This is a transcript of an account Nancy Powell wrote in the 1980′s of her escape from France between 14th – 24th June 1940. At the time, Blanche would have been aged 74, Gerald aged 72 and Nancy was 34.
Saturday, 8th June 1940
Went over to Courville as usual to teach English at the Cours Complementaire. Returned on the usual afternoon train – trains running normally and on time.
Went down to river to have a swim at about 4pm. Air raid warning whilst there which we took little notice of even then. Little did we realise how serious the situation was by then: The German Army had broken through on the northeastern front and were heading for the Seine.
Sunday, 9th June
A letter and a card from England: Post still normal. The card from my aunt stated that her son in law had got away from Dunkerque and was safe and well in England. The letter from our District Nurse friend near Chester was to tell us that her husband had passed away after a short illness.
Went as usual to Maillet’s (the pastrycook’s) for the traditional Sunday lunch tart and met the Herves. Fred Herve (one of our local doctors) inquired what the British radio was reporting. We had discovered that the British radio was giving more accurate and up to date information about the German breakthrough than the French. I cannot remember what Daventry reported that day. News bulletins came only in the evening if I remember correctly. Life still seemed very normal and no thought of leaving for England was yet in our minds though Fred Herve mentioned it might be a good idea not to delay our departure.
Monday, 10th June
Complete reversal of situation. People are beginning to talk of leaving Nogent. Marthe, our daily help, came to say that her sister from a nearby village, Remalard, would be fetching her the next day – with a horse and cart they were going towards the south to relatives about 200 kms away.
Father still felt no need to leave and that people were panicking, but we (mother and I) were vaguely preparing.
Tuesday, 11th June, Wednesday, 12th June
Things got rapidly worse – more and more people were leaving Nogent. Mrs Holman and her family had gone to Foulletourte (near le Mans) to her sister’s and brother in law’s. Yvonne Baghaud and her children to Evron to her aunt and uncle.
Odette (8 1/2 months pregnant) was in the family home at Nogent and her husband was still in Paris. She couldn’t understand why Father wouldn’t leave. She felt we would get caught.
Thursday, 13th June
Odette’s husband arrived from Paris – the railway line had been bombed and George had to walk some part of the way – no more trains from Paris.
Father at last has seen the red light and the decision was taken to leave the next morning. He had tyres and car generally checked and the petrol in tank loaded in footspace of back seat.
We had been more or less packed for days. A suitcase each, a mattress on roof of car (a protection against machine gunning), my bicycle fixed into the boot, some linen sheets (all French people were taking their valuable sheets), the sheepskin rug, and our last bottle of champagne from the cellar.
We were so stunned by the constant stream or rather queue of vehicles of all kinds coming past (we lived on Route Nationale No.10). It was like a magnet which drew us to the front windows. Harrowing stories were told by those coming through at snail’s pace. Many had been subjected to machine gunning. In one case, we were told, a woman was holding her dead child in her arms. Many cars had broken down and their occupants were continuing their way on foot. Many were on their way to relatives further west or south.
On the main road the average speed was between 5 and 10 kms an hour.