Nancy Powell’s Escape Diary

  1. Prologue
  2. 14th - 16th June
  3. 17th - 18th June
  4. 19th - 22nd June
  5. 23rd - 24th June
  6. Exode / Escape 1988

Escape

Friday, 14th June 1940

The final decision to leave Nogent was taken. We had hoped to leave about 10am but then came an air-raid warning and it was no use attempting to leave – too much danger of dive bombing on the road. Though, on the other hand how futile it was to go to the top of the garden as we had been told to do by the Civil Defence for 1) it was only 113 meters from the Route Nationale No.10 and 2) we had a wine and spirit store adjacent to our garden. Our basement had been pronounced unsafe as a shelter.

The all clear went about 11.30am I would think. Now came the tricky job of backing the car out of the garage, for with the road jammed with traffic, no one would allow us to back out into the road and allow us to straighten up and close the garage doors. Finally someone gave way and we achieved this. I went back to lock the garage doors, then back into the house for one last look, then out to lock the “grille” and here we were (my father, my mother and myself) one more car and one more family getting into the “exodus queue”. It took us about twenty minutes to negotiate the first 200 meters into the town, then we made for the secondary roads through le Theil, La Ferte Bernard, Bonne Valle, Ballon, Susanne to Evron. There was traffic on the road but we were able to drive at a fairly normal speed. We reached Evron about 6pm. Here my friend Yvonne had come from Nogent, with two young sons, to stay with her aunt and uncle and they kindly offered us shelter for the night as it was too late to attempt St. Malo that evening. At this stage St. Malo was our nearest port of escape to England.

Saturday, 15th June

Attempted, leaving after breakfast, to get to St. Malo via Mayenne, Fougeres. To start with the going was slow, roads blocked with traffic going both ways. There was some troop movement to which priority was naturally given.

There were many road blocks and by early afternoon, after many diversions and being finally told that no civilians were being allowed north, we were in fact back not very far from our starting point of Evron and Mother and Father were only too pleased to be able to stay the night there again.

All through the night the traffic on the main road was intense (I slept but little). This proved to be the British, making for Brest no doubt. We assumed later that at this stage they had received orders to try and get back to England.

Sunday, 16th June

My friend Yvonne went to 7am Mass. On her return she said that if we didn’t make a move soon we should never get away. News was filtering through of the Germans rapid advance.

At this stage it became necessary to siphon some petrol from the tanks in the back of the car to the car’s tank. Can’t say I liked the flavour of petrol. By 9am we were on our way, here we started our trek south. We had hoped to keep a fairly straight road west since our now ultimate aim was Landivisiau near Brest. Here again some friends had offered us shelter if we had to get away from Nogent. They had a hotel. It was obvious by this time that the civilian Police had been given orders to direct people on the roads south and so it was that we were directed south of Laval to Chateau Gontier then on to Craon, Pouance, Chateaubriant. Here at one of the many road barriers we encountered I made a plea for going north, saying we had a house near Brest and that it made sense that we should try to go there. Whether the “agent” at the barrier knew how serious the situation was I know not but his remark was:- “Well, if you want to cut off in Brittany why should I worry”. So it was that from then onwards, repeating this plea at every road block, we gradually moved northwards through Bain-Bretagne, Maure. About twenty kilometers from Maure, near Guer, we broke down at about 7pm – just near a small holding and very near to the Polish Headquarters at Coetquiden. The farmer and his wife came out to speak to us and very soon flagged down the chauffeur of a Polish colonel (known to them and who happened to be passing at the time). Said by them to be a mechanic, he tried to find out what the trouble was – but to no avail.

By this time it was 9pm and the small holders suggested that with their help we pushed our car down the short drive and parked our car in front of their house. Their offer was accepted, for there was no other alternative at that hour. The mattress was taken from the car roof and placed in a very large bedroom which we shared with the farmer and his wife. They in their bed at one end of the room, Mother and myself on the mattress at the other end. Father remained in the car to protect the petrol and belongings etc.

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