1944 Letter

Lieut. A. Tillotson, 5 3 5 Coy. R.A.S.C., Armd. Div. Tps., B.L.A.

Letter to Father, Sunday, 3 September, 1944

What a momentous week. Little did I know when I wrote to you last

Saturday that it would be such a week. I have seen so much, travelled so

far, formed so many opinions and talked to so many people. I only wish

I could see you both and tell you it all. I am afraid I have neither the

opportunity nor the ability to put it into a letter - I will try however.

I started by going back to the rear area around Caen, and how it had

changed. The streets all tidy, spaces cleared and the citizens looking

even now healthier and certainly happier. From organized destruction

I travelled up the Orne Valley, which is very lovely and most reminis-

cent of Scotland. Hills on one side of the road with heather and gorse

and copses, and on the other side the Orne, twisting and turning, with

quaint Norman bridges and waterfalls. I saw several coveys of par-

tridges in the cornfields beside the river.

After the beauty and peacefulness of the Orne Valley, I debouched

into the open land and the Falaise Gap. What a scene of destruction —

everywhere piled up vehicles, tanks, guns, cars and quantities of horse-

drawn vehicles, which, due to his lack of petrol and rubber, he has been

forced to use to a very great extent. I will spare you the horrors. Suffice

it to say that the smell and utter desolation of that battlefield will be

with me, and everyone else who has passed that way, for ever.

Two days ago as I was seeing my convoy through, I stopped two

staff cars so as to get my lot through in one bunch. The officer in the

first car said “If you look in the car behind you will see the C. in C. of

the German 7th Army, whom we captured having breakfast in Amiens

a few hours ago.” An amazing experience — he and his staff were there

and looking most dejected.

A word now on the F.F.I.* I think their work and above all their num-

bers and effciency have surprised us all. Every village has a number of

them once you cross the Seine. They are having a wonderful time and

thoroughly enjoying themselves. They are also proving of immense

value to us as we are advancing so fast and leaving pockets of resistance

everywhere, which they clean up and also round up the collaborateurs.

They wear a variety of clothes and have French, English and German

equipment. The only thing they have in common is the Cross of

Lorraine on their arm.

(*The French Forces of the Interior (French: Forces Françaises de l'Intérieur) refers to French resistance fighters in the later stages of World War II. Charles de Gaulle used it as a formal name for the resistance fighters. The change in designation of these groups to FFI occurred as France's status changed from that of an occupied nation to one of a nation being liberated by the Allied armies. As regions of France were liberated, the FFI were more formally organized into light infantry units and served as a valuable manpower addition to regular Free French forces.

This collaborator business really does present a problem. It is to me a

horrid sight to see them marched through the streets, having been

dragged from their homes by the F.F.I., taken to the Place de Ville and

then shorn or very often maltreated. Everyone who has a grudge against

them has a kick or strikes them. I understand that they must feel bitter

against them but surely now is the time for every Frenchman to stand

united. If they have actually been traitors, well and good, shoot them

cleanly, but for consorting with Germans and doing business with them

an ordeal like that does more harm than good. France wants to forget

the shameful years of 1940 - 1944, and leave as few scars as possible.

I spoke to one girl who had had her head shorn for consorting with a

German. She said she was 16 when they came and she had no young

man to be faithful to who was now a prisoner or working in Germany.

Furthermore, there were no young Frenchmen about. They were all

elsewhere. “Que voulez-vous, Monsieur, nous Francaises aiment le

bonheur.” It seems hard on them and some of them genuinely love the

individual German.

I suppose that one cannot generalize. The one consoling thought is

that it is Frenchman against Frenchman and they cannot blame us for it


There is one opinion I have formed very definitely and that is that

France must “se débrouiller”. She is sitting back and enjoying freedom

and getting fat and leaving it to the Allies to do everything for them. I

have been asked scores of times when are the Allies going to bring such

and such stuff, or do such and such a thing in France. It never enters

their heads to get organized and do it themselves. This applies especially

to Normandy, where they were settled with the German who brought

the majority of them prosperity while we brought them destruction.

The difference between our reception on that side of the Seine and this

is tremendous. Here they are delirious with joy and gratitude. They

clear the roads themselves and do what tidying up there is to do them-

selves. The men have signed on at the mairie and are given various jobs

to do. No such thing exists in Normandy. We do what is absolutely

necessary to clear the roads and that is all. They do what is absolutely

necessary to make their house habitable. The rest is left to Providence.