‘We danced in the streets with the soldiers’: French civilians recall joys, horrors of D-Day – National

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Thérèse Le Chevalier was simply 15 years outdated on June 6, 1944, however she will nonetheless hear the bombs that heralded the start of the D-Day invasion.

“It was a harsh sound,” she remembers. “My father had dug a trench within the yard. And so we spent the entire night time mendacity within the trench.”


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Le Chevalier grew up within the French coastal village of Bernières-sur-Mer in Normandy, on what’s now Juno Seashore. She and her household spent 4 years residing beneath Nazi occupation.

“It was not simple to stay, significantly as a result of meals was troublesome to get,” she says.

The Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France 75 years in the past marked the start of the tip of the Second World Struggle. However that victory got here at an ideal value, together with to the French inhabitants in Normandy. By the point the solar set on D-Day, round 2,500 French civilians had been killed, some caught within the crossfire of Allied bombs.

Le Chevalier and different surviving French civilians who endured occupation and liberation are actually sharing their tales as a part of a brand new exhibition known as In Their Footsteps. It was organised by the Juno Seashore Centre, a museum in Normandy devoted to the 14,000 Canadian troopers who fought on D-Day.

“The Canadians who got here to liberate Juno Seashore didn’t come to liberate rocks — they got here to liberate individuals,” says Nathalie Worthington, director of the Juno Seashore Centre. “There have been individuals residing right here; you had households who had youngsters. They usually’ve skilled all of the traumas of German occupation after which the traumas of liberation.”

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Marguerite Cassingneul nonetheless has hassle speaking about these traumas. She and her husband, Remy, had been youngsters on D-Day. They witnessed civilians and troopers killed following the Allied invasion, together with Canadians.

“The Canadian troopers spoke French,” Remy says. “We had gathered collectively, when impulsively: ‘Bang!’ A Canadian collapsed proper in entrance of us. He simply collapsed. He’d been shot by a German sniper excessive up within the bushes.

Canadian infantrymen from Le Régiment de la Chaudière talking with French civilians in Bernières-sur-Mer, France, on 6 June 1944.

Canadian squaddies from Le Régiment de la Chaudière speaking with French civilians in Bernières-sur-Mer, France, on 6 June 1944.

Library and Archives Canada

“We returned to the home and he was laid out on the desk. We needed to assist however there was nothing to be accomplished.”

Marguerite’s voice breaks and her eyes properly up as she remembers seeing lifeless our bodies on the seashore, together with a younger German soldier who was badly disfigured. “It’s inconceivable to take a look at the ocean with out pondering of that,” she says. “That German soldier had dad and mom.”


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These recollections of trauma and grief are blended with pleasure and gratitude. When the preventing ended after D-Day, Le Chevalier remembers crawling out of their yard trench along with her household.

“I got here out into the road; it was superb,” she says with a puff. “We might see large tanks and troopers all over the place. It was completely great.”

This street corner in Tailleville, Normandy is named after Canadian Alphonse Noel of the North Shore regiment, who was wounded here following the D-Day invasion in June 1944.

This road nook in Tailleville, Normandy is called after Canadian Alphonse Noel of the North Shore regiment, who was wounded right here following the D-Day invasion in June 1944.

Jeff Semple / International Information

She says one of many Allied troops discovered a home with a piano, rolled it exterior and began enjoying. “We danced within the streets with the troopers,” she laughs. “The individuals within the village had been so completely happy, so completely happy to be alive.”

However the celebration didn’t final lengthy. After a few days, she says, all the Canadian troopers had left, pushing deeper into Nazi-occupied territory. That they had modified the course of the struggle, however there have been nonetheless 11 horrible months left to battle.

“We pitied them, as a result of they needed to go,” Le Chevalier says.

Quite a few Canadian flags now fly within the communities alongside Juno Seashore and there are streets and colleges named after Canadian troopers who fought there. And to at the present time, Marguerite and Remy Cassingneul nonetheless open their house to Canadian guests.

“We now have deep respect for Canadians,” Remy says.

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