It was just another day. The landings were in Normandy and not in Charente Maritime but because it is the 70th anniversary I have been thinking about what would have been happening in this house in Vienne near the town of Charroux where I am now writing this.
Do you know what was going on in your house? Did it exist?, Who was living there? Did they know it was ‘D’ day.
This is all guess work but there are a few things I know. Firstly the house I am now in did exist. In fact it was an old house even in 1944. When I dismantled the old fireplace in the kitchen I found, between two large pieces of stonework, a piece of card and on it were written some words. They were somewhat faded but this is what I could read ‘ Exczcise 1860 Ricette-Charal de Charroux’ The Ricett-Charal is very faded and could be somewhat different. However what it does tell me is that the stones were probably hewn into shape before 1860 and the fire place installed soon after so the house had been there for at least 84 years when ‘D’ day took place.
When we bought the house it was more or less a shell, and there was not much inside. I did find a few things. The most interesting was a sort of radio found in the loft. I have kept it and this is what it looks like. You can see it has two knobs, one, I think, for on/off and the other for tuning. There is also a wire which I assume connected to head phones and there is a thin wire wrapped round and round the outside, which I presume is an aerial. There are also remnants of paper stuck over this wire so that side on this looks like a book…
I am not too sure about this but it looks like a primitive radio to me and might date back to war time so if the occupants of our house had a radio, they would possibly have known about the invasion as it happened or even before it happened. This area was very active in the resistance during the war. Only a few kilometres from our house was the border between Vichy France and occupied France. Our house was in the area of occupied France. Of course by June 6th 1944 Vichy had ceased to exist, but the resistance was even stronger.
Our hamlet consists of four properties, two big houses and two small. Just down the road from us in the biggest house lived Marcel and his wife. He died two years ago but he had proudly told us that he was a member of the Maquis although at that time he had lived in a neighbouring village only moving to our hamlet after he married a few years after the war. We went to his funeral and it was very moving. There were lots of veterans of resistance units, berets and medals, Each unit of resistance fighters had their own flags and when Marcel’s coffin was taken into the church draped with the French tricolor they all lined up and made an archway with their flags. He was certainly involved in the resistance but not from this hamlet in 1944.
When we moved here our other neighbour told us that the house had previously been owned for 40 years by a Monsiuer Ledresseur. He had lived in Paris and he used it as a holiday home. We bought the house in 1990 ish so Monsieur Ledresseur had it from 1950 ish. Did he buy it or did he inherit it as is often the case in France? Were the previous occupants his parents? So on ‘D ‘ day was there a Ledresesur family living here. Maybe the future owner was here as a small boy.
I found very little else in the house. There was a nice framed drawing on the wall. It is still on the wall and this is a photo of it. I like it a lot, It has two old cars in the foreground and what looks like a vine growing up the wall. Is it somewhere in Paris? Vines in Paris?… maybe not. Did Monsieur Ledresseur draw it? I don’t know.
Scent bottle, not Lalique
Then there were a few bits of pottery and a scent bottle. The broken pot was in the garden in many pieces and I stuck it together. It’s not complete and maybe one day I will find some more of it.
Maybe, then, the occupants knew what was happening on 6th June 1944. Maybe they were resistance fighters. Possibly they found out some days later. What is certain is that they were not liberated for some months to come. This area of France was not a priority for the allies. They were more concerned with pushing east into Germany and getting as far east as they could before the Russians got too far west.
For the locals in this area the last few months of the war brought some terrible horrors, not so far away the worst atrocity was to occur- Oradeur – which I would imagine this had a huge effect on everyone in this region.
If you have any interesting knowledge about your area or house and how the final days of the war affected them then please pass them on if you feel it’s appropriate. I do not want to raise old enmities. Cooperation between the countries of Europe is most important and perhaps more under threat at the moment than it has been for many years. It is a balance between remembering what we do not want to return to and not stirring up old conflicts.
There is a very good book about an English person buying a house in France and then finding out all about its history and the people in the locality. It is called Cellestine by Gillian Tindall , her house is not in Poitou-Charentes but just a bit north of here , however it is a very good read. for other books of relevance to living in France have a look at my list of books about France.