1st Photo escape route - 2nd photo Marcelle's Parents Pierre & Juliette - 3rd photo Marcelle aged 17 - 4th & 5th photos Marcelle in later life.
Personal diary of Marcelle Lefrand (Translated by her son, Claude Lefrancois)
From June 6th, 1944 to February 1st, 1946.
During the Second World War, my mother Marcelle Lefrand, lived with her 5 sisters, mother and father, who was a police-officer, in the National Police Force in the town of Caen. In 1944, she was 16 years old.
In this very simple story, you can feel their fears when they are looking for places where they could hide all together. They tried to take refuge from the bombs, it was a huge and dreadful moment.
I discovered these writings after the death of my mother in January 2010. Always in her life, she expressed an unbounded and endless joy to be liberated by the Americans. In 2009, when she became the great-grandmother of a baby boy, Martin, born at St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital in Tampa (State of Florida USA) she thought that it was a sign of destiny.
My mother wrote with her mother, Juliette Lefrand, a personal diary during the terrible events which occurred in Normandy in June 1944, especially when the bombing of Caen began:-
“For a few days before Tuesday June 6th, 1944, the Allied fighter planes sprayed with bullets Caen railway station. We heard the shelling of bombs falling at Carpiquet airport. It was impossible for us to stay in our classroom longer than 2 hours a day. We tried continuously to protect our lives in the bomb shelters.
At 10 minutes past midnight this June 6th, Mum awoke suddenly. The window panes vibrated strongly. What was happening? She stood up because she heard cannon shots far away. At 5am, Mum shouted a warning to the girls: stand up quickly, I think it is the Allies landing! At once, all the girls dressed very quickly, the windows shook terribly. We looked through the window and saw big suns of fire towards Ouistreham.
At last! It was the landing so many times hoped for! But the little girls got dressed with great haste and difficulty, we were all in a hurry to go to the cellar. We didn’t know anything about the right situation but we were happy because we felt the smell of freedom. We prepared food in the cellar because we didn’t want to die of starvation.
Early in the morning, with another police officer, Dad had to take a train from Caen to Paris with a prisoner! We all thought of Dad: How did he get to the station? It was impossible…… At 8am, the police officers and their families stood at the ready. We had to go downstairs to the cellar because we heard the terrible noise of the planes above us. Our hearts beat very strongly but a few minutes later the silence came. We needed some news! The wife of our lieutenant came downstairs with a radio and a portrait of her husband, who had been arrested and shot during the night before.”
He was one of the most important French resistance workers against the Germans in the town of Caen and you can see a plaque to the memory of “Captain Martin” in front of the new building of the police station of Caen.
“Time passed with a lot of emotion and fears. At night, the bombing appeared to be quite often at close intervals. On the radio, the authorities declared that the population of Caen must leave their homes quickly. So, at 3pm on June 7th, Mum decided to leave the town. During the bombing, as we tried to escape from the flames and the disaster and attempted the impossible to go to the “Chemin de la Prairie”, one of the young girls waved off a white signal with her handkerchief. We succeeded in making our way to the village of Louvigny and next in the direction of Eterville. But at the crossroads, planes fired with their machine guns against a German convoy, so we had to take refuge in a trench near a field. Despite our fear we restarted our path to Maltot and stayed at the Vauvrecy farm where we were helped and supplied with some food by Catholic sisters. Unfortunately, on June 8th, the Germans occupied the farm and we saw Canadian prisoners. Before leaving the farm, Mum wrote our names and address on the walls. She wanted to go and stay with our friends at Guilberville in case Dad should look for us in this direction.
On June 9th, we arrived at Esquay-Notre-Dame and drank water on the stairs of the church. When in Evrecy, we had a snack and rest in a cheese dairy. We were all so tired. The cheesemonger and his wife were very friendly and they gave us a basin, soap and household linen to wash and clean ourselves. At 8pm, in the rain, we arrived at Epinay-sur-Odon and stayed in the farm owned by our relations. At last, we slept in beds!
In the morning, once again, we endured a strafing attack from low flying airplanes which wanted to stop German troops on the road. We were all discouraged; one of my sisters, Jacqueline, didn’t want to go further. Mum cried too. She was completely exhausted from her 6 children.
At last on June 10th at 4pm, we restarted on foot in the direction of Villers-Bocage, but we were stopped by the bombing and we took refuge in the workshop of a carpenter and next in a stable. The following day, we arrived at the crossroads of Saint-Pierre-du-Fresne. We saw a café, we entered the house and ate our canned goods. A plane flew at high speed and skimmed the house. We heard cannon shots in the direction of Caumont-L’Evente.
At Saint-Martin-des-Besaces, the bombing of the railway bridge urged us to stay in a ditch. A lot of German soldiers seemed to be wounded, a few of them were bleeding; we were happy to see them injured! We arrived at the railway station of Guilberville and after having a drink of cider, downtown, Mum bought a piece of veal to roast and slippers for our feet!! At 9pm on June 11th, we arrived at the house of our friends, safe, with our painful feet.
On June 13th, Dad arrived on foot with his colleague and his family. Because it was the only one direction to escape from the battle of Caen, they had walked southward to Maltot with only the clothes on their backs and by chance had seen our address written on the wall at the Vauvrecy farm (owned by the Vauvrecy family.)
We heard the rumble of the cannons towards Saint-Lo; a bomb fell behind the house. On June 28th, the Germans expelled us from the house. We all cried but we had to get out quickly. At Pont-Farcy, many bombs fell around the bridge, the ground was full of holes. The Germans rampaged the houses. After climbing the slopes, we reached the Village of Landelles where we stayed 2 days in a barn because of the bad weather. We got some goods in the village. On June 30th, we stayed at Sept-Freres which had been vacated by the inhabitants. We met a friend of my Uncle Gustave who had been a soldier with him during the First World War. He gave us a gift: a bottle of wine!
On July 2nd, we slept in a barn for pigs. The next day, Dad’s colleague, his wife and daughter – a friend of my sister, Blanche – went on their own way.
On July 3rd, we were welcomed by the inhabitants of Saint-Aubin-des-Bois; a woman gave us soap. We found a chapel where we prayed. In a farm, we had some bread and in a mill some flour. Next time at Coulouvray-Boisbenatre, good people invited us to stay in their home. They were clog makers. The first night we slept on hay, the other nights in beds provided by the neighbours. We stayed here until the end of July in peace and tranquillity. Because we were in July, we enjoyed cutting the hay. They gave tiny clogs to my sister, Nicole. They were poor, but generous.
On August 1st , bombs and shells fell all around again and the German troops tried to hide in the hedgerows and took shelter in the forest. It was not safe to stay near the Saint-Sever forest, so we took the direction of Saint-Pois but we discovered that we were encircled and had to walk on little paths to reach Le Mesnil-Gilbert at 6 kilometers from Saint-Pois.
Good people invited us to stay in a little house where we slept. We dug trenches and stayed 5 days between the lines. Shells continued to fall around us.
On Sunday August 6th, 1944, we were rescued by the American troops. They took a lot of prisoners in the neighbourhood. But, in the afternoon, a German counter-attack forced us to go in a trench. We were taken by the swirl of soldiers and tanks, blinded by the dust and entirely discouraged. The American troops exhorted us to go in another direction, so we had to walk under a blazing sun and a terrible dust. The road was full of dead cows riddled with holes and burnt farms all around. At night, we arrived in Saint-Pois and saw American troop reinforcements. It was unbelievable! They threw the first candies to us and we got them with an endless joy! Yes, and endless joy! We had never felt so happy. Candies seemed so good because our throats were so very dry! We slept in the Welcome Centre in Saint-Pois.
On August 8th, we were driven by American trucks to Villedieu.
On August 11th, despite the bombing of Isigny, we stayed in the police station. In Caen, the police station was entirely burnt and destroyed. Dad restarted work. Mum said: we have life! On the road, we saw poverty, destruction and devastation. At last, when we arrived at our aunt’s farm in Vouilly, where the sister of Juliette lived, we all cried.
In 1945, Marcelle found a job as a typist in Deauville. In Vouilly, we met together for the first communion of our sister, Blanche, and our first cousin, Noel. Dad took his new appointment in the Police Force in Caumont-L’Evente. We all returned home in January 1946. Marcelle became a typist the next month in Caumont-L’Evente.”
Unfortunately, in 1947, when she was on her bike, at the age of 41, my grandmother, Juliette, was killed by a reckless driver who was drunk. So, I never knew her, because I was born in May 1948.
Claude Lefrancois, MD, former Anaesthesiologist at the University Hospital of Caen.
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