Monday, March 14, 2011

They Said It... - Claude Dreno and the Bombing of Valognes, France

In the first days of the Allied invasion of Normandy in June of 1944, many coastal communities in Northern France were subjected to fierce bombing campaigns carried out to soften German defenses posted throughout the countryside. 

One such community, Valognes, would bear the brunt of the seemingly unrelenting, often hasty bombings. Much of the town's ancient architectural jewels in "Normandy's Little Versaille" were lost amidst the force of apocalyptic fire. 

In the following account from Normandy: Breaching the Atlantic Wall, Claude Dreno, fifteen years old in 1944, lived in the center of Valognes near the train station and was caught in the terrible bombing of June 7 and 8.


"On June 7 at 8:30 p.m., we heard a dull sound that started approaching and getting louder. We then saw forty-five bombers flying in three formations of fifteen each, and little black dots began to drop out of the plans and fall through the sky. My mother and I instantly left the house to take shelter elsewhere. We knew it was a bad sign if we did not hear the whistle of the bombs, because it meant they were headed straight for us. And we heard nothingnot until they exploded!

"The noise was unbelievably frightening, like an earthquake. I don't know how long it lasted; probably it was only a few minutes, but in situations like that you totally lose notion of time. You are so afraid, you don't understand anything that's happening. Once it's over, you fell dazed. The atmosphere seems very strange. After all the deafening noise, suddenly everything's gone silent and you don't hear a thing!

"Our house was destroyed. We had gone to my aunt's, who lived right in the center of town. The next day, the bombs started falling again. By some miracle, no one in our family was killed or hurt. This time we took refuge at Yvetot-Bocage, three kilometers from Valognes, where eighty people had already gathered. At moments like that, there are no social barriers, no questions of class. Everyone helps everyone else, and chips in. Some people slaughtered animals for food; others returned to Valognes to bring back whatever provisions they could scrounge up.

"When the Americans arrived, their reception was very reservednot hostile, but reserved. People in Valognes didn't understand the reason for all the bombing. For that matter, neither did the American soldiers!"

Photo courtesy of Lt. Col. G. E. Goodwin, part of the G-5 section of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force Team (SHAEF).

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