Brasserie La Comète.

After that, no one was in charge of us. We had to take responsibility for ourselves. That’s what we were told.

Desperate flight

Wednesday, June 12, 1940

There are a thousand bicycles in front of the Brasserie. We asked the advice of some MPs, who told us each to take a bicycle and try to get to the south, meaning the Mediterranean, in the hope of getting out via Corsica or Algeria or another colony.

We left Châlons-sur-Marne that same morning, traveling via Thibié and arriving in La Fère-Champenoise on the morning of Thursday the 13th. There was an intense bombardment by Stukas that were dropping bombs one after the other.

After the assault, we rested there. Large numbers of civilians were leaving. It’s a desperate flight and the beginning of a huge mess. There’s disorganization, fear, a human flood. We’re waiting for tomorrow. What will it bring?



Thursday, June 13, 1940

We were able to make contact with the army again. We found some officers to command us. We found parts of the 11th infantry reconnaissance group of our division, who are in trucks. We talked with the guys. Lucky. There are two men from the same village as the deputy corporal, Charles Poix, from Beuvry les Béthune. One guy’s from Denain, Maurice Larivière. Once the preparations had been made, we abandoned our (stolen) bikes and got into the covered Diamond-Studebaker trucks, with our new friends, towing a field kitchen. No shortage of food on board. Finally among other Northerners. The highest-ranking officer among us is a chief corporal, “Bibi” – it’s Alfred!

At random, we decided to go towards Mailly because the roads were full of evacuees. On the way, we picked up a grandma and her granddaughter (4 or 5 years old) who need to get to Angoulême. That’s not exactly next door. We brought them on board and promised to drop them off as close as we could to the capital of the Charente.

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