Extract from A Life for the Sky
, by Werner Molders, ch.5
...the truck took us to an airfield, I think somewhere near Montpellier, and offloaded us into a hangar just as the sun rose. A young-looking French officer addressed us in perfect German, with a trace of an accent. ‘Gentlemen, it seems you are a priority for transport to Algeria, along with senior officers and of course politicians,’ he said.
‘Not sure we like the company,’ one of us replied.
The Frenchman smiled thinly. ‘I have my orders, and will carry them out. Please embark, and I hope you enjoy your stay with us.’
They packed several of us onto a twin-engined aircraft, an American type. I saw the crew of three come over the field; they all looked exhausted, evidently they had been flying several times a day. With that I could certainly sympathise.
We sat for a while, and finally the runway cleared. We took off and climbed to altitude. ‘Hope none of our boys are about,’ said Horst, ‘funny way to get finished off.’ Fortunately for us we were not intercepted, though one of us said he saw smoke rising in the distance, perhaps from one of our raids…
Long flights over water made us uneasy, and this one was about to get worse. There was a commotion in the cockpit, and the plane began to go into a shallow dive. The gunner squeezed through as and dragged me into the cockpit, as I was closest. There the navigator sat, and beside him the pilot, collapsed. Words were unnecessary. We dragged the pilot from the seat and the gunner attended to him. I sat down - the type was unfamiliar, but the basic controls are similar enough on any fixed-wing aircraft. The instruments were labelled in French, sometimes with English alongside, but it was not too difficult to decipher them.
‘Where are we?’ I shouted, somewhat excited. The navigator showed me a map, indicating that we were just north of Algiers. Indeed I could soon confirm that for myself, a white city spread before us through thin cloud. Briefly I thought of trying to take control and head for friendly territory - perhaps the other lads could overpower the crew?
But I noted that the fuel gauge was quite low, and concluded it would be suicidal; quite wrong and a wicked sin.
I also saw several other planes in the distance on a similar course, and reasoned they would lead us to an airfield, so I followed. Ten minutes later we were on a landing trajectory, and I recalled just in time that these American bombers had tricycle undercarriages. I do not claim it was a good landing, but the saying is, any that you walk away from…
Extract from Memoires
by Guy Lemoine. ch.6
In those days Armand and I often went to the low brick wall behind the hospital to sit in the sunshine and smoke in between our rounds. Despite the many refugees pouring into the city, many of whom ended up in the hospital, the news of the war still seemed abstract to us, we had not seen any enemy aircraft.
‘But that will very soon change,’ said Armand. ‘My friend, the time to think about getting out is now, not when the enemy get here.’
‘Getting out?’ I said. I had little wish to. ‘I don’t want to abandon my patients. Monsieur Carona, for instance, he has every chance of pulling through.’
‘You wrote those articles,’ he said. ‘I’ll bet the Gestapo has a file on you.’
Of course he was talking about my poor journalistic efforts of the year before. ‘On me? I wrote a handful of pieces for a provincial newspaper. What chance anyone in Germany read them?’
He shook his head. ‘But you had such a turn of phrase. “Murderous ignorant demagogue”, I remember, that’s what you wrote, and a few others. The Germans seem very attached to their dear Leader, they won’t treat you well.’
I remained stubborn. ‘But this is my home, my friend.’
He sighed. ‘Guy, it’s like this. I can’t go anywhere, my little ones are here, my mother is here. But your parents are gone, your wife is gone, and Emilie is safe in Geneva. The rest of us can see to your patients, I promise you.’ He gave me a direct look. ‘We must all go where we can serve best.’
To be honest, I had had similar thoughts myself, of course I had. But to leave Marseilles, a thing I had rarely done in my life, a thing I had rarely wished to do… Armand saw my struggles, and did the wisest deed he ever did, out of many such. He gave me his Christopher, and said, ‘think of it as a pilgrimage.’
...I had vaguely entertained a hope that I might get to fly out, I have always been an aviation enthusiast, but that didn’t occur. I made my way to the port, which of course, was ten times more chaotic than usual. After much asking and being sent to and fro I presented myself before a Navy officer who looked half dead from exhaustion. ‘So what’s your excuse?’ he said without introduction.
‘I’m a doctor,’ I said, showing my diploma. ‘I have a letter.’
I showed him that too; without looking at it he passed it to his colleague, a short, balding petty officer, who glanced at it and said ‘yes’.
‘Did your service?’ he asked.
‘Many years ago,’ I said, ‘in the Army.’
‘Ha! And you want more of it, with all this going on? Takes all sorts.’
That was all the challenge I received. Later I learned that I counted as a ‘medical expert’ and as such ranked alongside aircraft mechanics, signallers and railwaymen in the priority list. Plenty of less fortunate souls, many of them looking half-starved, watched me dully as I went along the dockside and aboard the ship, which was crowded with soldiers and a variety of professional men like myself.
Of course, before long I might have doubted whether I was one of the fortunate. The day I left the Luftwaffe made some of their first serious attacks on the port. My ship dodged several bombs as we left. It was not the first time someone had tried to kill me, there had been that business before my wedding, but the first time some had tried to kill me impersonally, and I had no means of defending myself. I realised that all my anti-Nazi talk had been purely intellectual, an intellectual dislike for cruelty and stupidity. That was the first time my emotions became truly engaged. We are not just animals, I think, but we are animals, and the true power of ideas does not reveal itself to us until we feel them in our skin. I vowed to myself that I would do all in my power to end this thing, and prayed for the strength.