Saturday 14th June. We have driven 175 miles north to the Limousin region and the small town of Oradour-sur-Glane, not too far from Limoges. The story of Oradour has been documented by others with much more knowledge than me (http://www.oradour.info) but the story is quite horrific.
Oradour was a prosperous village with an old and famous church. Several hotels and restaurants welcomed visitors who enjoyed the area. It was particularly attractive to residents of Limoges who enjoyed picnics and fishing in the Glane which was full of fish. There was even a tram line into the village.
On the day of the attack there were a larger number of people in the village than normal because there was a distribution of tobacco and children from nearby hamlets were in the school. The 2nd SS Panzer Division had been ordered to head north from Valence-d’Agen, near Toulouse, to stop the Allied advance after D-Day. The Comanding Officer was told that a fellow officer was being held by the Resistance in the nearby village of Oradour-sur- Vayres. Unfortunately the two similarly named villages were confused and the battalion sealed off Oradour-sur-Glane in error.
In the early afternoon units of the S.S. surrounded the village and ordered the inhabitants to assemble on the fairground, an open area in the centre of the village. Machine guns were set up, women and men from surrounding villages and lines of schoolchildren, accompanied by their teachers, were rounded up. Women and children were sent to the church, men were separated into smaller groups and sent to different places in the village for execution. The men were machine gunned and explosions were heard before the troops set fire to the piles of bodies. In the church the S.S. set fire to an incendiary device which produced dense smoke sending the women into a panic and rushing for the doors. The troops were waiting with machine guns to force them back inside. Only one women survived, the youngest child was only eight days old. In a few hours 642 people, including 247 women and 205 children, were killed and 328 buildings destroyed.
The village was left and not returned to, with a new village built next to it. Now there is a memorial/ visitor centre and access to the remains of the buildings which have been left much as they were after the massacre.
It is a sombre place and as you enter the old village there is a large, faded sign with just one word:- SILENCE. Never have I been anywhere in France where the natives en masse are quiet. There are always loud voices and conversations held at the tops of their voices. But here, apart from a couple of people, there are almost whispered conversations. People talk quietly and with respect, even the children are quiet. Until, towards the end of our visit, we pass a large group of Dutch who are part of a coach trip. Several of them talk at the tops of their voices despite our looks of disapproval and ‘shushing’.
The ruins still contain artefacts that would have been in use at the time, rusting sewing machines, bent and buckled bikes, the remains of a kitchen range and many cars and farm implements. On a pile of rubble in one house is a child’s cycle and in the church a heap of melted bronze is all that is left of the bells. A wooden widow frame swings open in the breeze and the fine shop blind over the butchers is now rusty and bent.
One would think that the sort of massacre that went on in Oradour seventy years ago could never be repeated but then one switches on the evening news and hears of the same thing still happening in countries in Africa and the Middle East. Will mankind ever learn?
We left the old village in reflective mood and sat on a low wall in the shade. A blackbird was singing loudly from a nearby tree and I realised that I had not been aware of any birdsong whilst in the old village.
Back to the motorhome which is parked on the large free aire (GPS 45°56’07.26”N 1°01’30.66”E) in the village and we are back in range of UK satellite reception and can get all the BBC and ITV channels once again. We indulge in a bit of classic comedy to lighten our mood in the evening.
On Sunday morning we continue our progress north and after looking up the aires we could use decide to return to a small site we have used several times before at Salbris. For less than £15 a night for a pitch overlooking the lake Camping de Sologne (GPS 47°25’48.84N 2°03’16.49”E) is great value for money. We have supper in the snack bar and a fairly early night.
We must be getting closer to good old UK as after leaving Salbris on a bright sunny morning the cloud gets thicker and greyer the further north we drive. We arrive back at La Mailleraye to dark cloud and a stiff breeze.
We rather like the aire on the banks of the Seine but it always seems to be either raining, cloudy, stormy or any combination of the above. Welcome back to reality and Northern Europe!
Tuesday morning and it more of the same…..cloud, cloud cloud. North again almost to Calais and for the third day in a row we are driving into very strong head winds, it is destroying my fuel economy as we are lucky to get more than 23mpg. After a stop for supplies, well booze mostly, the fuel station refuses the credit card we have just used in their store, I have used the same card there on a previous trip without problems. A second card is also refused so I give up and drive on to another fuel station where the original card is accepted.
We spend our last night in France at Camping Les Erables (GPS 50°54’44.16N 1°43’13.97”E) in the hills overlooking the channel. There are two aires in Calais we could use but they cost around €8 per night, tend to be noisy and there can be undesirables hanging around. This super little site costs €10, has great views and is quiet, peaceful and secure.
I booked our ferry for late afternoon to give us plenty of time on our final day but by mid-day we have finished the last minute shopping we wanted to do and the motorhome is groaning under the weight of wine and beer. Rather than hang around until 4pm we try for an earlier ferry and go through passport control and on to P&O check in. We can take the next ship at the cost of an extra £60 or the one after for £20 extra…..as the standard crossing is £50 they are having a laugh. They do though offer us a crossing one hour earlier at no extra cost so we take that. We are too early to join a queue for the 3.05 ferry so we have to leave the dock area through a side gate and come back later. We trundle off into Calais and park overlooking the marina and have some lunch and read until it is time to go back through passport control. We will now appear to have entered the UK twice without leaving in between……most suspicious.
A lovely smooth and quiet crossing in the Club Lounge and because we are parked with the trucks and coaches right at the stern of the ship we are the second vehicle off at Dover. After 2000 miles around France without any holdups we get to the Dartford Crossing which takes 45 minutes to get through and we have to pay them £2 for the dubious pleasure. By 7pm we are safely home having done 2150 miles @ 24.5mpg.
I thought it might be of interest to some people who might be thinking about a similar sort of trip to give a rough idea of the likely cost of four weeks touring in France. I have not included food and drink as we would have to pay for that whether we were at home or away.
- P&O ferry (return) £100
- Fuel (2150 miles £438
- Sites & Aires (28 nights, 6 on sites, 8 free) £165
- LPG gas £28
Total basic costs £731
Extra optional costs
- P&O Club Lounge (return) £48
- A16 motorway toll (south) £14
- CC Red Pennant insurance £135
Total optional costs £197
Overall costs £928.