BARNEVILLE, NORMANDY: From this picturesque little town you can look down upon
the western sea. In the center of Barneville is a sloping, paved court, a sort of
public square except that it is rectangular instead of square.
At one end of the square an army truck was parked. Scattered around the square
were half a dozen American soldiers standing in doorways with their rifles at the
ready. There are few French people on the streets.
We went to the far end of the square, where three local French policemen were
standing in front of the mayor's offlce. They couldn't speak any English, but
they said there was one woman in town who did, and a little boy was sent running
for her. Gradually a crowd of eager and curious people crushed in upon us, until
there must have been 200 of them, from babies to old women.
FINALLY THE WOMAN arrivedča little dark woman with graying hair. and spectacles,
and a big smile. Her English was quite good, and we asked her if there were any
Germans in the town. She turned and asked the policemen.
Instantly everybody in the crowd started talking at once. The sound was like that
of a machine that increases in speed until its noise drowns out all else.
Finally the policernen had to hush the-crowd so the woman could answer us.
She said there were Germans all around, in the woods, but none whatever left in
the town. Just then a German stuck his head out of a nearby second-story window.
Somebody saw him, and an American soldier was dispatched to get him.
BARNESVILLE is a fortunate place, because not a shell was fired into it by either
slde. The lieutenant with us told the woman we were glad nobody had been hurt.
When she translated this for the crowd, there was much nodding in approval of our
We must have stood and talked for an hour and a half. It was a kind of holiday
for the local people. They were relieved but still not quite sure the Germans
wouldn't be back. They were still under a restraint that wouldn't let them open
up riotously. But you could sense from little things that they were glad to have
A little French shopkeeper came along with a spool of red, white and blue ribbon
from his store. He cut off pieces about six inches long for all hands, both
American and French. In a few minutes everybody was going around with a French
tri-color in his buttonhole.
Then a ruddy-faced man of middle age, who looked like a gentleman farmer, drove
up in one of those one-horse. high-wheeled work carts that the French use.
HE HAD A GERMAN PRISONER in uniform standing behind him, and another one, who was
sick, lying on a stretcher. The farmer had captured these guys himself, and he
looked so pleased with himself that I expected him to take a bow at any moment.
French people kept coming up and asking us for instructions. A man who joked as
if he might be the town banker asked what he was supposed to do with prisoners.
We told him to bring them to the truck, and asked how many he had. To our
astonishment he said he had 70 in the woods a couple of miles away, 120 in a
nearby town, and 40 in another town.
As far as I could figure it out he had captured them all himself.
Another worried-looking Frenchman came up. He was a doctor. He said he had
26-badly wounded Germans down at the railroad station and desperately needed
medlcal supplies. He wanted chloroform and sulfa drugs. We told him we would have
ONE CHARACTER in the crowd looked as if he belonged in a novel of Bohemian life
on the left bank in Paris. He couldn't possibly have been anything but a poet. He
wore loose, floppy clothes that made him look like a woman. His glasses were
thick, and hair about a foot long curled around his ears. I wish you could have
seen the expressions of our tough, dirty soldiers when they looked at him.
When we finally started away from the crowd a little old fellow in faded blue
overalls ran up and asked us, in sign language, to come to his cafe for a drink.
Since we didn't dare violate the spirit of hands-across-the-sea that was then
wafting about the town, we had to sacrifice ourselves and accept.
So we sat on wooden benches at a long bare table while the little Frenchman
puttered and sputtered around. He left two policemen and his own family in, and
then took the handle out of the front door so nobody else could get in.
THE GERMANS had drunk up all his stock except for some wine and some Eau de Vie.
In case you don't know, Eau de Vie is a savage liquid made by boiling barbed
wire, soapsuds, watch springs and old tent pegs together. The better brands have
a touch of nitroglycerine for flavor.
So the little Frenchman filled our tiny glasses. We raised them, touched glasses
all around, and Vivied La France all over the place, and good-will-toward-men
rang out through the air and tears ran down our cheeks.
In this case, however, the tears were largely induced by our violent efforts to
refrain from clutching at our throats and crying out in anguish. This good-will
business is a tough life, and I think every American who connects with a glass of
Eau de Vie should get a Purple Heart.