Originally written by Brian Guy, but amended by his companion, John Villeneuve le Maistre
Both employees of Cooper Brothers Chartered Accountancy firm based in the company’s Paris office before the war.
Tuesday 11th June 1940
The five of us left Paris at 5pm in a second hand 24hp Hudson two-seater with ‘dickey’, with a full tank of petrol, and intending to drive to Bordeaux, to carry on the office work from there.
The roads were packed and by midnight we had only made 8 miles and parked the car just off the main road and slept till dawn, some of us in the car and the others on the grass.
Wednesday 12th June
By midday we arrived at Etampes 30 miles from Paris, to find that no petrol was available, and having been drenched by heavy rainstorms, and impeded by the crowds of refugees on foot and in vehicles .
Thursday 13th June
Still no petrol to be had, and long queues for bread, and a third uncomfortable night’s sleep.
Friday 14th June
After a tiresome day of queuing we got a chit for petrol only to find on arrival at the garage that they had run out, but managed to buy 10 litres from a soldier, after mistakenly filling the car up with gas-oil. Towards midday there was heavy bombing from low flying German planes together with machine gunning killing 40-80 people. We set off for Orleans hoping to buy petrol on the way, and spending another night under the stars.
Saturday 15th June
German planes again bombed the railway line and our road, so we had to take cover in the ditch. A French couple asked us to tow their Mathis car across the Loire to Orleans, using their supply of petrol. After some tortuous forays by bike to an aerodrome where we replenished our petrol stock before it was due to be blown up, we reached Orleans (c.111km from Paris) just after midnight and crossed the Loire despite heavy bombardment of the town rather than our convoy, fortunately. After towing the French couple a further short distance we parted company and we again spent the night by the roadside.
Sunday 16th June
Starting off at dawn we drove along a minor road towards Vierzon, had a coffee in Chaon and bought some provisions for lunch which we had in a wood. There we were joined by a supply column who sold us 10ltrs of petrol. Finally at 9pm we were towed into Issoudun and slept on a bench in the main square.
Monday 17th June
After another day of queuing for petrol, food and news, and being held up by several military convoys we pulled up for an overnight stay wedged between two Paris buses, just outside Le Chatre.
Tuesday 18th June
One of the bus drivers sold us 10 litres of fuel, so we drove towards Gueret, but after more mishaps involving being towed, then running out of fuel, we arrived at a little hamlet called Pouligny-notre-Dame. The Mayor confirmed that we should continue our escape to England, and we arranged another tow from a military lorry the next day. So another night spent camping.
Wednesday 19th June
During the afternoon, Italian planes flew over dropping bombs on the main road to Gueret, as well as the two towns, and after spending most of the afternoon in the ditches and not finding any more fuel, we decided to abandon the car and continued on foot the next morning. We left the car and suitcases with the innkeeper for safe keeping.
Thursday 20th June
We arrived at Gueret which looked deserted, at midday having hitched a ride with the military lorry. The local population were hiding in their cellars, but we managed to buy a little food, and met a railway guard who informed us of a few goods trains still running to Limoges. We decided to try to catch one along the line, and found a covered goods train at la Brionne station, which we managed to board after having our papers checked, and spent the night in it, nursing our blisters.
Friday 21st June
On arrival at 7am at Limoges, Dale and Boorer decided to leave us to join the latter’s evacuated company, but we stayed on the train as it was destined for Perigueux on the direct line to Bordeaux, and also where Radianof left us.
Saturday 22nd June
Arriving at Bordeaux early the following morning, we spied a British destroyer the other side of the river, but were dismayed to learn that the Consulate had been moved to Bayonne, 100 miles away. We arranged a lift there from a Frenchman who had a large Peugeot but no petrol, providing we sourced the fuel. After a detour to Angouleme, and a puncture, we reached Bayonne around 7pm. We arrived at the Consulate just in time to learn it was closing for good, but that all British subjects should go to St Jean de Luz. We just managed to catch the special train at Bayonne station, and arrived at St Jean de Luz at 8.30pm. We were then marshalled on the platform, and were led in small groups in the darkness towards the harbour.
We were taken by a small launch across the harbour towards the open sea where the ship, the SS Ettrick, a new P & O Troopship, was waiting about a mile off. After an unpleasant trip in a heavy swell and soaked by heavy rain, we climbed on board around 2.00am. We were quartered with the troops forward, and given a hammock and 2 blankets.
Sunday 23rd June
After a very welcome breakfast, and a shower and first shave since leaving Paris, the ship spent the day taking on board Polish officers and NGOs , some French officers and about 20 Belgian Air Force Officers. There were other ships, including the SS Arandora Star, also taking on more Polish troops.
Monday 24th June
We finally started our voyage home at 6pm with the SS Arandora Star (with over 1800 Polish troops and refugees on board) following us, and a destroyer just ahead, though the other warships had disappeared. Over 2000 passengers were on board, including c 700 Polish Officers.
Tuesday 25th June
The 3 ships went north in calmer seas, we got our meals from the galley, washed up , and even managed to play some bridge.
Wednesay 26th June
We saw land shortly before noon, and our companion ships left us to proceed for the Bristol Channel, while we continued up the English Channel to arrive off Plymouth at 5.30pm, and dropped anchor about 8.00pm. Shortly after dark a launch came alongside and King Zog of Albania, his wife, and family , and several boxes said to contain his gold, were taken off.
Thursday 27th June
Most of the Polish officers and NCOs having been taken off previously, we left the SS Ettrick at 4.30pm, landed and went through Customs and Immigration after several hours waiting. We boarded a special train bound for Paddington at 12.45am, where we arrived on
Friday 28th June at 7.15am. Our voyage to Plymouth was at the government’s expense, but we had to pay our train fare to London.
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