A Conversation for A Place to Call Home

Chapter 25

Post 1

Array

Michel

In November, a couple of men returned to the quarry after a foray into a village with news. “The Germans have crossed into the Free Zone.”
“They’ve broken their promise,” someone growled.
“Then we should be ready to fight them,” said Michel.
For Michel, news of the German arrival brought back bitter memories of the retreat in 1940. However, it gave the group a much-needed boost. Although the Vichy authorities were unpopular, they were at least French and some of the group had friends or relations who worked for them. The Germans were foreigners who had no right to be in France. Feeling against the invaders grew among the people who had been equivocal before. News came that the Mayor had resigned and nobody was keen to take his place.
In January young men started arriving at the quarry. Some came on foot, having walked many miles. Others were brought by local people, sympathetic to the cause of the Maquis. They squashed into the hut, which was too small for all of them, and told stories. They had been called to go to work in Germany, under a hated new scheme. Families were promised that, if their sons went to Germany, prisoners of war would be released. Nobody had any faith in that promise, and people had heard the Allies were bombing German factories. Many of the young men were disappearing, only to turn up at the quarry.
It was clear the newcomers needed more space and arms. Michel worried that they were mostly youngsters, in their late teens and early twenties, with no military experience. They would need training, and enough warm weather clothing for every member of the group. Most of the time, the men wore a mixture of military gear, their own clothes and cheap civilian trousers and shirts they picked up on trips into towns. Food would be difficult too. Michel and Pedro had put a stop to theft, so they depended on the generosity of local farmers for whom they worked. However, even farmers were often short of supplies. The men lived on soups and stews of turnips and leeks, supplemented by occasional sausages. Although the use of ammunition was rationed, there were times when one of the group would shoot a rabbit. Michel remembered the meals Danielle cooked in the garage with wistful longing. He pictured her carrying a bowl of steaming stew to the table and smiling.
Michel and Pedro divided the group up into units and devised a plan to ensure that each group got a fair amount of drilling, exercise and other tasks. At any one time, at least one group was drilling. Some were building a new hut, others were practising with weapons. Groups went down into villages and farms to scrounge or to do work for food. The operation grew more professional and drew support from various quarters, including Doctor Reynaud, who came to treat an injured maquisard. However, the inexperience of the recruits made them vulnerable.
One day, a pair of men came back despondent from a trip into Caillac.
“We'd just gone into one of the shops and we left Marcel to keep watch on the edge of the street. Then a police patrol stopped nearby and they said something to Marcel, then grabbed him. It’s possible they were looking out for us. Or maybe Marcel said something foolish. We got out of the shop through a back entrance and down an alley but he didn't stand a chance.”
Everyone sat in silence and thought of Marcel. They had heard what happened to men who were caught. There were reports of brutal beatings and torture, followed by summary execution.
“Is there any way we can get him out of custody?” Michel asked.
The group discussed where Marcel would have been taken.
“The old police base isn't very secure,” said one local man. “You can get into the basement from the buildings along the road.”
“Then perhaps we'd better think of a way to get in and get Marcel out.”

For a few days, Michel and Pedro contacted the people they knew who might have information. Then the group gathered in the new hut and discussed the possibility of freeing Marcel. Michel considered the men who sat in the flickering light of an oil lamp. Many of them were young, scarcely more than boys, and only a few of them had any experience of combat. They had a collection of weapons: revolvers, rifles and grenades, but no heavy weapons. He remembered the bombardment that had killed Antoine back in 1940 and gave his motley troupe little chance of success against German tanks and guns.
“What happens if Marcel talks?”someone asked.
“We fight,” said someone else.
“Yes, and last about half an hour,”growled Pedro
“We probably better have a plan in place,” said Michel. “It may be they won't bother with us. They have bigger concerns. But if they got into this quarry we'd be slaughtered. We need a way we can retreat and regroup.”
“We'd get some warning if heavy armour approached.” said Pedro.
“We absolutely depend on the lookouts. If we hear armour coming, we withdraw.”Michel said
“Can we cut a path into the quarry wall? It would give us an escape route.” one of the youngsters asked. Michel looked at him - Gervais was the name. A farmer's son, strong enough but Michel had not expected any tactical thinking from him. Perhaps he'd underestimated the lad.
“Good idea. But we’d need to find a place that isn’t solid limestone. We don’t want to use explosives,” he said. “We don't want to give away our position.”
“We need to rescue Marcel, said one of his friends.
“I think they'll move him,”said Pedro. “They know the old police station’s insecure.”
“We have information they'll be taking over the old customs office by the river,” said Michel.
“So we either have to get him out of there or intercept the transport taking him there.”
They came to the conclusion the best chance of rescue lay in ambushing the vehicle taking Marcel to the Gestapo base. They had a telephonist working in the old police station who could tell them when the transfer would take place. They pored over a sketch map of the town, working out the route the vehicle would take. The information came back that only one prisoner was to be transferred and the vehicle to be used would probably be a car. The source said they weren't expecting more than three men to be accompanying the prisoner.
A couple of mornings later, Michel and one of the maquisards were sitting in the driver's cab of the old lorry. It had given Michel a shock to see the swastika flying over the Mairie, as they had driven past. Now they were parked in a square a little way away from the route the car carrying Marcel was expected to take. Six of the boys from the maquis were sitting in the back of the lorry, armed ready for a confrontation. Pedro and another two men sat in a car, ready to give back-up if necessary. The plan was to hit the car from the side, hard enough to demobilise it. Then the men would jump out of the back of the lorry and rescue the prisoner. Just before the time they expected the transfer to take place, Michel started the lorry and drove down the road at a normal pace. As he neared the junction, he put his foot on the accelerator.
As Michel roared out of the junction, he saw a bus on the road ahead. He felt a moment of panic, but there was no time for him to slow and, though he swung the steering wheel to the right, the lorry ploughed into the bus. There was a shattering noise, the crumpling of metal and he was thrown back in his seat. Michel knew little of what happened next. He was aware of a terrible pain in his chest and right arm and a confusion of shots and shouting. Some of his fighters pulled him out of the lorry cab and bundled him into the back of the car.
Michel was dimly aware of a journey up into the hills. He was bounced around as the car drove fast over potholed roads and unmade tracks. Every lurch caused him fresh pain and he struggled to breathe. Then he was carried back into one of the huts at the quarry. Some of his friends cut off his torn shirt and washed his damaged arm and side. At some point, he passed out but, when he came round, a man he recognised as Doctor Reynaud, was bending over him. The doctor examined the damage to his arm and listened to his chest. He strapped up the arm, put a dressing on his side and gave him a painkiller.


Chapter 25

Post 2

Dmitri Gheorgheni - Post Editor

smiley - applause I think people are used to the idea from the movies that resistance movements were always super-well-organised.

But I read Anthony Quayle's memoirs - he was with SOE in Yugoslavia - and sometimes there were real catastrophes.


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Post 3

Array

Thanks Dmitri. smiley - smiley


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Post 4

paulh, the apocalypse is coming, it's just late

This was not a heartwarming period in history. smiley - sadface


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Post 5

Fwr

Hope the bus was empty! smiley - applause


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Post 6

paulh, the apocalypse is coming, it's just late

I hope so too.

How many researchers have caught Covid-19. The ones I know of are FWR and Tavaron. Are there any others?


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Post 7

Array

I'm all right so far. smiley - smiley

No Covid 19 in 1944 France, though there were arbitrary arrests, torture, shortages of food and fuel, bombing of factories and ports etc.


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Post 8

Caiman raptor elk - Escaping the Array

No covid for me, just four days out on my back with the flu.


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Post 9

paulh, the apocalypse is coming, it's just late

I'm sorry you were sick. Were you tested for Covid-19?

If it turns out that you had it, your antibodies might be valuable for research.

Or not. Do what you feel is best, and I wish you a full and fast recovery.


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Post 10

Caiman raptor elk - Escaping the Array

I was tested, but negative.


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Post 11

Fwr

Meanwhile...back in France....smiley - shhh


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Post 12

Caiman raptor elk - Escaping the Array

Yes, you are right.

It seems that all our characters are not spared.
A lot of resistance work ended in misery.


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