INTERVIEWS [British] [French] [German]
French Interview (English translation of interview
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
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
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
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
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
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
"quatrime" (= 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
You must have seen people killed. Did that greatly shock
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
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 Bcume, 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 Bcume, 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
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
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, Bthune, 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 Frvent 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
Bthune 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
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
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.