Gilles Lamontagne se raconte…

J’ai trouvé ce témoignage sur le site des Anciens Combattants.

Il est en langue anglaise.

Gilles Lamontagne se raconte.

Gilles Lamontagne

Rabbit Caught in a Trap

There was a third attack. Then the plane caught fire. I wasn’t afraid. I said: Okay, I have to get my crew out, because I realized right away that I wouldn’t be able to return. The plane was hardly maneuverable. The ailerons were working but the stick was barely working. So I jumped. And the parachute opened, thankfully, because we were not, we were not very high because the plane had been steadily losing altitude. I came down in a field. Then I buried my Mae West. It’s what we were supposed to do. I don’t know why, but….and I hid in a barn. So I’m in my barn, and there are rabbits and carrots. I ate a carrot. I remember I ate one carrot. I was hungry. There were rabbits. Then it started to get light and I said to myself, Okay, what do I do? I am in Holland: they’re not all pro-Allies, or pro-German. It’s pretty divided we knew that much. Then a little kid came in, I’d say 3-4 years old. He came to feed his rabbits. Then he sees me. He’s afraid, he runs for his house, to go find his father. I presumed he went to find his father because his father then came back with a old hunting rifle and he didn’t speak English or French. Very difficult to understand. I said: Listen, you see…Ya, ya, ya, ya…and he comes back a few minutes later with bread and cheese and a few things to eat. “Thank you, thank you.“ There was nothing else I could say. He motioned me to stay there so I said to myself: I hope he’s on the right side. Half an hour later, I heard noises near the house. The barn was 200 feet, 300 feet from the house. It was the Gestapo: raus, raus, schnell, schnell, I don’t know…it meant get up, get out! (laughter) That’s how I was taken prisoner.

 
Rabbit Caught in a Trap (Part 2)

I spent a couple of day in prison in Amsterdam before they sent us to a camp at Dulag Luft, which was the camp close to Frankfurt, where they questioned us, where they tried to force things out of us, where they tried to find out where we came from and everything, and what was….it was….there was no brutality. Just each of us in a little room, 4×8 with a bed, no mattress. And so it was there that…. What’s going to happen to me? What are they going to do with me, you know. At one point, they call you, you go before the commander who, in a very authoritarian manner, asks you where you come from, what you did. “Rank, name and number, nothing more.” Then you return to your cell at the end of the day. They pass soup through the hole, a hole in the bottom of the door, like they have in prisons. We were happy to have the soup, but it was salty. So, then you get thirsty.They call you again. I still remember the guy who I was then sent to see. It wasn’t the same office, another office. He wore a frock coat with the collar and everything. Lord, what a ceremony, you know? I’m from the Red Cross. I didn’t believe a word, and I was right not to. It was just….It was just to try and make us talk. I spent two days there, three days, I think. The third day, the commander called me, that is, they came to collect me and brought me before the commander again. Okay, then it was good…. He says: “You’re from 425 squadrom, from Dishforth.” I didn’t say a word. He knew everything. He’d got all the information possible.So then, they shipped us off to a camp, a real concentration camp, a Stalag Luft, for real, you know. But there was a very demoralizing element, which was that from Amsterdam to . . it’s a long journey to Dulag Luft, and we were on the train. We were about 6-8 prisoners with guards and each time the train stopped, they forced us out on the platform and they said to the people: Luft gangsters. So it was lucky they were there, because there were those who would have done us a bad turn had they not been there. We were never tortured or….But what is worse is not knowing what is going to happen. You know, you don’t know have any idea what’s going to happen to you. You know, there you are between….And on top of that, everything is racing through your mind, everything you’ve been told about Germany, the Nazis, and everything else. So there you are, whether you want it or not, you’re stuck in it. So then we arrived in the prisoners’ camp. I went to Stalag Luft 3, which is the camp where they dug the tunnels. I never participated in that because there was a certain mistrust of francophones who arrived in the concentration camps. Mistrust not because we were francophones but because the Germans planted spies in the camp to find out what was going on and everything, and among them, there were supposedly French prisoners who worked in Germany. And I remember the first 15 days I spent at Stalag Luft 3 were very cold. Not many people spoke to me and I even though I said: Listen, 19825, I come from 425, air force, we were forced down returning from Essen. People believed me more or less, until the moment when about ten days later, another batch of prisoners arrived. ” Hello! How are you? ” We knew each other. We didn’t all come from the same squadron, but from the same group. So, then it was clear. ” Yes, it’s true, you can believe him.” But I spent 27 months there. Twenty-seven months in prison camps. Four different prison camps.

 
Living in Captivity

In the prisoners’ camps, there were Red Cross packages. There was New Zealand, Australia, Germany, England and Canada. Canada – the Red Cross packages from Canada were just about the best as far as food goes. But the American packages had cigarettes. Cigarettes were our currency, be it for bribing the guards or for getting things from the outside – it was our money. So the packages were…it depended on which ones…whether we would be able to negotiate or not. And that helped to pass the time, you know. So there I was in the prisoner camp…you know, it’s not…there is nothing to do, you don’t know what’s going to become of you. The guards change. Sometimes it was the Wehrmacht, the army; other times it was the Luftwaffe. When it was the Luftwaffe, the German air force, we relaxed a little because there was a degree of affinity between us. You know, we were all flyers together. But when it was the Gestapo, we took one for the team, so to speak. Never torture, never any…nothing. But you know, they’d make us stand in pouring rain, soaked to the bone, standing in the rain for I don’t know how long. You know, it was things like that. And the food, well, I weighed 105 when I got out. And we could hardly eat any more. We were no longer able to eat. Apart from that, it’s a question of keeping the mind occupied, eh. Twenty-seven months is a long time to do nothing. So, I decided at a certain point, I said to myself: Okay, Frenchy. Everyone is friends in this camp now. I’m rounding up a dozen of my prisoner buddies. So I said: “Do you want to learn French?” “Sure.” “Why not?” So I set up a class and I taught French. Every morning, we met around 10 o’clock, after roll call and then we bantered in French, and then we joked around, then we bantered, you know. And so I also kept myself busy learning – although I’ve lost it all now – learning German, a little, the rudiments of German. So you take care of your mind, eh because without it, there are those, there are those who really took a bad turn, eh, not knowing, worrying, stressing. I had…let’s say that it all depends on a person’s disposition. I have a personality which…If there is a problem, I try to solve it. If I can’t solve it, then I can’t. After that, I take things from day to day. Which means today I am a prisoner; tomorrow, we’ll see. You know, there’s no point in obsessing over what’s going to happen tomorrow. So, why bother? But there were some who worried about it anyway. Apart from that, there was the question of family too. I was single, others were married, they had children. That’s a little more to worry about than if you’re single. You know… But there again, in the prison camps, there was solidarity, there was a loyalty to one another which was exceptional. If one person was in trouble or what have you, we went to help him and, you know, there was support from hour to hour, minute to minute.

The Flight Crew

The rear gunner and the navigator were sent home as war wounded, and the three, the two others, we met up again, we saw each other, reunited at the prison camp. We spent the rest of the time in camp together. At that point, we formed what we called “combines“. There were three in our “combine“. That meant that we pooled everything we had; we shared what we had without reservation. It was extraordinary. When….We didn’t always have what we needed to eat, but you could leave a slice a bread – even though we were all hungry – and, if it was not your slice of bread, no one touched it. It was respect for each other’s integrity. I never witnessed a theft or any other act of meanness from the point of view…. No, we were equals, and everybody had a share, and you didn’t take more than your share. And what you did get, you shared with the others. It was somewhat exceptional.

Mission Log

The first operations were mine laying. We went, we flew across the Channel, and we were going to lay mines the length of (inaudible), (inaudible), near the Friesian isles. We were going to lay mines, mines there. So that was the operation. It didn’t count, this wasn’t considerd an operation. You could put in your log book, but on your 30 operations that were practically obligatory before going on leave again, it didn’t count. But I would say it was as dangerous as flying over Essen – as I did afterward – and other places, because you had to fly at 250 feet. Because if you drop your mine from higher than that, it might explode. So you had to descend slowly, flying low over the water and then dropping your mines at a very precise location. Your navigator showed you the exact place to drop. Your navigator who . . .not the navigator, the wireless operator, . . . was watching from the upper window, said “Skipper, there’s a balloon.” The Germans had platforms from which they launched balloons with wires. And the Wellingtons were equipped with wire cutters. Along the wings, you had these little incisors where, as soon as something hit it, it was cut. But I never tried it. And I’m just as glad I didn’t. I’m not sure that it would have cut fast enough to avoid damaging the wing or something like that. So we started off like that. Later, we went to…I flew over Essen, I flew over the Orient, Saint Nazaire, Duisberg, and other islands.

Dangerous Mission

Let’s say that we leave from Dishforth to bomb Thuringe, eh. If you look on the map, it’s quite far. And the Wellingtons are not long range aircraft. We also had to fly over France, which was occupied, so we had to hedgehop to avoid their detecting us too much. And there was a lesser chance of being brought down, too. So we had to fly over treetops, which we did. And then descend to bomb Thuringe. But it was so far that we had to carry much more fuel than we did normally. So we had auxiliary tanks. And that reduced the number of bombs we carried. It was really a propoganda raid, you know, — if you can come to London, then we can go to Thuringe. Coming back, it was the same thing. And there was also the question of weather. There was wind, airstreams, and we had enough fuel to get to England, to a place they call Land’s End, just at the extreme tip of England. And I remember being afraid because I saw my fuel gauges dropping and then I said: Okay, we still have time. We were over water because we came over the west of France. So we just managed to set down at an airport at the tip of England: I think it was the last airport before hitting the water. And I still remember asking myself: Do we have enough fuel to taxi the length of the runway? We were really just on fumes.

Ce texte fort intéressant complète très bien ces pages qui se retrouvent dans le document du 45e anniversaire du 425 Alouette.

Je transcrirai le tout la prochaine fois pour en faciliter la lecture.

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