Limousin, France – Day 7


Yet another misty morning and we were treated to a visit from a Red Squirrel. We had been throwing out the stale bread for the birds, using the wooden barrow as an impromptu bird table. Tufty seemed to like stale bread too. He certainly had the teeth for it which is more than could be said for us old codgers in the gite.

 

Red Squirrel - La Porcherie, Limousin, France

Red Squirrel – La Porcherie, Limousin, France

Our itinerary for today, Thursday, was to take us to Oradour-sur-Glane a few miles north and west of Limoges.  Chosen by me because, a couple of years ago, I had read an excerpt from a book that had just been published. The excerpt, published in one of our national papers, told of the tragedy that befell the residents of this French village.

So to set the scene …

On 10th June, 1944, 642 of its inhabitants, almost the entire population of Oradour, including women and children, were massacred.

From Wikipedia: A massacre is a specific incident which involves the violent killing of many people and the perpetrating party is perceived as in total control of force while the victimized party is perceived as helpless or innocent.

Although the true reason for this atrocity is not known, one explanation is that  members of an SS Panzer Division entered the village to avenge a German officer, kidnapped by the French Resistance.

The SS ordered all the townspeople to assemble in the village square. To keep everyone calm, this was done under the pretense of having  their papers checked. Some 400 women and children, separated from the men, were herded into  the church where the SS placed an incendiary device.  After it was ignited, women and children tried to escape through the doors and windows of the church, but they were met with machine-gun fire. Only one woman, 47-year-old Marguerite Rouffanche, managed to escape from the church. She was shot and wounded as she escaped but managed to hide until she was rescued the next day.

The men of the village, more than 200 were herded into a barn where machine gunners opened fire, shooting at their legs so they could not move then dousing them with petrol and setting them alight. The SS then looted the village and set fire to the buildings before leaving.

A few months later, after Liberation, de Gaulle visited Oradour-sur-Glane and it was decided that the ruins were to remain, untouched, as a monument to the martyr village.

Oradour-sur-Glane now has a visitor centre, the “Village Martyr, Centre de la Memoire” which leads you through world history and the events that lead to the war and ultimately to the events that occurred in Oradour itself.

Centre de la Memoire, Oradour-sur-Glane, Limousin, France

Centre de la Memoire, Oradour-sur-Glane, Limousin, France

The centre sets out to put Oradour into its proper context in the war. The village was quite prosperous and, with several cafe’s and restaurants, was a popular destination for people from Limoges and the surrounding areas. All this came to a dramatic end on that fateful day.

This then, is the Oradour-sur-Glane left behind by the SS on that summer’s day.

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Oradour-sur-Glane, Limousin, France

As you walk through the village you become increasingly aware of how quiet it is. It isn’t just that you are requested, on entry, to remain quiet. Having been through the visitor centre you are well aware of the tragedy that occurred here and the enormity of the crime seems to be underlined.

Oradour-sur-Glane, Limousin, France

Oradour-sur-Glane, Limousin, France

Deserted streets which were once busy with the footsteps of the local residents.  No more greetings as friends and neighbours meet, going about their daily business. Visiting the boucherie, charcuterie, boulangerie or even ladies chatting about their appointment at the salon de coiffure. Silent.

Oradour-sur-Glane, Limousin, France

Oradour-sur-Glane, Limousin, France

The tram lines and wires which once carried many visitors now lead nowhere and, like the streets, are silent. The quiet settles about you like a mantle. It’s not oppressive here although you might expect it to be.

Oradour-sur-Glane, Limousin, France

Oradour-sur-Glane, Limousin, France

The plaque on the wall of the ruined church reminds us that some women and children were massacred by the Nazis and asks that you make a prayer  for the victims and their families.

Plaque on the church - Oradour-sur-Glane, Limousin, France

Plaque on the church – Oradour-sur-Glane, Limousin, France

The heat of the fire was so intense that the bell dropped from the church tower. Just a molten blob remains, with only the clapper giving a clue as to its original purpose.

Molten remains of the church bell - Oradour-sur-Glane, Limousin, France

Molten remains of the church bell – Oradour-sur-Glane, Limousin, France

Another symbol of the heart that was ripped out of Oradour is the infants school. This being a weekday, there should have been the sounds of the classroom and the playground. Silent

Infants School - Oradour-sur-Glane, Limousin, France

Infants School – Oradour-sur-Glane, Limousin, France

A memorial to a family, victims of the massacre, their ages ranging from 5 to 67.

Family Memorial - Oradour-sur-Glane, Limousin, France

Family Memorial – Oradour-sur-Glane, Limousin, France

There are, in the ruins, many symbols of normal, daily life. Perhaps the one that I became most aware of is the sewing machine. It seems that almost every house had one and the body of such machines is the lasting reminder of the fact that these were indeed, people’s homes.

Sewing Machine - Oradour-sur-Glane, Limousin, France

Sewing Machine – Oradour-sur-Glane, Limousin, France

Other reminders are scattered around the ruins. The ornate metal frames of beds, perambulators, bicycles and cooking pots all serving as a memorial to the lost people of this village.

Bicycle - Oradour-sur-Glane, Limousin, France

Bicycle – Oradour-sur-Glane, Limousin, France

I found myself getting angry as I walked around the ruins of this once prosperous village. Angry, not just at the men that had perpetrated this act of barbarism, but also, at the fact that despite the many years that have passed, human kind still hasn’t learned the lesson.

In the last seventy years, since Oradour, there have been many, many events that can be classified as massacres. Some, initiated by disturbed individuals, but many carried out by armed military against unarmed and non military people. There have been too many such incidents.

The sad thing is that they are still happening, perpetrated in the name of religion, race or “I was just following orders”.

Limousin, France – Day 4


It’s Monday morning and I’ve made the run to Massaret for fresh bread.

Masseret, Limousin, France - Hilltop Tower

Masseret, Limousin, France – Hilltop Tower

French bread is wonderful but it doesn’t stay fresh for long. But that’s OK because I get to meet all these friendly people. Everyone says “Bonjour” when they meet you in the street or inside the boulangerie. Then “Au Revoir” when either they or you leave the shop. It is such a refreshing change from the sullen brits who just stand there avoiding eye contact.

Masseret, Limousin, France - The 12c. Church of St. Catherine.

Masseret, Limousin, France – The 12c. Church of St. Catherine.

So this morning I request a baguette, and a boule, in my rather fractured franglais and make it known that I would like the boule sliced. Madame returns with the loaf in a bag and promptly drops it on the floor with the individual slices all trying to make a run for the space under the counter. With many typically gallic shrugs and embarrassed smiles a second boule makes its way through the slicer, into a bag and safely into my arms and back to the gite.

Today we have decided to go into Limoges for a bit of a reconnaissance. Surprisingly we make into the centre, park up and find the tourist information office all in one smooth move. We discover that there is one of those “tourist train” things due to leave from just outside the tourist office in a short while. The consensus was that this would be a quick way to orientate ourselves to the Limoges sights. Then we can cherry pick those that we want to do in detail. So into a cafe we go for a quick coffee and cake and not long after we are sat aboard in anticipation.

Limoges, France - Hotel de Ville

Limoges, France – Hotel de Ville

To describe the journey as  the ride from hell would be extreme but it was anything but pleasant. The coaches shuddered back and forth like the folds of an accordion and the cobble streets jarred our spines through the virtually non existent suspension and thin padding on the seats. I should also point out that there is an audio commentary available with translations. We were all issued with earphones but the translated commentary was fragmented possibly breaking up in harmony with the reverberations radiating through the chassis of the coaches. The translated commentary was pretty much drowned out by the volume of the native commentary blasting out over the speakers. Thankfully, after an hour it was over.

Limoges, France - Chapelle du College des Jesuites - Built 1629

Limoges, France – Chapelle du College des Jesuites – Built 1629

After the trauma of the train ride we decided that what we all needed was a quiet walk by the river. This turned out to be a good decision.

Limoges, France - Pavillion du Verdurier

Limoges, France – Pavillion du Verdurier

The walk by the river led us to the saint-Etienne Bridge ….

Limoges, France - Saint Martial Bridge -  dating from the Roman era

Limoges, France – Saint Etienne Bridge – dating from 13c.

The following description I have plagiarized from one of the many info plaques ….

The St Etienne bridge was built in the 13th C to divert some of the traffic away from St Martial bridge, aboy 1km downstream. It was on the “via Lemovicensis”, a main route to Santiago de Compostella and is  used by pilgrims to this day. It linked the right bank quarter of washerwomen, who until the middle of the 20th C washed the towns bourgeoisie’s linen in the river, to the “Clos Ste Marie”, nowadays a village in the city centre, on the left bank.

The bridge also marked the end of the stretch of river used to float lumber from the mountain to the construction sites and industries of Limoges.

 

It was very peaceful here, away from the noise of the city traffic. So much so that there was a bit of billing and cooing going on ….

Time for amour

Time for amour

 

Another, more modern, bridge …….

 

Limoges, France - Pont Neuf. Built 1838

Limoges, France – Pont Neuf. Built 1838

Limoges, France - Wonky buildings en route to the cathedral.

Limoges, France – Wonky buildings en route to the cathedral.

 

Limoges, France - Rue du Pont Saint-Etienne 1907

Limoges, France – Rue du Pont Saint-Etienne 1907

Limoges, France - Rue du Pont Saint-Etienne 2014

Limoges, France – Rue du Pont Saint-Etienne 2014

Packing and Cleaning


Day 15 – Friday 29th June

Today is a sad day. As we will be travelling home tomorrow we have to pack our kit and give the gite a bit of a clean.

I made my last 3km run to the boulangerie earlier this morning. Picked up a “petite boule”. It has been hard during the last few days, the decision making that is. A petite boule, a grand boule, a pavee or perhaps a baguette. I am going to miss the daily bread trip. I don’t know where the nearest artisan bakery is at home. The nearest we have is in one of the supermarket chain stores.

I’m not likely to get a bright smiley Bon Jour from a bland, help yourself, bank of loaves. Let alone the same varieties of bread.

So we have packed and scrubbed, rewarded ourselves with an ice cold beer and relaxed for a while.

We visited a local cave to buy some local wine. This descended into farce as I initially tried to ask concrete truck drivers mate if the cave was open. He of course couldn’t understand me but wouldn’t know anyway. He did indicate a guy on a tractor. So I went and introduced myself asked if he spoke any english. He shook my hand said something in French, climbed down off his tractor and ran off behind a building. In the meantime a black and tan dog came and introduced himself.

There are no language barriers betwixt man and dog.

A couple minutes later another guy turns up on a tractor. Speaks in French at 1000 words a second while first pointing at his cement covered wellies then at the building works and the truck. Eventually I understood him to be saying that he couldn’ deal with us as the concrete truck had arrived late. That he now had to deal with the concrete before that went off and could we come back tomorrow morning after nine.

We said not to worry, we couldn’t come back as we would be travelling home. As we were leaving he came running after us with a bottle of wine. Presumably as a consolation for not being able to buy his wine. I protested that it was not necessary, but not too much, and accepted gracefully. We bid our adieu’s and headed off to Aigre.

In Aigre we headed into the supermarket, to hedge our bets and buy some commercial wine. After that we went to research the two restaurants and decide which one should have our custom for our last relaxed meal in France.

The lucky winner was Le Square, who provided us with an adequate meal which with beers cost us over 50 euros. This compared to a really good meal with wine and beer which cost us just over 31 euros at Les Colombiere the night before.

And so back to the gite, a couple of games of Rummikub and early to bed.