Thursday 10 January 2013

4th December, 1946 - In which Ron and his comrades travel through France and witness how the country has been affected by the hostilities of WWII

Wednesday, 4th December, 1946
After such a poor night we were awake at dawn and eager for our breakfast.  We arrived at Dijon where we changed trains then we retraced our journey for some fifteen miles to an army camp.  Here it was we breakfasted.  We were so hungry now that the poor quality food was eaten with little comment, in a hut which was in semi-darkness.

Before leaving the camp we were given two bread rolls, a sausage roll, a cake and a bun.  These were to comprise our “haversack ration” and were to be our only food until we reached Toulon.

With this sorry prospect we once more climbed up into the train to continue our journey.

Travelling parallel to the River Seine we saw farmers
in the fields ploughing with teams of oxen.  The land lies very flat and I found it uninteresting, broken only occasionally with a cluster of trees or a stray village.  At a little after midday we passed through the village of Saint George.

At two in the afternoon we arrived in Lyons where the train came to a standstill.  Immediately Frenchmen came alongside the carriages shouting up to the windows from the low platforms.  Asking us for cigarettes & soap.  Knowing these were in short supply we decided to barter for things we needed.  My friend and I were philatelists so asked them in our very imperfect French whether or not they had any postage stamps to exchange.  At first they thought we wanted them in order to post a letter and they told me that we being military did not need stamps to post mail.  When I explained that I collected stamps they searched their letters, wallets, pockets etc, but only one man had any at all.  These were two three franc stamps for which I gave him three cigarettes.  This pleased both him and I and I believe that is how all bartery should be concluded.  He was also able to tell me that Toulon via Marseilles was a distance of 600km.

Leaving Lyons at about two o’clock we continued our journey and being in hilly country we passed through many long tunnels.  We saw on some of the hill  sides caves we supposed had been constructed and used during the war years for some purpose.

All the countryside has about it a dark foreboding atmosphere.  I cannot quite account for this air.

There has been no great and obvious ruination en route though Lyons has obviously been the centre of larger struggles.  Only temporary bridges span the Seine in this city.

On passing through Valencia our route took us through a valley in the French Alps whose snow capped peaks lay about a mile distance from us on either side.  Trees have also become more prevalent in the picture, these are principally Poplars with firs planted as wind breaks.

From Avignon onwards it began to darken until at 6pm we could no longer see from the carriage window.  As the sun left us so the cold came in making us shiver in our seats.

After being in the train for some twenty six hours we arrived at our destination Toulon, at 9pm.  We piled out onto the platform and were loaded again, this time into a truck with our kit.

"The recruit en route.
Toulon 1946"
During the latter part of the train journey we had all changed into our uniforms.  Khaki battle dress and khaki shirt complete with batchelor buttons, black heavy boots and a blue peaked cap.

We travelled through cobbled streets of Toulon and out into the country for about fifteen miles to army transit camp.

I don’t think during the whole of our journey from Calais to Toulon that we saw more than thirty Frenchmen.  At ten in the evening the streets of Toulon were deserted but for corner queens.

We found the army camp to be very big consisting of wooden huts and buildings.

We were lodged in several of these huts, twenty six of us sharing one with double bunks along the walls.

We were each given a palliasse and three blankets and told to do what we liked with them.

From breakfast we had had only our haversack ration so were feeling very hungry.

We went to the dining hall each with his plate, knife, fork, spoon and mug.  We queued up and were ladled out our meal which had been cooked and served by German prisoners.

These prisoners were very friendly and do all they can to help you, such as cleaning cutlery etc.  In conversation with some troops I asked them whether they thought such acts were done out of kindness or indirectly for their own benefit.  The troops told me that on the whole they preferred the German prisoners to French working around the camp.  The French in the camp are not trusted and our troops if in a generous mood will rather part with cigarettes to Gerries who will smoke them themselves, than Frenchies who will sell them in the town on the black market.

We turned in at eleven and although the atmosphere of the hut was foul and heavy from the dust of the recently installed palliasses, I slept soundly.

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