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French Interview (English translation of interview in French)

Monsieur, you were very young during the occupation. Did you realise, in view of your age, that you were occupied, and maybe the tension in St Pol ?
Well in the war at the beginning, the period September 1939 to May 1940, nothing happened, you could see the French soldiers, but there was no war yet. The 10 May 1940, we saw in the sky in St Pol the first German aeroplanes, and that surprised us a lot, but they didn't really bomb us, there were a few shots here and there, but they wanted above all to spread panic.
Well, we children, we still went to school, but it didn't last for long. Because there was a large influx of refugees who came down from Belgium to become St Paul's responsibility, St Pol was a key town in this. So we felt straight away that life was completely changing because we saw thousands of people in St Pol who posed problems of supplying fresh food and all that. So the Germans were soon to arrive.

And once the Germans arrived - what feelings did you have ?
I was a gauche "Averloin", I didn't stay at St Pol, On day I saw a man who complained that the Germans were here, but they didn't hurt anyone; it was an army which drove on down, down towards the coast, and nothing dramatic happened really in St Pol. But there were however quite cruel things which happened in other villages, but we didn't know about it until afterwards. At the time we saw a superbly well organised army which drove down with motorbikes and lorries, and which went very quickly.

And from the moment where you saw them settle in bit by bit, how did you live bearing in mind that the Germans, foreigners, were occupying the village, the town where you were living ?
You see, there was soon the Armistice, France was flattened, and as M Amour says in his book, the people were almost relieved. There wasn't really a terrible tragedy, although there were many victims, but as children we watched the Germans settle in, we watched them arrive with their horses, we watched them settle anywhere they could and we watched their triumphant march in the town at the end of June. For them, it was a big victory, they had just entered Paris.

And how did you regard them, these Germans ?
Amongst ourselves, you see, we observed them with curiosity, as we had observed the British army for 6 months. For us, at the time, they didn't seem like barbarians. You can't say we fled in before them, thinking they were cruel men, no, we as children just watched them settle in.

You must have experienced shortages during the war, it's hard for a child.
Yes, but shortages didn't arrive immediately. In 1940-41, you can even say in 1941 was still relatively pleasant. We didn't really experience restrictions, but all the same one day there were supply cards, ration tickets, but that was going to get worse from 1942/43. At the end of the day, we also lived in a relatively privileged region, agricultural, I don't think that the children suffered from hunger and all that.

You don't remember that ?
No, in fact, there was more of an abundance. At the beginning of 1940, there was communion. 1941 was still a relatively easy year. The years that followed, in the future occupation, were going to become harder.
You must have seen or heard about the allied bombings quite close to St Pol.

Did that make an impression on you, even as a child ?
There was a period of the summer of 1941 where we saw mainly air combat. There was an airbase set up at Briau. Sometimes, seven, eight times a day, we could see fighter planes, and there was combat which developed quite quickly between British and German fighters. We often saw a plane fall, a plane explode in the air, we saw the first incident of the first beaten English pilot, that created a movement, people went to his grave and put flowers on it, the Germans let us do it, but they obviously weren't too happy about it.

And your parents, did they pay more attention to you, did they give you any special recommendations regarding the Germans, regarding what you should do, what you shouldn't do ?
They didn't present the German soldier to us like a danger in our town. We continued to go to school, I went to secondary school in 1942, I had a normal school year, what was good, and difficult to explain, was the fact that we had a German timetable, that means we had the core lessons in the morning, and the afternoon we had activities outdoors, activities in art, so we children of 1942/43 had the timetable of German schools.

And did you like this timetable, didn't you prefer your old timetable ?
For us, it was our first secondary timetable, and I have to say it wasn't bad. We were out in the fresh air in the afternoons, I felt fine. So that was 1942/43.

And from a school's point of view, did the teachers give you recommendations which your parents didn't ?
The teachers avoided expressing themselves on the subject of the war because if they had the slightest view which was a little anti-German, they risked being in a lot of trouble. so we didn't really talk about the war in class. We studied French, maths, English, German, it was a normal school year. This was up to 1943, because in 1943 there was the first bombing of St Pol.

And once St Pol was bombed, did you feel more involved in the war, did you feel that danger was approaching ?
During 04 and 07 September where we were bombed, the town was greatly damaged, there were victims, especially on Tuesday 07, a lot of victims. We no longer lived at St Pol, at that time we left St Pol to go to the country. At from that time we didn't really have any lessons. It was no longer possible to accommodate "collegiens" - they didn't use the term "lyceens" at the time. There was no running water in St Pol, and it would really have been too dangerous. There was no safety. But we did have - there were teachers who organised lessons by correspondence with us, so we could work on our own. But the school year 1943/44 was even so a very disturbed school year.

During your lessons this year, you hardly had any classes, you moved house, you could say there was a large amount of change, did you have the impression that the situation lasted forever ?
We didn't know, we were in the country. For us, we were a long way from the danger, because the war of St Pol was a very big danger. They sent us to rural schools on Thursdays to have some lessons, we had three or four lessons per week, and they gave us a lot of work to do at home. That's how I spent my "quatriŠme" (= Year 9).

Did you hear people talk of the Resistance, and what did you think of the Resistance ?
We didn't really hear much said about it. We as children knew that there were people who were hiding pilots who were in distress , we knew there was sabotage going on, we knew that there were German reprisals, at that time the Germans were no longer as kind as in 1940, but we weren't that knowledgeable about what was going on in the resistance. All that was secret, and we as children didn't get to hear of it, I think.

If you had a most striking image of the occupation, what would it be ?
The most striking image, it was the development that I saw. It is of a life which was regular at the start in 1940 where the Germans were quite debonair because they believed that France was perhaps going to join in their game. They became very hard afterwards when they realised that after all we were "going over to the other side".
The most striking image of the occupation, I still think it was the moment of the bombing; we realised that we were entering in a decisive phase of the war. There was more of a community life from that moment, and the mentality of the Germans changed completely.

You must have seen people killed. Did that greatly shock you ?
You see, my father immediately decided that we would go far away from St Pol, and I hardly saw the town again for three months, so the scenes of horror, the rescues, the piles of the ruins, I didn't see them. I didn't see people killed in front of me, no.

Finally, the Allies arrive ...
There was also something else. The countryside was no longer safe either in 1944 because, with there being launch ramps almost everywhere, the Germans had confidence in their new retaliation weapon, the V1. The Allies fiercely attacked the depots, and bombs fell everywhere in the countryside. As a result, the people in the countryside didn't feel safe either. There was even a strange phenomenon; lots of people returned to St Pol, most of them came back because, in the areas outside St Pol, as for example in the Rue B‚cume, they had built in feudal fashion very reliable shelters, and the people came back. There were sometimes ten per day, and in the last few days before friends arrived in the shelters of the Rue B‚cume, people settled down there and even spent the night there, we had an underground life then.
And in fact we were fairly safe because the shelters in St Pol were very solid and maybe the whole population hadn't returned to St Pol, but people were there, and they didn't feel too much in danger because they could take refuge in solid, reliable shelters.

You felt that your life was rarely in danger ?
No, from the moment we could go underground, we were no longer in danger, but I still almost imagined that I was in a cave, I'm going back now to 1943 where I could see the stones falling all around me. It could be that the house wouldn't fall down, but after that, coming back to St Pol, I felt totally safe, I no longer had the impression that I was in danger. At that time in France, anything could happen, there could be a drama somewhere, sabotage, there could be acts of retaliation, there could be civilians shot. We children, we didn't think about it.

And to finish off, the Allies arrive, what images do you have of that day, and what image do you have of these soldiers ?
We saw them arrive, obviously, that created immense joy in the town, I remember going up to the English soldiers with the bit of English I had learned, and I chatted with them, and they didn't have the heart to laugh because we were relieved to be liberated, but for them, the war wasn't over, they continued, they went on towards the East, they went on towards Germany, and they replied, there were even civilians who rushed in front of them with hugs and everything, and I saw the English push them away. The war for them was far from over, it was only September 1944, and they had to fight until May 1945.
But obviously the liberation of the towns created a joyful feeling in France which was incomparable.
Thank you, M Delanoix

M Duvat, you left school in 1939, what did you do up to the time the Germans called you up to work at the station in July 1940?
Well in '39 I left school and I worked in the post office in Arras. In May 1940 we saw many many refugees going through the town in carts, on bikes, in cars and the station in Arras was bombed about 10 May 1940. But for several years you could see the development of the German plans which meant that after the invasion of Czechoslovakia and the Scandinavian countries we could see, and lets not forget the night of the long knives which we talked about, well we could see we were dealing with the forces of an invader. And Hitler said the world belonged to him, or would soon belong to him. And we began to be seriously afraid, afraid of the Germans because having seen the way they went on in 1914, we remembered the memories of our parents who had told us all about them and we feared them. We feared them because they are people who at first sight are just like everyone else, but fundamentally they are evil. They were too disciplined for us, they followed orders to the letter, and when we saw them arriving in 1940 we were afraid.

You were working at the station at St Pol at this time?
Well, the Germans arrived, I had left the post office in Arras in 1940 and because of poor communications I had to come back to the SNCF in St Pol in July '40 to get the trains running again as for 2 months or so there'd been absolutely no trains. The job was to get the trains running again.

Did it occur to you that when the occupying forces settled in St Pol the station was a strategic centre for them? What did you expect?
St Pol is situated in the centre of a star. In fact, from the station in St Pol you can go in six different directions: you've got Arras, Boulogne, B‚thune, Lens, Abberville, Doulens which meant there was a depot, a small depot, well about 35 engines and from here there were trains which served all the surrounding stations and in fact the Germans set up military posts in the whole area. They used the French trains, sending them towards Fr‚vent to send supplies to the blockhouses at Siracourt. Then you had, in the direction of Arras, the station at Ligny St Flochel which was used for provisioning the airfield at Monchy Breton, which had previously been occupied by the English in '39 and then in the direction of B‚thune at the Briard station you had a branch line which went up to the airfield at Briard which had also been occupied by the English, which means that round St Pol there were 3 airfields, which led to the inevitable bombing. As M Danois said, practically every day there were English fighter planes on reconnaissance or chasing Germans. Actually on many occasions we saw dog-fights.

It must have caused you some anxiety when you saw the allies flying over the station: there were German soldiers at the station and there were a lot of convoys going through St Pol and you were working there. Were you afraid?
At first no, because St Pol had been spared from bombing. But then one day I was called to the station at Hazebrouck to repair some engines. The station at Hazebrouck had been bombed and when we arrived at Hazebrouck we saw that the marshalling yards were in a mess. The wagons were piled on top of each other and at that moment it struck me, that gave me cause to think, because before we didn't know what bombing actually meant. Here we saw that in a few minutes you could devastate a whole station.

Were your family afraid that you were working at the station in St Pol?
No because I lived 150 metres away from the depot, and as nothing ever happened, we worked normally. We even worked side by side with the Germans, and they just got on with their work. Work is perhaps putting it a bit high, they just walked round. We didn't have any direct contact with them. They supervised the repairs and that was all. But we knew that one day the bombs would come, it would be our turn, because the Germans were sending military convoys towards the coast and there were special trains for supplies to the airfields and the construction sites. Right up to September '43.
It was a Saturday, about six in the evening. I was still inside the perimeter of the depot when they arrived, they came over. A few planes about ten bombed the station without any warning going off. At that moment there was a German military train standing at the station in St Pol waiting to leave and I can tell you it wasn't a pretty sight. There were some civilians killed, a railway worker was unlucky. I can't tell how many Germans because the lorries going up and down all night took the wounded and dead away from St Pol. No Germans were buried in St Pol. Well, we felt we'd got away with it, and of course there was a lot of damage, but on the Tuesday, at about 10 in the morning the planes came back, in greater numbers and then for about 10 minutes, and I can tell you it was a long 10 minutes, then it really rained bombs. There again I was under enemy fire, it was no fun. When I came out of the shelter my parents were homeless - they weren't the only ones. There were several hundred houses that had been hit. Everything that was around the station had been hit or flattened and there again there were a lot of people killed, a lot of people. But relationships with the Germans were good I would say, more or less, but I felt that now they doubted if they could win a final victory. There was obvious doubt in their minds now. They weren't so arrogant.

After the bombing, did you consider handing in your resignation, did you think of leaving, and if you'd wanted to, could you have really left your work?
No, there was no question of leaving work and in any case I was obliged to work. And to do what, anyway? The Germans had run out of German workers for their factories by taking the workers as soldiers for their armies, because the Russian campaign needed a lot of troops. That meant that they set up the S.T.O., that is the Service du Travail Obligatoire, so all the young men from the age of 20 were conscripted to go and work in Germany. When you received the call-up papers you had to go to Arras. They gave you the papers and then they sent you off 2 days later to Germany. I did get called up at the end of December '43, to go and report on the 1st or 2nd January '44 but I didn't comply. So I had to leave the SNCF at my risk and peril to live in hiding for nine months. That meant first of all that you lost all your ration cards, which is very important because food was had to come by. We didn't have any money because no-one would pay you, and also the gendarmes were looking for you. It meant that my parents were visited twice by the police to give them some documents saying I should go to Arras and if I didn't go my father would have to. Well, my father said, you do what you want, I'm leaving it up to you, if I go, I go, you can stay here and I had a brother as well who was a prisoner in Germany. Well, time went by. We managed through hardship and with difficulty until the liberation of St Pol in '44.

Well, to finish with, what is the most vivid image you still have of the occupation? Is it the bombing? Is it that you had to live in hiding?
I don't really understand your question. It's everything, it's everything. It was first the malice of the Germans at that time. Let's hope things are different with them now. The bombings were dreadful for those who lost loved ones. It was also dreadful for retired people who lost their life's work, their homes and all their belongings, and you mustn't get the idea that their problems were solved straight away. My parents were homeless, rented a small house and they didn't even see the reconstruction of their own house because they died.

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