Every year it is so moving to see the ceremonies surrounding D-Day–the commemorations and the celebrations, the veterans (fewer and few each year), the pictures and movies of that memorable day. Sadly, due to the coronavirus and travel restrictions, D-Day 2020 barely existed.
But in spite of the lack of ceremonies, no one can forget June 6, 1944 when Allied troops landed on the Normandy beaches. It was the beginning of the end of four years of war and bombings and deprivation. A date that has gone down in history even as we move farther and farther away from it.
In my novel, Final Transgression, for the fiftieth anniversary of D-Day an American newsman interviews “ordinary” French people, asking them about where they were on that day and what they remember. Caroline Aubry, the sister of the book’s heroine, tells the reporter that she doesn’t remember all that much about D-Day other than that when people realised the Allies had arrived, their sentiments were mixed. “We were grateful and relieved that the end of the war was in sight. At the same time, though, we continued to worry about more fighting, more battles, more bombs.” Her strongest memories, she told him, were of the Liberation of Paris in August and the joy of that day when French women poured into the streets and kissed the GIs.
In spite of that outbreak of relief and joy, she was right when she said that people continued to worry about more fighting and more battles. D-Day did not bring a sudden end to the fighting. Only four days after the D-Day Landing, a long line of lorries and armoured vehicles of the SS Der Führer division rolled into the centre of Oradour-sur-Glane, a pretty, peaceful village in the southwest of France. Resistance activity in the area was intense and the Germans were there to stop it. It is not clear why they chose this particular town but at any rate once they were there, they rounded up all the citizens on the village square, separating the men from the women and the children. The men were led to barns. The women were told that they would be led out of the town. In fact, the women and children were taken to the village church and locked inside it. Shortly afterwards, a signal rang out and the massacre began. The barns were set on fire and in case anyone was still alive, soldiers shot at the inert bodies. A fire was set in the church. As smoke billowed out, soldiers opened the doors to shoot inside until there was no more ammunition. Afterwards, all the buildings were set on fire. At the end of June 10, out of 642 townspeople, only six survived.
As Caroline talks to the reporter, she thinks of this massacre that took place not far from the village she grew up in. She doesn’t speak about it though. Nor does she speak of other terrible memories of the war and in particular, a personal tragedy she has never revealed to anyone, including her own son.
But she has written about them. And after the interview, she decides to show her son what she has written and reveal the secrets of those terrible times.
That is the book and I hope you will read it to see how hard and complex those times were and why, after years of living in an occupied country, a locked down country, people were so relieved to see the end of the war. An end that began with D-Day.