I saved my baby from the Nazis

PBanksP15020014.jpg

Title

I saved my baby from the Nazis

Description

Newspaper page from Daily Sketch with account of a father who went to Normandy in France to rescue his wife and one year old son. Describes bombing of Le Havre and German advance. Goes on to mention aircraft machine gunning refugee columns.

Creator

Date

1940-06-18

Temporal Coverage

Language

Type

Format

One newspaper page

Publisher

Daily Sketch

Rights

This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Contributor

Identifier

PBanksP15020014

Transcription

I Saved My Baby From the Nazis by Robert Henrey

"In these sorrowful hours," says Marshal Petain in his broken-hearted statement to the French nation, "I think of the unhappy refugees who in utter distress flee along the roads."

For the last three days I, too, have been a refugee. A week ago I left London to rescue my wife and my one-year-old son from the Germans as Nazi tanks scorched across the Normandy pasture fields bringing their savage hordes hourly nearer our 16th century farmhouse.

This farm, where my son was born last summer, nestles in the [photograph] My son and his mother photographed on arrival in London. [/photograph] rich land above Deauville, where they make Camembert cheese and where the cream and butter are supposed to be the best in the world.

From the fields where my cattle grazed so peacefully I could see, across the mouth of the Seine, the once noble city of Le Havre, where the ocean greyhound Normandie used to slip before the war so gracefully to her moorings

Waves of 'Planes
It was with foreboding that one evening last week I jumped out of the car that brought me to the gates of my farm. The little half-timbered house built in the days when the English still held Calais lies in the middle of a six-acre field planted every ten yards with cider apple trees.

At right angles to my house was that of my farmer, which I built for him with thatched roof to harmonise with the cattle sheds that form the rest of the wing. In front is the well with its thatched dome, on top of which grow multicoloured irises.

Half way down the field I saw my wife running towards me. She had left our little son in his pram, and led me into the house where dinner was simmering on the stove.

Five minutes later the drone of an aeroplane could be heard.
It circled twice over our house and then made towards Le Havre. Soon twenty more arrived and did the same thing.

Child Massacre
Five minutes later we watched these aeroplanes drop their bombs over the city. They arrived in waves of twenty, burning, bombarding and machine-gunning for four solid hours every night.

The Nazis were aiming not only at the utter destruction of Le Havre, but also at our own boys, who behaved like the heroes they are although so few have returned to tell the tale.

As we walked sorrowfully back to the house a woman with a baby in her arms asked us the way to a certain farm. She said she had come from Rouen by foot, and that the Nazis had entered the city at 10 o'clock that morning.

Two Nazi tanks had thundered down the main street of Rouen just as Mass was about to start. They had galloped 70 miles ahead of the nearest German infantry, and entered the city by surprise, firing at both pavements as they rumbled through the streets.

But when the tanks reach the bridge across the river (where the cafes are always packed at this hour of the morning) the French blew the bridge up, sending both tanks and twenty French motor-cars into the water below.

Then another bridge was blown up, and then the aerial bridge.

When my wife and I heard about Rouen, we decided to leave. But could we get a car? The only train from Paris that morning had been machine-gunned by Nazi airmen and cut in half. Scores had been killed.

We walked down to the village of Villers-sur-Mer. It was pitch black and air-raid wardens were whistling in front of windows where the slightest crack of light could be seen. Everybody who had a car had gone except the doctor and the nurse who was expecting four maternity cases during the next few hours.

Bombs All Around
We walked up again while forty Nazi 'planes whirred above our heads to continue the bombing of Le Havre.

The next morning we put our house spick and span. I helped my wife make the beds and myself made up the cot. I did not want a speck of dust to remain on the furniture. My mother-in-law had laid the table for lunch. "Let the fire die down," I said. "I don't think we'll need it."

I walked down to the village where the notary told me that the Germans might be expected at any time. They had broken across the Seine after machine-gunning all the refugees on the ferries. A friend offered to drive my little family to the other side of Caen. I came up again and said to my wife, "We are leaving immediately."

She understood. We took nothing but the baby's pram and a little lamp to heat his meals during the journey. I said good-bye to the house which represented all my dreams, all my savings, and picked a rose in the garden. We never looked back.

Now the Germans will be eating the meal we had prepared. They will be tearing the sheets from my baby's cot, driving their bayonets through the little things that had been in my family for five generations. All my books were there, all I loved, all I cared for. My cattle would have been grazing in the fields when they arrived - I hope they fed my rabbits.

Chased Round Trees
The Germans pursued us all along the roads. Their aeroplanes would arrive, and flying only a few hundred feet high would machine-gun and bomb the caravan until three hundred cars would be ablaze, and most of their occupants killed.

Some that had escaped the first slaughter would run into the woods only to be chased round the trees by the Nazi airmen. But half an hour later the dead would be laid out by the roadside, the burned cars left to their fate, and the refugees behind would press forward to hope and the west coast.

The Tommies said that each time they arrived in a village the people ran for their lives, knowing that within half an hour of the arrival of our troops the Nazis would bomb them.

The last trains from Paris took 40 hours on the journey, were bombarded half a dozen times and women held on to the outside handles because there was no room inside the compartments. Cattle trucks were crowded with half-stifled children.

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Citation

Robert Henrey, “I saved my baby from the Nazis,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 6, 2022, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/22382.

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