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The Resistance steps it up

By the time Allied military forces were preparing to land on the French coast for the first time, the French Resistance had been active for years. As news of invasion plans began filtering in, sabotage and intelligence gathering efforts against the enemy were stepped up across the country.

Andre Heintz, a French student and member of the ‘Organisation Civile et Militaire’ in Caen remembered learning of the imminent invasion and the increased activity in early June 1944.

We didn't have a radio transmitter but our leader was in touch with a radio operator, and we got vital messages back from Britain through the BBC's radio broadcasts. The news was read in French three times a day, and the newsreader would always stop and say, 'Et voici quelques messages personnels', which means, 'And here are some personal messages'. At first, we thought these messages were from Free French in Britain trying to contact their families, but we soon found out that they were coded messages to the Resistance.

It seemed an awfully long time between the beginning of May and 1 June, when the first message was finally broadcast, signalling that the invasion would happen within the next week. That Sunday, 4 June, I went to a party at a friend's house. As I stood there with people dancing all around me, I had this strange feeling that I was like a little god, because I could see into the future. I wanted to warn all my friends to go into hiding, but of course I couldn't say anything, not even to my parents, because I was sworn to secrecy. I stood there wondering how many of my friends would survive.

The next day, Monday 5 June, we knew that something would happen soon, because the train from Paris didn't reach Caen - the lines had been sabotaged. That evening I heard two messages - 'the dice are on the table', meaning we should sabotage railway lines; and 'it's hot in Suez', meaning we should attack telephone lines.

“We knew something would happen soon, the train from Paris didn't reach Caen - the lines had been sabotaged.”

My task that night was to watch the headquarters of the German 716th Infantry Division next door to our house, although I would have much preferred to carry out acts of sabotage. I was quite surprised that nothing happened at the headquarters until 3.30am. I had already met my mother on the stairs at 2am - she couldn't sleep because of all the planes going over, and the sound of bombing in the distance. Afterwards I learned that there were already about 20,000 Allied paratroopers in Normandy at that time, but the headquarters only stirred into action at about 4.30am.

About that time my mother was up again, saying that it had to be the landings. Of course, I couldn't say yes or no, because I had been sworn to secrecy, but I told her perhaps we should fill some bottles with water. She also had the great idea to cook some potatoes - and lucky she did that, because at 8am there was no more gas, water or electricity. These services were only restored again six months later.

A. Heintz, WW2 People’s War, an Archive of World War Two Memories, Article Ref: A2524385 (2004), (extracts)

The Stories of Secret War

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