Contemporary witnesses of the end of the war in Nord-Médoc



Along the coast of the Médoc, one can now hardly take in, 70 years after the end of the second world war, the traces of its fateful past. It has almost vanished from the collective memory: while the older generation remembers the war and its consequences, the young are more interested in planning for their future. Those who lived through the war when they were children, are today a valuable source of evidence of the history of the Médoc for the younger generation, for there are few surviving documents relating to this period.

“More than 80 people came to attend the conference-debate: «The Point of the Médoc at the end of the Second World War", an event organized by the associations Baurein for knowledge of the Médoc, and Médoc Actif. Karin Scherf, who hosted the conference, is an editor for a German television channel. After the death of her father, she found letters he had written during his captivity at the Point of the Médoc, letters that formed the basis for her presentation. About ten Médocains and Médocaines, who lived through this period, came to share some of their memories. Their main topic of choice, and the one most frequently raised, was the evacuation of Northern Medoc, of the elderly, women and children, in order to avoid civilian casualties during the fighting. This exodus was completed on foot, in early September 1945 to Queyrac which was in the liberated area.” Georges Rigal iN Sud-Ouest 12 October 2016)

Contemporary witnesses:

Zeitzeugen Jean-Jacques Corsan Mimi Lanaud Jean-Paul Lescorce Roger Armagnac
Huguette Mothes Raymond Drouet Roger Dillemann Françoise Chaussade Jean-René Lacoste
click on the photos to read...

Maryse Calbet (Gaillan) / Elke Schwichtenberg (Saint-Vivien)
Jacqueline Tabuteau (Bordeaux) / Christian Büttner (Saint-Vivien), translation: Christopher Murray

Jean-Jacques Corsan (Soulac)

This period is one that impacted many lives. And in a few words, I would say, that while my father endured 5 years as a prisoner of war in Germany, in Cologne, he was subsequently, in 1945, sent to Le Verdon both to be a guard - the roles were reversed -, and then as a mine clearer. And so perhaps he came across the father of Mme Scherf.

And then there is one other thing in common between my father and her father – which I would like to say, is this – that is that they never told us anything about this time. They both effectively put the lid on the war years, and they turned to the future, hoping that the future would be Europe, and peace. And what they lived through after was something that was essential, and that's what I personally feel now, in my public life, that we absolutely need to make sure we live in peace.

transcription: Jacqueline Tabuteau; translation: Christopher Murray
Mimi Landau (Grayan et L'Hôpital

I have memories of the period from 1939 to 45, because we were after all at Grayan, and were very much among the Germans, because it was a German stronghold and I lived with my parents next to the German HQ.

There were only officers. We never had anything to say to them although they were always very pleasant; of course it was the period of the curfew with all its constraints, we just had to put up with it. And they often give us food which was very important. But the worst period for me was in 42, because they closed the school at Grayan, and we had to go Talais, or St Vivien, or Vensac, all of which were at some distance, without shoes, without a warm coat or anything like that, so I left for St Seurin de Cadourne to my father's sister’s house, and I spent the rest of the war at school at St Seurin, and came to Grayan only for the holidays. My sister and I were evacuated because at Grayan all children and the elderly were evacuated in early September 1944. The bridges had already been blown up, since on the other side, the Medoc had already been liberated and we walked across the boards of the bridge of the Gua. From the bridge of the Gua, we went to neighbours at Queyrac, they lived at Queyrac, and then we walked from Queyrac to St Seurin de Cadourne, and after that I didn’t move from my chair for 2 days, not being able to walk, because we had walked so many kilometres to get there.

Then, I came back to Grayan in 1945 and so these are my memories of this period which were sad for me, because I didn't have my parents with me..

transcription: Jacqueline Tabuteau; translation: Christopher Murray
Jean-Paul Lescorce (Soulac)

On June 26, 1940, the first German troops arrived at Le Verdon. They had requisitioned the trans-Gironde ferry " Le Cordouan" On the 27th, they arrived at Soulac. At the time, I was 3 years old, and I still have memories. My father was walking me down the street, and suddenly we saw motorcycles, sidecars, .men in helmets with their rifles slung across their backs: these were the first troops we saw. My father was white with fear, and he told me later. "That day", he said, "I'll remember for the rest of my life."

So they asked my father for gasoline to refuel the motorcycles. My father indicated the direction with his hand, and then my parents’ café was requisitioned as were all such businesses along the coast of the Médoc.

So as a witness of this period as a child, up to the age of 7 years, I saw the soldiers of the Kriegsmarine, Wehrmacht reserve officers, who had nothing to do with the SS. Of course there were no Jews at Soulac, nor at Le Verdon, so we were more or less left in peace. So, every night a German soldier with his accordion, a musician, would come entertain these gentlemen, as well as the Soulacais, as the resident North-Medocains came to drink and continued to do so despite the occupation, and exchanged pleasantries with senior officers of the Kriegsmarine; they played cards together, and in the end, they lived together.

Then on 10 February 1944 I saw also Marshal Rommel from my balcony. I recognised the others, but not him, because he was dressed differently, and he sported a white scarf and carried a wooden baton, and on going through my documents 60 years after, I recognized Rommel, and his baton which was that of a Field Marshal. So even as a child one can be a witness and this is what I saw.

transcription: Jacqueline Tabuteau; translation: Christopher Murray
Roger Armagnac (Le Verdon)

So you need to understand that we were 5 children – which means from a food point of view there wasn’t much to go around, it was very limited - and behind my home, there was a camp made up of half cavalry and half troops, German soldiers, and there was a kitchen. The first German soldiers, who arrived to Verdon, were soldiers who were already of a certain age and they allowed us to search through the garbage looking for bread or something else, or they gave us the scraps.

Also when train loads of potatoes arrived at night, with my brother, my sister and other Verdonnais, we went to steal them, that is to pinch them. Steal is a big word, and then... they knew what we were doing but didn’t say anything. Of course we didn’t pinch tons: just those that were trapped under the wagons which were quite widely spaced. But after, when the J3 arrived, it was much harder. My father, to avoid taking too much food from the mouths of us kids, made sticks for my brother and myself, with a point at the end: these were to pick up cigarette butts. This was to avoid bending down; otherwise the J3 would hit us. So we picked up cigarette butts, my father smoked, and as long as he smoked, he ate less. That allowed us 5 children to eat a little more of what we had.

But frankly I have some very good memories of some Germans: there was one in the Marais du Logis at le Verdon. My father was required to work there, where a German soldier milked the captain’s cow to get him milk; he stole some bread and gave it to my father. That night my brother and I went to get it. This German soldier was unfortunately betrayed by another German, and he was deported to the Russian front.

transcription: Jacqueline Tabuteau; translation: Christopher Murray
Huguette Mothes (Gaillan)

The day the Germans bombarded Lesparre, I was about 14 years old, to be exact 13 ½, and I lived in Gaillan. My mother told me, "You’re going to take this sack of artichokes" to the family where my mother did some housekeeping. So with my friend, we set off by bike with the sack of artichokes on the baggage rack.

Of course, we didn’t know there was going to be shooting like that, otherwise my mother would of course never have sent us. Anyway we went, and crossed Lesparre, and there on the place Gambetta, opposite what is now the Espace François Mitterrand were masses of tanks, the square was crowded with tanks, that’s the way it was. We carried on towards the Cours Jean Jaurès where the people lived that is towards St Trélody, and arrived at the house where my mother did housekeeping, he was a judge.

We knocked and waited a while, I’m not sure how long, and finally the lady appeared shows us in to receive the bag of artichokes. So we handed over the sack and stayed a while, and then set off back home although my favourite thing at the time was to climb the Tower but we didn't go there, and though I don’t remember too much, there must have been a bombardment, always at this famous place Gambetta, where there were all the tanks, and there's this wee soldier who says: "quick, quick, girls, you must get out of here !" and he led us away, everyone was trying to get away.

This was the time Lesparre was bombarded and all that. Well, we were not very impressed; we were children of 14 years after all. We got home and my mother, of course, was worried to death especially thinking maybe we were still on the way... That day, unfortunately, there were several injuries and deaths. The next day, my mother, came back from the house where we had been who had told her "well, you know what, thank you for the Jerusalem artichokes and not only that but your daughter saved our lives!" Because when we arrived they were having a nap and after we woke them shrapnel from a shell fell on the bed where they had been sleeping.. gerettet hat.“ Sie hatten sich nämlich gerade zu einem Mittagsschlaf hingelegt und unmittelbar danach ist auf ihrem Bett eine Granate explodiert.

transcription: Jacqueline Tabuteau; translation: Christopher Murray
Raymond Drouet (Le Verdon)

I would have liked to find the German doctor who treated me, because during the liberation, I had filled a box with powder gas masks, and when I turned it on, it exploded and I burned my face, hands, and I was taken to the... to the German infirmary, because the French doctor had not yet returned. And I would have liked to find this German... well, what had become of him. I think he was called Herr Zimmermann.

transcription: Jacqueline Tabuteau; translation: Christopher Murray
Jean-René Lacoste (Soulac)

Während der Evakuation bin ich wie meine Freunde weggegangen, die Schule wurde geschlossen, alle sind weggegangen. Ich habe erlebt, dass meine Mitschüler, dass meine Freunde das erlebt haben, d.h. dass ich genauso schnell weggegangen bin mit meiner Mutter und meiner Großmutter; alle meine anderen Urgroßeltern und meine Verwandten väterlicherseits sind mit meinem Vater in der Region („Poche“) geblieben. Ich wurde mit meinen Cousins nach Cissac evakuiert, ich fuhr mit dem Rad meines Bruders, der meine Großmutter auf einem Anhänger hinterher zog.

J’ai été évacué chez des cousins à Cissac, j’étais sur le vélo de mon frère qui tirait la grand-mère qui était dans une remorque derrière.

Ich erinnere mich noch gut an das Feuerwerk, das anlässlich des Besuchs von Feldmarschall Rommel im Februar 44 abgebrannt wurde. Während dieses Feuerwerks befand sich Rommel auf dem Balkon des Hotel de la Plage.

Ich erinnere mich deshalb so genau, weil vor allem das Bataillon der Hindus sehr beeindruckend war. Es gab also dieses Hindu-Bataillon und wenn sie zum Baden mitgenommen worden sind und wenn die Hindus badeten, dann nahmen sie ihre Turbane ab, sie hatten ganz lange Haare, das war ziemlich beeindruckend.

Es gab auch eine Blaskapelle, sie kam regelmäßig vor die Schule und spielte dort ein Morgenständchen. Da bekam ich jedesmal einen großen Schrecken: Die große Pauke machte mir richtig Angst!

Ich erinnere mich auch an die Beschießung der Transformatorstation durch ein englisches Flugzeug. Das ist das letzte noch mit einem deutschen Tarnanstrich versehene Gebäude in Soulac.

Es gab keine größeren Probleme zwischen der Bevölkerung und den Besatzern. So weit ich weiß gab es keine zivilen Opfer in der Region („Poche“), überhaupt keine zivilen Opfer, absolut keine.

Was die Ernährung betrifft: weil in der Festung von dem Augenblick an, an dem sie umzingelt war, die französische Bevölkerung von den Besatzern verpflegt wurde, bekamen wir Folgendes: morgens z.B. eine Möhrensuppe und Bohnen mit ein bisschen Mehl, einen halben Liter ungefähr, das war für den Vormittag. Am Nachmittag oder am Abend dann 350 gr Brot, 15 gr Butter und 50 gr Fleischkonserven. Das also war ungefähr das, was wir damals zu essen hatten.

Ab und zu denke ich darüber nach, was bei der Befreiung der Region („Poche“) hätte passieren können und ich mache mir die Absurdität dieser Kriegszeit klar. Dazu muss man wissen, dass wir am 22. April 1945 befreit wurden, dass aber Bordeaux bereits im August 44 befreit war und also die Besatzer hier keinen Nachschub mehr bekamen. Und wenn man sich in der Pointe du Médoc auskennt, dann weiß man, dass es hier kaum etwas zu essen gibt. So hatten wir trotzdem etwas. Was mir das Herz zerreißt, ob man es nun von der einen oder der anderen Seite aus betrachtet, dass man ungefähr 1200 Menschen umgebracht hat, absolut nutzlose Tode, weil 15 Tage danach der Waffenstillstand unterzeichnet worden ist. Ein wenig Geduld und man hätte 1200 Menschen weiter leben lassen können... Und da waren sehr, sehr tolle Menschen darunter...

Transkript: Jacqueline Tabuteau; Übersetzung: Christian Büttner/ Elke Schwichtenberg
Roger Dillemann (St Vivien)

The evacuation, it was a Friday, and it was raining cats and dogs. And we crossed over to the free side and us people who worked the land were welcomed by the Red Cross at Queyrac. What little there is, I remember very well, I was young, my parents who lived in a chateau in St Vivien, there were 50 Germans in the parkland and officers occupied the north side, the first and the ground floor, where there were weapons. You have to realise it was really a very, very strict regime. One day, an officer arrived who had drunk a little more Medoc than usual, and he had broken the bowl of the WC. And the next morning the officer came to find my father and he told him '' the bowl will be fixed during the day." And the officer was sent to Russia.

I remember a German, I was 4 or 5 years old, and he had taken kindly to me because he had a son my age, so he gave me sweets , chocolate... But on the other hand, I also remember very well, the time much later when the Germans were prisoners, and there were those who remained in France. Once, I was cleaning out bees from my chimney flue , I was a volunteer firefighter at St Vivien .I was with my brother-in-law to help with the fire suit and a German car , a Mercedes, which stops, and the driver asked my wife and sister-in-law who were by the side of the road , where was Mr Dillemann?. Then my wife said: ' he’s there!’ I undid my combination fire suit...and when he saw my face: "Roger!" he said. I was dumbfounded because he said that he had worked for my father for a year and he was doing the tour he used to do from the Pointe de Grave to Vendays.

transcription: Jacqueline Tabuteau; translation: Christopher Murray
Françoise Chaussade (Saint Vivien)

Ich habe keine großartigen Dinge zu erzählen, außer: Ich habe überlebt! Ich ging damals mit meinen 5 Jahren nach Le Verdon in die Schule und dort traf eines Tages eine Granate den Schulhof. Alle Kinder mussten sich daraufhin flach auf den Boden werfen, den Kopf zwischen den Händen bis zum Ende des Bombardements. Danach hat man die Kinder auf verschiedene Stellen verteilt, damit sie nicht alle gemeinsam getroffen werden konnten. Und ich bin in die Schule bei dem alten Bäckerofen gegangen.

Die für mich bedeutsamste Erinnerung ist die Evakuierung, wie sie hier genannt wurde. Man forderte meine Eltern und ebenso alle anderen Dorfbewohner auf, ihre Häuser zu räumen, um zivile Opfer zu vermeiden. Meine Mutter ist von Le Verdon aus zu Fuß nach Queyrac gelaufen. Man musste bei Vensac einen Kanal überqueren, aber es gab keine Brücke mehr. Und so sind die Leute in den Kanal gestiegen, durch den Uferschlamm gelaufen und an der anderen Seite wieder hoch. Jeder hat das für ihn Wertvollste mitgenommen. Meine Mutter schob meinen Bruder und meine jüngste Schwester im Kinderwagen, unsere Nachbarn nahmen ihre Kaninchen mit, andere 2 Hühner...Jeder rettete seine Schätze, wie er wollte und konnte.

Meine Eltern sind dann von Queyrac aus mit der Eisenbahn weiter gefahren, damals ging die Eisenbahn bis Queyrac. Sie fuhren nach Bordeaux, was die ganze Nacht dauerte. In Bordeaux konnten sie aussteigen, weil meine Tante sie aufnehmen konnte. Die anderen Verdonaiser mussten weiter fahren bis nach La Réole, Langon und St Macaire. Das alles hat bis zum April 45 gedauert, ab diesem Datum konnte man nach und nach zurückkommen.

Aber bis 1948, wo ich in das Gymnasium in Bordeaux kam, hatten wir uns die Rationen aufgehoben, die Brotmarken. Wir kamen im September ins Gymnasium mit unseren Brotmarken für einen Monat und tauschten sie jeden Monat. Und am Abend während der Essenszeit hat die Aufsicht, statt darauf aufzupassen, ob wir irgendeinen Blödsinn machten, gefragt: „Wer hat noch Brot?“ oder “Wer möchte Brot?“. Das waren also einige Erinnerungen zu dieser Zeit.

Transkript: Jacqueline Tabuteau; Übersetzung: Christian Büttner/ Elke Schwichtenberg