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A French Volunteer

Discussion in 'History of France during World War II' started by Jim, Sep 21, 2006.

  1. Jim

    Jim Active Member

    Sep 1, 2006
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    via War44
    A French electrician, who had his own reasons for volunteering to join the Organisation Todt employment, after having made two abortive attempts to escapee from France. He then volunteered at the Bureau de Placement at Orleans on 30th June 1942, for work in the Channel Islands, in the hope that he would be able to steal a boat and cross to the UK. In fact he managed to get .away from France on 30th March 1943, after serving on the Channel Islands, and was interviewed by M119 (RPS) on reaching England. As well as telling his story of what had happened to him, he was also able to give his interviewers a lot of valuable information about the islands and their defences. In brief the story he told was as follows. From Orleans he was sent to Celle St Cloud near Paris, where he was lodged in a workers camp for two nights before joining a convoy of workers who were going by train to St Malo. He found himself with some 300 Algerians, French and Belgians, the whole train being given over to these workers. The Algerians were, he said, Petains offering to the Germans. They had been recruited either in North Africa or Marseilles and promised the earth in the matter of pay, food and lodgings, then packed off in cattle trucks to serve the Organisation Todt.

    They arrived at St Malo on 4th July 1942, spent 24 hours in a barracks near the port and then left by night in a cargo ship, with about 150 on board. On arrival at St Peter Port (Guernsey), they were met by some uniformed Organisation Todt officials, taken to the workers canteen a building called “Rose Marie” and given a meal. Then they were taken to a bare uninhabited house behind a church where they stayed for some 15 days before being found regular quarters in a similarly bare and deserted house in the south of the town.

    After two days they were assigned to various sub-contracting firms; he went to work for Selbach of Koblenz. This company was not a building firm but rather a supplier of all types of building materials. It was in fact the main builders' merchant for the Organisation Todt on the island and kept vast stocks of cement, timber, iron and other items at various dumps throughout Guernsey. Initially he was employed as a labourer on the upkeep of the permanent way of the narrow gauge railway that the Germans had laid between St Sampson and St Peter Port to be used exclusively to move building materials. As he was moderately well educated he was soon given an office job and spent his time between the firm's two offices in St Peter Port and St Sampson. There were about 70 Organisation Todt men in the firm who wore uniform; however, only 15 had been with Selbach pre-war.

    During the months he spent on the island (.July 1942-March 1943), he witnessed a notable increase in the average age of the Germans in the Organisation Todt. Before he left many of 40-45 years had been drafted away to the Army, being replaced with 55-60 year olds. There had been some Luxemburgers amongst the uniformed Organisation Todt who were volunteers for the German labour service. Some of them were sent away for Army service. There were also Spanish volunteers - but they were of course 'Franco Spaniards'. In fact Republican Spaniards made up a high percentage of the foreign labour - he reckoned that their firm had 150 Spanish Republicans, 250 Belgians, 200 French, 300 Algerians and 20 Poles. There were also a small percentage of islanders, but they kept a semblance of independence and were more like sub-contractors to the Organisation Todt. However, this did not stop them from being deported. They worked every day, seven days a week, from 07.00-19.00hrs, with just half an hour break in the middle of the day, when they ate the same watery soup as the others. Living conditions were poor with bunk beds, straw mattresses, no lighting of any sort and no proper internal sanitation.

    “We had no changes of clothing either, and I wore the same suit of clothes and the same underwear from July 1942 to March 1943. When my shoes wore Out I was given wooden clogs”￾

    He also mentions there being a typhus epidemic which broke out in January 1942. A total of 14 Arabs died before it was brought under control, but it did not spread to the military or the civilian population.

    The main benefit accruing to the workers from the typhus was an order from the Wehrmacht to the Organisation Todt to treat the men more kindly. This was the rumour at least! The evidence was that from January until March 1943, there were no more reported cases of beatings up, by Organisation Todt foremen.

    The informant also gave some details on pay. He could never get a clear idea of his rates of pay as some money was paid over to his wife (and child) in France. This happened irregularly which annoyed him. However, he found that some other nationalities pay was even more chaotic. Some Belgians told him that their families had not been paid by the Organisation Todt for over six months. Personally he was always paid in marks, German currency being used all over the Channel Islands, and he seldom saw British coins, When he was transferred to the office job he was given a contract at 200Rm a month. Of this he received only 52Rm himself, whilst the balance supposedly went to his family through a bank in St Malo. He was meant to be paid every fortnight.

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