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.

or1

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”.

At Long Last – Arctic Medal campaign is won


HMS Scylla

Long over due, the British Government finally see sense. Now we all hope that they and their bureaucrats get their collective digits out and make sure the medals are available while there are still some deserving recipients alive to make all this worthwhile.

It would also be right to award the medals posthumously to those who couldn’t hang around while this country had its governmental knickers in a twist.

So in this sudden period of enlightenment do you suppose there is any chance that this government might also allow the Russians to present the Ushakov medal.

Arctic Medal campaign is won – Defence – Portsmouth News.

Russian ambassador’s regret over medal row – Britains Shame


Britain’s Shame !!!

The convoys kept Russia supplied to keep fighting the Nazis on Germany’s eastern front. But while the Ushakov medal has been handed to veterans from Australia, Canada and the United States for their role in the convoys, the British government is refusing to allow it to be given to British veterans.

When our stuffy government sticks by rules that are both antiquated and unfair then they should be ashamed and so should we as a nation.

There is no time limit on valour. There is no time limit on doing ones duty. There should be no time limit on recognising duty and valour.

The Russians clearly recognise this

In a letter seen by The News, Alexander Yakovenko told veterans the Russian Embassy in London has ‘profound regret’ that the British government will not allow them to be decorated.

‘Under the circumstances the embassy only has to express its profound regret that while the authorities of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA have granted permission to the veterans of the Arctic Convoys to be awarded the Ushakov Medal, we are not in a position to honour in the same way the courage and sacrifice of the British heroes of the Arctic Convoys.

The full Russian Embassy Press Release can be found here

This issue has been the subject of a motion put before the British parliament but to no avail and some are addressing the Russian Embassy directly to request that they ignore the British Governments appalling decision and go ahead and award the medal….. See here

The “five-year” criteria is a farce and has been waived by the British Government in recent times.

Next year, 2013, will be the Year Of The Convoy

Although I have posted on this subject before I think “Keith at Tregenna” states the issue very clearly so I’ll close with the following quotes from him.

The Foreign Office state that the rules of acceptance of foreign awards had to have taken place within the previous five years or that permission cannot be granted if they have received a UK award for the same services. This is somewhat contradictory to the award of the Pingat Jasa Malaysia Medal for those who served in operations in Malaya/Malaysia between August 1957 and August 1966. This medal was first struck in 2005 and in 2011 unrestricted permission was given by Her Majesty The Queen for the acceptance and wearing of this medal, even though those who served in this theatre had already received the British General Service Medal, with additional Malaya/Borneo Clasp.

the award of the Naval GSM and GSM with Suez Canal Zone Clasp which was awarded in 2003 to those who had served between 16th October 1951 and 19th October 1954. This award was also originally subject to the five-year rule and should not be considered, which was later changed and the Honours and Decorations Committee endorsed the recommendation.

It would seem rather ironic considering the Prime Ministers recent speech the other day on national television in regard to the millions of pounds, rightly so, the Government are going to put into the forthcoming 100th Anniversary of the start of WWI, as an act of remembrance to educate those at school and the sacrifice made by so many, but they are not willing to consider an award to those veterans of WWII still living by stating a rule that has been overturned with previous awards.

Another previous post on this subject
Russian ambassador’s regret over medal row – News – Portsmouth News.

Heroes barred from receiving Russian medal – Why ?


Between 1941 and 1945 British warships escorted 78 convoys carrying thousands of aircraft, anti-aircraft guns, trucks and tanks, fuel, food, tools and other vital supplies through the Barents Sea to the Russian ports of Murmansk and Archangel in a voyage Winston Churchill described as ‘the worst journey in the world.’

The Foreign Office has blocked plans by the Russian government to honour Arctic Convoy veterans with a medal for valour.

Commander Eddie Grenfell at The Royal Naval War Memorial on Southsea Common Picture: Malcolm Wells (112873-1909) Ref The News

The convoys kept Russia supplied to keep fighting the Nazis on Germany’s eastern front, and have been credited with ensuring Hitler did not triumph.

But while the Ushakov medal has been handed to veterans from Australia, Canada and the United States for their role in the convoys, the British government is refusing to allow it to be given to British veterans.

Ushakov Medal


Apparently “rules are rules”

Under UK law, citizens are allowed to receive foreign medals and awards only if the British government gives them permission, and only if the award relates to the recipient’s activities within past five years.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: ‘The rules on the acceptance of foreign awards state that for permission to be given for an award to be accepted, there has to have been specific service to the country concerned and that service should have taken place within the previous five years.

‘Additionally, permission cannot be granted if they have received, or are expected to receive, a UK award for the same services.

‘All British Veterans of the Convoys were eligible for the World War Two Atlantic Star. Additionally, a lapel badge (the Arctic Emblem) was introduced in 2006 and some 10,000 have been issued.’

This unbelievable, bureaucracy gone mad and it is a slap in the face for the veterans.

It is time that the faceless civil servants in Whitehall woke up and its time that our government stopped dithering with regard to recognising the exploits of our servicemen.

How can there ever be a time limit on recognising the sacrifices our servicemen make.

For once I am in complete agreement with Mike Hancock. He said

‘It is absolutely ridiculous and shameless. This country can’t even give them the medal but we can stop them from getting a medal from the people they went to help. It’s an absolute disgrace on his (Hague’s) part and it’s a slur on this country.

It seems that our government can waive this rule when it suits them which makes this decision much more of a slap in the face for the arctic veterans.

Veterans of a conflict in Malaysia in the 1960s were allowed to wear the Pingat Jasa Malaysia Medal, given to them by the Malaysian government in recognition of their service.

Not only was that conflict 50 years ago, but the veterans of it had also previously been given a medal from the British government.

A spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office accepted the rules had been waived once, but said that it had to treat all World War Two veterans the same or else be faced with thousands of medal requests.

Seems all the civil servants are worried about is a sudden increase in their workload.

Despicable.

It is time to get a sense of perspective and give these folks the medal they deserve.

Heroes barred from receiving Russian medal – Defence – Portsmouth News.

One rule for some and another for Arctic veterans – Defence – Portsmouth News