forget the past are condemned to relive it’ - message from General de Gaulle
broadcast by the BBC on
September 1941, the framework of the Maquis had been put in place thanks to the
efforts of Henri Le Veille, leader of the Resistance in
the years, the Resistance group had expanded. At the beginning of 1944, there
were about 50 members in the department. Their actions had intensified,
particularly the cutting of telephone lines, moving of weapons and receiving
parachute drops. During the night of 9th – 10th May
1944, aircraft growled over the little hamlet of Sainte-Marie-Outre-l'eau, near
Pont-Farcy, Suddenly, parachutes appeared, shadows on shadows. Containers full
of arms, ammunition and other explosives landed with dull thuds. 3 tons! Their
harvest was rapid. The PTT vans were quickly loaded and set off for Beaucoudray.
In an abandoned farm, lost at the end of a labyrinth of country tracks,
everything was unloaded and hidden in the attic: the parachute drop of weapons
had been received by the PTT Resistance group led by E. Pruvost. 26 days went
by. Just a few hours before the start of the landings, the postmen of the
Resistance calmly and methodically cut telephone wires and cables. The job done,
they reached the isolated farm on the morning of the 6th. The little
group, who were waiting for others to join them and for a signal telling them
how to help the airborne troops, got on with organizing their daily life.
fact, ‘the workers call’ was the order for a general attack to begin through
wide scale sabotage. At Beaucoudray, the group met up in the village after
carrying out their orders. On the 14th, a car containing two Germans
arrived and came close to their hiding place before leaving immediately. Had the
driver taken the wrong road? Suddenly, it’s the attack. Coming simultaneously
from three sides, armed soldiers converged on the farm. It was the 14th
June and German troops had found them.
were transported to a stable at a farm in Villebaudon. The next day, at about
in the morning, they were directed to a
field. At 4H30, they were shot and buried in two communal graves. The American
second division liberated Villebaudon on
they were exhumed, some of the bodies had burn marks. Another had broken ribs.
But they had not spoken because not one of those who got away had any problems.
Their hands had been savagely tied together with wire. A shot in the neck had
ended the hard lives of these men who chose that most difficult of paths: that
page of French Resistance history or how to kill a network….
these much-awaited reinforcements from the Special Air Service did not arrive.
The postmen, isolated at a farm in the
Gossip, indiscretions or possibly a moment of inattention allowed a group of
German non-combatants, who were staying in the village close to Réauté, to put
a tail on the young men who’s behavior was different from that of the other
Gossip, indiscretions or possibly a moment of inattention allowed a group of German non-combatants, who were staying in the village close to Réauté, to put a tail on the young men who’s behavior was different from that of the other villagers.
At the start of
the day, on 14th June, a German motorbike patrol reached the farm
where the men of the Maquis had spent the night. There was no reaction. A
mistake, men who were lost… false… at 10H30, the non-combatants arrived in
force with the support of the S.S., machineguns in hand. The farm was rapidly
surrounded. The Resistance man on guard was surprised and quickly overcome. It
was the same for the men who were inside the farm preparing the
meal. Shots rang out. Guy, a member of the
Resistance, fell with a bullet in his thigh. Ernest Pruvost, the national
leader, was busy finishing shaving outside and managed to melt into the abundant
vegetation which was all round the farm. Three others were able to do the same:
Richer, Deschamps, Raoult….
ordered to put his hands up, managed to shoot his adversary with his Colt but
soon had to surrender. He was to have the terrible honor of being considered the
leader. After a long interrogation and efforts to save the other men, Crouzeau
simply declared to those who were questioning him ‘we are against you…’
Leblond who, accompanied by her son, had the difficult task of watching the
farm’s exterior, suffered an equally long interrogation, as did her
11-year-old son. No one knows what unexpected grace saved them from being
that the group was much larger than previously thought and aware that many
residents of the region were involved in the affair, the Germans went on the
hunt, sealing off the whole region and interrogating without mercy anyone they
found who was considered ‘suspect’.
was at this time that Alphonse Fillâtre and his wife, accompanied by a young
relative and alerted at the last moment by a young boy from thereabouts, Bernard
Lalle, tricked the nazi vigilance and the dogs sent to search for them.
But all the
efforts were without result. No other member of the Resistance was found. But
will the network not reform? Won’t parachutists appear from the sky to save
the members of the Resistance? There must be an ending. After a difficult day
when the allied aviation had shown itself to be particularly active, the Germans
decided to transfer their prisoners at dusk to the
in the morning
– a truck arrives suddenly – guttural commands - a few more minutes pass –
a long burst of machine gun fire in the early dawn – eleven men no longer
bodies of these unfortunates were found after the liberation at the beginning of
August; 4 on one side and 7 on the other at the exact spot where the monument
was erected. They were tied up in pairs. The armband of the FFI was found
(Forces Français de l’Interieur) on one of them, an illusionary sign of his
belonging to this shadow army that the Germans never respected.
Every year, on the first Sunday after 15th June, a crowd, which is
always large, takes part in a commemorative ceremony, perhaps to illustrate the
line of poetry
Every year, on the first Sunday after 15th June, a crowd, which is always large, takes part in a commemorative ceremony, perhaps to illustrate the line of poetry" ... Ou je meurs renaît la Patrie " (where I die my country is reborn)
came from the sea: at dawn on 6th June 1944, the allies landed. For
them, the town was a strategic crossroad that had to be destroyed. The station
was bombarded from the 6th. During the night of 6th - 7th,
hundreds of aircraft returned. Saint-Lô was flattened under the bombs and was
left ablaze. The leaflets telling the residents of Saint-Lô to flee had been
lost in the surrounding districts. Many civilians were killed including those in
the prison where the Germans were holding about 200 prisoners, most of whom
perished under the bombs. The main door was undamaged. For those who escaped the
only way out was to flee towards the empty streets leading out of the town. The
hedged farmland slowed the advance of the allies (battle of the hedges). On 29th
June, Major Howie, commander of a battalion of the 29th US Division,
launched an offensive. He was killed during the attack. His body, carried by his
men, was the first to enter Saint-Lô. The battle of the streets started. The
enemy’s artillery resisted until midnight.
95% of the town was destroyed. It was the capital of the ruins, a desert without life. The authorities were faced with a difficult choice; leave the town in ruins surrounded by barbed wire as a symbol of a city martyred or construct a new town a few kilometers away, as proposed by Frédéric Pottecher. But the council and the residents were ready to fight to live where they had always lived. Thanks to the persistence of Roger Ferdinand, Georges Lavalley and Auguste Lefrançois, the town’s reconstruction was done on its original site. German prisoners helped to clear away the ruins. On 10th June 1945, General de Gaulle, head of the provisional government, came to give his support to the exhausted townsfolk. International solidarity also made its contribution and lent a helping hand. Swiss, Swedes, Irish… sent huts to re-house those without homes. The head architect of the reconstruction, André Hilt, suggested that the city walls should be restored. On 6th June 1948, President Auriol laid the first stone of this reconstruction. Marcel Mersier, who succeeded André Hilt, spent all his efforts on this task, which lasted nearly 20 years. The Americans helped the reconstruction by building the France-Etats Unis Hospital, designed by the architect Nelson. At the time of its construction, it was the most modern hospital in Europe. A fresco by Fernand Léger decorates the entrance. The prefecture, which had been transferred to Coutances, returned in 1953. The inauguration of the theatre in 1963 marked the end of the reconstruction. It was named after the native of Saint-Lô, Roger Ferdinand, who was director of the Conservatoire National d'Art Dramatique (national conservancy for dramatic art).