I was in Morsain about ten days and waiting for the arrival of Bill, but it was decided that I should leave for Paris with Mme. Preux and one bright morning we set off. M. Preux and I did a farewell tour of the village, calling on our friends, all of who expressed the hope that I would return after the war with Mme. Taylor. I could not make any promises, I told them, but if it was possible I would try to do so. Mounted on archaic bicycles the farmer and I left the village, stopping a few kilometres out of the built up area to await Mme. and the two children who were coming out in the trap. At length the vehicle appeared and I took my leave of M. Preux. Lisette, the mare was an old friend of the family it seemed and she set her own pace regardless of the exhortations of Mme and the boys. We were in the trap for some six hours and en route I taught the two "Tipperary". It was a pleasant experience rattling along the straight tree lined road. We stopped at a village cafe where the Preux had friends, ate a rough meal of pork, bread and butter and wine and at length joined the main road for Paris, on which we were to pick up a lift on any truck that would take us. The trap was unloaded of its huge load of which more anon, suffice it to say here that it was huge and caused me no little trouble ere that memorable day was through. Eventually, after several failures we secured a place on a large and already crowded truck belonging to the Societe National de Chemins de Fer. We stopped the truck offering the driver some butter. We found cramped places aboard and I for one, was glad to see all of our luggage loaded. The truck driver and his mate were going to a railway station outside Paris to drop some goods and were then going back to Almay-Sur-Bois, where they were to spend the night. Paris, at the time was terribly short of food and the truck made detours to every likely farm trying to pick up some provisions, but with very little success. The roads were swarming with cyclists also on the prowl for food. Bartering, for foodstuffs was briskly conducted by people ranging in age from five to ninety. When we got to our railway station the line had been bombed and although a train of carriages stood in the station there was no locomotive to haul them. It was decided that we should return with the lorry to Oulnay and catch a train from there for Paris.
It was on this last stretch of our long ride I saw about thirty more people, mostly women clamber on to our already over laden truck. How they stayed aboard has always
puzzled me. For my part, I was so firmly wedged between a smelly fat woman and the rear wheel of a bicycle, of which we carried half a dozen, that I found great difficulty in breathing. Happily, the multitude thinned out after about ten kilo metres had been travelled. There was a youth standing with his back to the drivers cab who kept whistling English tunes - "pack up your troubles" type. When we reached Oulnay he gave me a slip of paper with "long live England" - "good old Tipperary" written crudely on it. He must have heard some of my monosyllabic answers to Madame Preux. We bundled out our pile of luggage and awaited a train, which pulled in after a twenty minute wait, during which the amazing Madame Preux, occasioned me some uneasiness by talking to me a great deal and even correcting my replies if they were in bad grammar. Again, great difficulty was experienced in getting aboard our carriage. The vast heap of sacks, suitcases and baskets annoyed our fellow passengers, until Mme. explained shrilly that she was returning to Paris where she had a large and very hungry family, that she was accompanied by her nephew and did the other passengers want her babies to starve? We got aboard, and Mme. even got a seat. I thought I was seeing the most overcrowded train possible, with people even sitting outside the carriages on the steps. Fate had in store for me conditions compared to which this crush was a luxury. I was standing holding onto a rail to prevent myself from being pushed out of the car, and had an unrestricted view of the bomb damage through which we were passing. Heavy locomotives stood on their noses, cattle trucks had been blown onto the roofs of nearby warehouses. Yawning craters pitted the freight yards, and our progress was at times only walking pace as we picked our way over hastily filled in bomb holes. Late in the evening we arrived at Paris Nord station and our troubles began a fresh. No porter would help us with our monstrous load, which we wanted to take with us on the Metro. It was getting late and we had to get across the city to Vincennes before the Metro stopped running. What followed was a nightmare. We had to hump the load piecemeal down each flight of steps, along lengths of passage where we could keep one pile of goods in sight while we went back for the other. The passages were far from straight and this necessitated several short stages. Moreover, we had a change to make and eventually caught the last train that night to Vincennes.
It will give my readers an idea of our luggage if f tell them that apart from Mme. Preux suitcase of clothes, we were encumbered with: a hundred weight of potatoes, almost as much cabbage, thirteen dozen eggs, three joints of meat, five litres of milk, two baskets of fruit, three baskets of bread, a basket of butter, five live rabbits. There was also a small sack of each of the following: peas, carrots, and onions. This little shipping order piled in the centre of a Metro carriage made us very unpopular but once again Mme. defended her numerous imaginary babies and we crossed Paris unmolested even by the Germans who had forbidden Black Market food gathering sorties from the outset.
At Vincennes the Agents Police were approached and at the cost of a few eggs, we were allowed to store our cargo at their depot while we went off through the dimly lighted streets to our destination, in search of a wheelbarrow. We returned nearly an hour later and collected the goods accompanied by Mme. Nicot, my worthy Mme. Preux's mother. On this part of our walk, we were pushing the wheelbarrow, and it's steel tires made a huge noise on the cobbled-stone streets. Mme. Preux expressed her need to urinate. I was wondering where and how she could, when she suddenly squatted over a grating and smiled after she achieved relief, saying not another word!
We reached our house for the second time that night well after curfew time. I was soaked in perspiration and quite exhausted. Mme. Preux seemed quite defeated too and had not energy enough to carry on her usual babble of conversation. We ate a meal of eggs and a sort of bacon, after which I retired to my room, stripped naked and after a sketchy wash from a jug of cold water, slipped between the sheets and slept as I've seldom slept before or since.
Next day I stayed in bed till nearly mid day and after a splendid, hot bath and a meal settled down to await the arrival of Jack, whom Mme. Preux had already left to fetch. There was a good radio set in the house, and I spent some time listening to the BBC. The electricity was cut off between certain times every day and I heard very little news, except that fighting in Normandy seemed to have reached a stalemate, although the bombing of railways was proceeding apace. In the afternoon of that day Mme. Preux returned and told us that Jack would be calling in two days, in order to take my particulars and get me started for home. Jack, I had been told, was an Englishman who was working for the French Resistance Movement, and arranging the return to England of baled out allied airmen. Mme. assured me that he was going to help me as soon as possible and reminded me that there were hundreds of people in a similar position tom myself. This was quite obviously true and I tried to be patient.
Next day Mme. Preux took me out with her, having given me a pair of shoes which had belonged to a Jew taken by the Germans a few months before. I wore a suit which had belonged to this poor man, and though it was too small, it was at least clean and pressed. The coat had to be worn thrown open, exposing my clean white shirt and monstrous tie. I sported a cheeky black beret, and Mme. Preux told me that I looked a typical Parisian. I was taken to a local studio and had a portrait made, promised by Mme. that a copy would be sent to me when I wrote from England. The day was spent in sightseeing around Paris. I stood at the Arc de Triomphe and gazed down the splendid Champs Elysees looking so peaceful in the summer sunshine. I was taken through the Louvre, (the galleries were shut) and walked through the Tuilleries gardens. The Seine's bridges and the Place de la Concorde, the Place de l'Opera, the Chambre des Deputes - I viewed them all! Mme. Preux trudged with me talking all the time, pointing out this or that, so that I must indeed have been a reasonable facsimile of a country cousin rather than a Parisian.
Two or three little things stand out in my memory or the stay with Mme. Preux and Mme. Nicot at Vincennes. I recall in detail the charming spectacle of the children sailing their boats in a pool in the Tuilleries. I remember standing on the Quai d'Orsay and watching a very proud little Frenchman throwing his walking stick repeatedly into the Seine, to be fetched by a black dog, who shook water all over his master and waited for the stick to be flung yet again. I remember too my acute embarrassment when I had to take a typical French farewell of a family who had been visiting my friends at Vincennes. It was no private farewell either but at the crowded Paris Nord station. I tried not to blush and kissed these total strangers, I hoped like an old hand at the game. Immediately after this trying interlude we crossed the street to a cafe, and had "un demi" each, seated under the umbrella at our small round table on the pavement. A thrill of adventure tickled my spine as I sat there watching the passing crowds and rubbing shoulders with German officers who squeezed among our tables, not nearly as smart or dashing as the Germans would wish, I thought. The incredible Madame Preux kept up an amusing, if rather overbold commentary on the passing Germans, even pointing out the more curious types with a trill of laughter, and a flamboyant slap at my arm. While I was under the wing of Mme. Preux I bought two fine little bottles of perfume, strongly recommended by Madame as one of the quality products of a famous Paris house. So certain was I at the time that I should be in England in a matter of weeks, that I even thought of the speech I would make as I presented Vera and Alice with a bottle each. The best laid schemes of mice and men!
On the day he was due, Jack put in an early appearance and having taken my particulars and a note of my wants, - (my identity card would have to be altered he told me) he had a glass of wine with us and left. Madame was take me on Jack's instructions to a mutual friend called Georges who lived with a married sister in the Blvd. Sebastopol. That night Mme. Preux left Paris and I made the trip by Metro to Paris Nord, with her and Mme. Nicot.. The tubes had stopped running when the elderly lady and I wanted to return by train to Vincennes. We walked a long, dusty, tiring tramp and I was staggered by Mme. Nicot's vivacity.
I was taken next day again by Mme. Nicot to George's flat which was on the top floor of a typical five storey Parisian house. Georges was an immensely fat and greasy man with a jovial twinkle in his eye. His sister Genevieve was if possible a little fatter than Georges, but though hearty, rather lacking in spirit when compared to her brother. At the flat I met two other airmen, Squadron Leader Lamason, a New Zealand pilot and his navigator, Flying Officer Chapman. They were leaving that night and we took a cheery farewell of each other, arranging if possible to meet in Spain whence we were bound. After the first night at the flat, which I spent in a room by myself, I was joined by Don Clark a Canadian Warrant Officer. We exchanged our adventures over a glass of wine and shared the same bed for the few nights we spent there. I had my hair cut in a barber shop round the comer, and purchased a second hand suit for 5,000 francs at a dismal little shop, about an hour after we set off to find clothes that would fit me, and had visited nearly twenty other equally shabby establishments. The suit needed a few alterations but when these were carried out I really had a lounge lizard appearance and was chaffed by Georges that I looked like a "Fifi". I probably did at that!
Jack called the same night, took some our money to have sent over the border in secret. We were to pick up this money in the British Consulate in Barcelona. He told us that his secretary would call on the morrow and take us to a car which would contact a truck outside Paris. On the truck were waiting false papers and the uniforms of the organisation in which we were to travel disguised as labour organisation personnel.