Friday, March 22, 2024

Summer 1944: My grandfather appears in someone else's stories

    I grew up hearing many of my grandfather's WW2 stories, but in his stories, he was both the narrator and the main character, and they existed in a sort of context vacuum - I didn't know if or how his stories matched up with historical records.

    It's not that I didn't believe my grandfather - he was a scrupulously honest man, but ... how was I to write his stories, if I couldn't tie them to any sort of historical record?  Did his exploits exist in any stories outside of his own? Did he appear as a character in someone else's story?

    As I looked at his story, hints emerged.  He told of surveilling the Wehrmacht as it traveled across southern France in November of 1942.  What was going on then?  Well, the Germans occupied all of France that November, instead of just the area north of the demarcation line between occupied France and Free France.   What else?  The Allies were invading North Africa as part of Operation Torch, and the Germans were high-tailing it down to the Mediterranean to be transshipped by the Italians to Africa to repel the Allied attack.  

    He described fighting in the open after June 6, 1944, and the resistance prevented several German battalions from reaching Normandy during Operation Overlord.

    He helped pick up the Allied airdropped supplies on Bastille Day (July 14, 1944) on the Vercors Plateau during Operation Cadillac.  Then, he witnessed the German reprisals that followed.

    He felt the shore battery guns shaking the ground over 100 miles away during the secondary Allied invasion of southern France on August 15, 1944, during Operation Dragoon.

    So, connections to historical milestones started to emerge, but I desperately wanted to find evidence of my grandfather outside of his stories.  

    ... And then my first bit of evidence emerged! I found two web pages centered on my grandfather's commanding officer: 

        At the time I found the site, the history document wasn't available, though I did find evidence that the town of Ourches had a copy, as did the Drôme Departement Archives in France. However, the only way I could view the document was to go to France.  While I'd love to do that, transatlantic travel is pretty expensive.  

       So, I wrote to the Planas family, and they not only sent me a PDF scan of the document, they also gave permission to make it available on the website above. I was unbelievably grateful and delighted because that document mentions my grandfather by name several times!  I wept with joy when I got that message.

    The document contains an alphabetized list of the 160 long-term members of the unit. Of those 160, most are never mentioned in the main text of the company history. Michel Planas frequently mentioned the ones he knew well, which makes sense - he remembered the people he knew the best.  My grandfather fell into a third group - someone Michel didn't know well, but who was at least important enough to mention by name. 

A snippet from the list of names of those
who served with the 2nd Battalion, 4th Company of the Drôme FFI.

But here's what Michel Planas actually said about Grandpa Arthur:

Note: English translations follow. Click the images to enlarge.

    "A Hors-rang section included:

 - the secretary - radio LUBINTSKI (sic)

- the gunsmith Jean BERANGER." 

    A hors-range section was a support unit that was intended to serve all of the regularly-organized groups within the unit.  This is how I learned that Grandpa was the company secretary/clerk. I also like how they referred to him as "radio Lubinski." He was the company radio operator.

    "Each day, the summary of the communiqués received on a biscuit post by LUBINSTKI (sic) was read at the Company Gathering where the instructions of the day were transmitted."

    The "biscuit post" is a reference to the "biscuit-tin radio" distributed to the resistance by the Allies. The radio was packed in metal cookie box.

    "The chief muleteer Farnetti had been killed, two mules killed by incendiary bullets, the rest of the troop had been able to fall back and the two mule-drivers - PINOT and DEFAYSSE - brought back the two remaining mules. DEFAYSSE was slightly injured. One of the mules killed led by FARNETTI carried the box which contained all the archives of the Company held by the Captain and the Radio LUBINSKI." 

    This is how I found out that Grandpa (along with his commanding officer) was responsible for maintaining the company archives.

    The impersonal nature of the mentions is what leads me to think they didn't know each other well. My grandfather was also 34 at the time, while Michel Planas was about 20, and was a medical student, and his father put him in charge of the company's medical team.  I believe their combat roles just didn't intersect that much.  

    Either way, I'm grateful to Dr. Planas for writing his history, and for mentioning Grandpa.  I'm also delighted that Jerome Planas and his siblings agreed to make their father's work available to me.  I don't think they'll ever understand how important this was to me, nor how grateful I am.  And the same is true about my historian friend who scanned the document and published it online.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Neither spam nor mean comments are allowed. I'm the sole judge of what constitutes either one, and any comment that I consider mean or spammy will be deleted without warning or response.