CHARLES DEGAULLE

France

1944

(Part I of II)

Soon after American and French forces took Paris, General Charles De Gaulle arrived by boat from England. A French captain by the name of Gerard came to our office and sought assistance in getting the general to Paris via railroad.

We had previously been informed of the general’s pending arrival and were ready to assist. Following the general’s orders, Capt. Gerard specified the train was to be a French one and operated by French engine-ers. In other words, he wanted no American train and no American visibility as he traveled to Paris.

I liked Capt. Gerard. A war veteran, his uniform was from WWI. He was shorter than my six-foot frame, and graying–maybe in his seventies. While he did not speak English, he evidentially understood it. Smiling slightly, his cheeks seemed to inflate and deflate as he said, “Bon, bon, bon!” (French for “Good, good, good!”)

I was directed to be the captain’s contact and to make sure there were no problems. However, there were many. The captain and I went out to the switchyard (train assembly area) where there was a French train with two engines connected to it. The coaches were very old and had signs of being shot at, but most of its windows were intact. This was probably the best French train available in the Cotentin Peninsula.

The captain and I inspected the two engines. They, too, were old, but also rather small. They didn’t seem fit for the job. Capt. Gerard told me the engineers doubted the engines could make it to Paris.

I went to the colonel in charge of the 728 Railroad Battalion with the problem. He decided to have two American steam engines stand by to use, if needed. Since the train would have a load in excess of eight hundred tons, and there was an uphill grade from Cherbourg to Carentan on the way to Paris, the train would require two engines.

On his arrival, De Gaulle and his group were driven from the ship to the railroad station where Capt. Gerard and I met him. The captain introduced me and explained our back-up plans.

Excitement was in the air. Some locals were standing by and De Gaulle’s officers were scampering about, supervising the loading of many boxcars. Luggage, furniture, food and other supplies would ride behind the coaches.

The train and old engines had been decorated with the French Tricolor and bunting. I stood with my colleagues and watched the train roll away from the platform. Capt. Gerard followed down the tracks on foot and both were soon out of sight.

 

Le (July ‘14) adds, “Wish I had some pictures of that day. Sadly, I do not.”

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