Recollection of war time events 1939-1945
by Sidney West a distant relative of my family

The Trauma of War. Three Cousins and the West family (1939 - 1945)

Three cousins:

Robert West: 25th March 1921 - 2nd February 1990
Allen Ratcliffe: 24th April 1921 - 4th June 1945
Jacques Fontaine: 12 th February 1921 - 28th December 1989

The following is the tale of three cousins all born in the early months of 1921, only 2 months separated them from their date of birth. This was quietly celebrated by the extended family of the Dauchart, all residents of Calais (France). The proud mothers were Amélie Dauchart, Marguerite Prud'Homme (niece) and Angélina Dauchart (ma tante Baby).

In the early days the cousins lived within walking distance of each other, not meeting all that often, but there was a maternal bond, which gave a sound respect for each other. So by 1940, Jacques, Allen and Robert, now having reached the age of 19, a sudden separation took place! This separation affected their parents also. For Jacque's parents, George and Amélie Fontaine, similarly Allen's parents, Harold and Angélina Ratcliffe, and Robert's parents, Frederic and Marguerite West.

The Second World War was beginning to take effect. The German forces under its Nazi ideology were marching westward and northern France was suffering under the tragic occupation of its territory. The lives of many people were torn apart and in the case of the cousins their circumstances did not escape the effects of such traumatic changes.

Robert West came to England with his father, mother and younger brother Sidney. The family sought asylum in a rushed decision at midday on 21 May 1940. On a beautiful sunny day no-one could have imagined what was to follow.

Father had just returned from the British Consulate in Calais, having been notified that an important notice would be posted on the door of its office. The notice instructed with urgency that a British Naval Destroyer would be arriving at to rescue British Nationals and their families from the town. The previous night we were forewarned that the personnel of the Brampton Chain Factory, the place where father and Robert worked (see photograph), was to be evacuated south, as the German forces were advancing at a rapid rate. The latest reports were that a Panzer Tank Division had sealed off the Pas-de-Calais at Abbeville, leaving no alternative for British subjects to escape south, away from possible arrest!

A quick family conference took place to discuss what father had found out, resulting regretfully, to our French grandparents declining to leave the home we shared. This break was very upsetting, not even having enough time to pack a suitcase, only a rolled blanket each across our shoulders and a few personal documents.

The journey on foot to the Gare Maritime seemed endless, being a mere 3.5kms approx. We had to go through a barricade manned by both English and French soldiers. They looked at our documents and let us through. Reaching the station we saw abandoned cars of people we knew, we could not determine whether we were the last family to arrive. We were then guided to one of the corridors of the Gare Maritime. A young immaculate Naval Officer welcomed us, managing a smile and again wanting our documents! Almost immediately a call to embark was sounded. Following the officer we negotiated a route around some parked cattle wagons, seeing for the first time the Royal Naval Destroyer moored before us.

An alert call came from its deck that enemy aircraft's were approaching and to take cover (this we did under one of the wagons nearby). Almost as soon as the warning was given 2 Heinkel 111 bombers went over, low enough to see the pilots on board, the sun glistening on the cockpit of the bombers, they swerved over the Place D'armes (the Northern Square of the City). We clearly witnessed them opening fire, they could have targeted people below!

There were a lot of refugees from Belgium and Holland sleeping on the pavements throughout Calais during this period. From then onwards a state of panic began to creep in. The bombers were returning having spotted the naval vessel. A shout of 'Here they come again!'. Not visible, we assumed they were approaching from the rear of the Maritime Station. The whistle of bombs dropping became apparent explosions at the rear, one in front of us missing the rear of the vessel, the barricade soldiers were firing their rifles, the Warship's pom-poms opened fire too.

We were rushed on board, the slopping gangway posed no fear glad in a way to be on the boat's deck. Strict orders to lie down were indicated, we lay on top of each other, our arms around mother, who by then was hysterical. Time was of the essence to release the vessel from the quay. Once released and reversing at great speed, the entire armory of the ship came into action! A frightening deafening sound vibrating the deck under our frightened bodies. Sailors around us were shouting orders to each other and rushing about.

Once out of the harbour we could feel the sudden manoeuvres of the vessel changing direction and accelerating away towards the British coast. We understood sometime later that to avoid air attacks zigzagging the ship was the norm, although the guns and the associated noise of the powerful ships engines drowned any aircraft noise, as we had witnessed before.

By now, and some distance from the French coast. a straight course could now be safely established. It was revealed that the 2 Hurricane Fighter aircraft stationed at Marck Aerodrome near Calais, had apparently come to our rescue giving the bombers a chase. So a calmer moment prevailed. Robert had managed to reassure mother. Sidney went in search of father who had momentarily disappeared. Guided by a member of the ships crew he found father negotiating a cup of tea for us all! There was plenty of helping hands around as this destroyer had another crew on board picked up after being torpedoed off the coast near Narvik (Norway) and redirected to pick us up, replying to an S.O.S message. We were quite humbled by this news. Then we became conscious of other people we knew who were still in shock from the experience which we had all witnessed.

We docked in Folkestone, subdued and not knowing what was to become of us all. Disembarking we noticed a few onlookers who had gathered. When aware of who these civilians were getting off a warship, they managed a hand clap to reassure us, a very kind gesture. We were directed to the port offices, perhaps for some formalities. Robert and father went ahead, mother and Sidney lingered a while peering in the direction of the French coast, barely visible through the heat haze. We could hear rumbling sounds, most probably bombs still being dropped! Remembering still what we had experienced only over one hour previously, plus the family separation which mother had not come to terms with, and still tearful, we went on our way.

When all the people who came over had been checked, we were shepherded to a waiting train. The word went round that we were heading for London. Still in shock we had very little to say to each other.

Ce témoignage des évènements du 21 mai 1940, sont exactement les miens avec mes parents Gisèle et Jack Ratcliffe; mêmes circonstances, mêmes frayeurs sous les wagons de chemin de fer sous les tirs des avions allemands, même embarkation sur le destroyer de la royal navy, et arrivée à Folkestone. Voir le témoignage de Gisèle. Lien.

It was dark when we reached our destination, the train having moved into a siding. A policeman opened our carriage door. A short conversation took place with father. Not understanding English at that stage, we relied on father to interpret, even Robert who had had some English lessons at school, looked puzzled. This made us realize that conversing and understanding would become our first difficulty! Father explained that the policeman had informed him that we were to stay put and try to get some sleep. We were thankful for our treasured only blanket, which we carried across, and now being put into use in a strange environment. I cannot say that we slept very well that night.

The clanging of the carriage doors signaled that the morning had arrived and perhaps some news. We were all directed and transported to a large cinema where some food and beverage was provided. The reason for this venue was to once again be interviewed by government officials, checking our identity and if we had some form of contact and any possible plans for the future. Father was determined that Manchester would be one destination and perhaps contacting the Reno!d Chain branch, the head office and factory linked to Brampton's in Calais. The proceedings at the cinema took quite some time, then 'unannounced' music came from the direction of the stage and rising out of the orchestra pit came this cheerful organ music, this huge instrument all lit up like it was part of something at the fairground, the musician playing the tunes, turning round as if to indicate 'I am doing this to cheer you up' and indeed, despite everything, our spirits were touched by this gesture.

The next day we travelled north to Dolton where father had an uncle, a branch of the family unknown to us, and we realized that father had not seen this relation for a number of years. They made us welcome, staying only a short time. This uncle was of a certain age and living with his children. We were able to thank them for their hospitality by doing a garden tidy up for them.

So we arrived eventually in Withenshawe (south of Manchester) and a visit to Renolds Chain main factory. Father was anxious to make contact with the firm and hope perhaps that they could help us with our situation. We had no need to worry! The top man came to meet us, Sir Charles Renold himself no less, and then events moved very quickly. We were found some accommodation not far away, lodging with a lady and her two young daughters.

Next door was a very friendly schoolteacher and his family. He spoke a little French so we were able to converse with him. His two sons were eager to involve Robert and Sidney in a game of cricket thinking coming from France their knowledge of the game would be non existent. Little did they know that Robert, now 19 years old, had taken part in matches with the Calais cricket team and had some knowledge of the game, Sidney was less enthusiastic but went along anyway. This short encounter went well on a waste piece of ground at the back of their home and as the game progressed everyone saw the funny side of it all!

Robert and father were constant visitors at the factory hoping that a job for them would be found in due course. Father was in his 2Oth year as a maintenance engineer as Bsrampton's in Calais and Robert had not long finished his apprenticeship as a toolroom operative at the same place. Naturally our wish for independence was always in our mind and by August everything seemed to come together. Father had found a house to rent, some second hand furniture had been chosen, and father and Robert were due to start work at Renold's main works. But aias this was not to be. The reason being that a vacancy had occurred at another branch of Renold's in Coventry where the maintenance foreman was away ill and the job of a charge hand had been offered to father, therefore crushing all our present plans. Robert was naturally shocked at the news, as his position was again uncertain.

We arrived in Coventry at the end of August 1940. We found some lodgings at 95 Holyhead Road with a Mr & Mrs Gent. The house was within walking distance of the Renold's & Coventry Chain factory. Father started work almost straight away and Robert was also found employment after a short period in the toolroom of the same company. At this point of the story we were all effected in some way by our new situation, father with being in charge of a group of men who were probably resentful of somebody descending from whom knows where taking charge! Mother, not knowing the language and having to cope with expressing herself, dealing with the shopping, the rationing and the worry of how her mum and dad were managing back in Calais (there we had moved together to share a home only months before our separation). Sidney was having the same communication difficulties, starting school, coping with lessons and really for Robert being thrown into a difficult environment, and soon in a renewed form of harassment, a déjà vu situation for him, he had already suffered from verbal bullying at school in France because he had an English name! Jibes of a nationalistic nonsense often fuelled by the historical conflicts between the two countries, dating way back, this form of banter was the norm on either side of the Channel and now a 'froggy' with the English form of 'mickey' taking was to be experienced. Not all of the one hundred operatives in the toolroom were as vocal, but there was some who did not know when to stop. This effected Robert very much, It was in his favour however that his skills were recognized and the management sometimes gave jobs to Robert that proved difficult to others, and the fact that the problems of manufacture were solved was not appreciated by some. There was also the question of recognition of skills, in France your apprenticeship finished at 18, in this country it is the age of 21. Robert at least accepted that he would be classified as an improver and would be paid accordingly. He could not help the type of work given to him but some might have felt he was being favoured (the politics of a workshop is sometimes difficult to understand especially when it is used with underlying racism as practiced by a few).

Robert tried to separate himself from his immediate problems. Socially he was quite popular with people. He had several friends and was quite interested in the popular music of the day. He became a very good ballroom dancer and was attracted to being a bit of a Disc Jockey.

Despite all this his nervous debility took over could the reason be associated to parental pressures in France to do well of school. This caused a stress factor diagnosed as dyspepsia or aerophagie, a nervous stomach or gastric disorder. Perhaps father and mother did not know about some of his school colleagues not being too sympathetic towards him and having some associated effects of his health? And now the added trauma of uprooting his roots from France, the air raids on Coventry including the Coventry Blitz, the lack of sleep, the problems at work, and to someone like Robert, a non violent person, sensitive, no doubt bottling things up without saying very much, the effect on his health became apparent. His medical advice at the time was to send him to 'Lee House', an annexe of Hatton Hospital, a centre for recuperation for patients with nervous debility. There he met up with other people who like Robert were traumatized by different circumstances. Robert became quite friendly with a young Air Force pilot who was undergoing treatment to help him recover from his experiences as a fighter pilot. Luckily he survived but was left with his nerves in tatters. They discovered their interest in drawing and put some of it into practice. Luckily for Robert he was also able to improve his English ~ due to the young companion having spent some time at a University before being called up into the Services.

We visited Robert as often as we could, travelling on the Midland Red Bus Services, hoping for his quick recovery and not enjoying this separation.

Reflecting on that anxious period, a misguided conclusion by anyone not understanding someone with the nervous complaint which Robert was suffering, would question the severity of the problems he was experiencing, only to himself these things were real and needed understanding.

Sometime later, this reassurance came when he met Margaret, his partner in life who gave him the support vital to his recovery. Robert severed his link with engineering for a while but eventually returned with renewed enthusiasm, this dedication helped him greatly giving him the respect of many.

Addendum: addition to page 1 to 6

Living with out grandparents at 147 Rue Leavers was a move agreed upon late in 1938 to ease the pressure on mother with regards to looking after her parents, now in their late 70's. (Our French grandmother Azéma Crochez had been a renown dressmaker locally in Calais but was now suffering from arthritis, her hands were mostly effected. Our grandfather Alfred Louis Prud'Homme was not himself enjoying the best of health, but was still being asked on occasions to give his opinion as a troubleshooter, his expertise from having been a lace maker for some years, an employee of Venpoule et Duquenois Lacemaking Factory, Rue Des Quatre Coins, Calais. Even when he was in his 80's).

Our sudden departure from France without them was a great sorrow for mother to bear. As time went by she did find out that messages through the Red Cross could be realised, although this information was short and to the point we were able to learn that they were o.k. Also a few small parcels were also permitted. We learnt much later that the German occupying forces obliged Calais citizens who had room to spare, a billeting order was imposed upon them whether they liked it or not! Our grandparents had three German soldiers staying with them for a while. They were very lucky that these young men had some respect for older folks, it could have been quite different of course. They were more concerned about the uncertainty of their next mission i.e. as the invasion of Britain had been postponed, but being sent to the Russian front was their great worry, Out of the three only one was politically motivated by the aims of the Third Reich, the other two had families back in Germany, one was a family butcher and the other a farmer. As rationing was beginning to bite any extra rations from their canteen would be clandestinely brought back to their billet and was, I am sure, begrudgingly accepted by grandfather who did not want their presence at all!

This attitude was shown on the occasion of a street search for someone who was supposedly harbouring a member of the Resistance. A lorry load of soldiers from the Wehrmacht carried out the raid. All the men in the Rue Leavers were arrested. At first our grandfather refused to be moved, only after the officer in charge placed his Luger revolver at his temple and ordering him to move, did he reluctantly respond, they were taken away. Much later they were set free. The search had proved negative, had it been different their fate would have been execution! The posters around the town were plain enough "Harbouring enemies of the Occupation Forces will mean death by Firing Squad". One can only imagine the anguish that this incident caused.

A more serious event took place much later, on 27 February 1945, an error of judgement by a Bomber Squadron of the Royal Air Force operating in a cloudy condition dropped bombs on Calais, instead of Dunkirk where a pocket of German Forces were still holding on. Calais had been liberated by the Canadians and who were still having a presence in the town. Grandmother came out cf 147 hurrying across the road to catch a builder, there was a repair job to be done on our roof in Rue Leavers. The time was normal time for the exit of factories and schools, bombs fell out of the sky, grandmother had the misfortune to be in its path, her left foot was shattered by an exploding bomb, resulting in an amputation just below the knee. This was carried out by a Canadian Army doctor. Regretfully not the only one injured, she was one of 150 people who had suffered a similar plight. The saddest thing was 97 people lost their lives, 33 men, 48 women and 16 children under the age of 18. The town was in mourning. It was not the first bombing but this was the worst.

The news prompted mother to do everything in her power to return to France and give her mother and father moral support. The conflict was still going on whilst mother was organising her mercy trip to France. Reaching Calais had to be done from Victoria, London to Newhaven across to Dieppe then to Paris returning northwards to Calais. She stayed with her parents for several months. We welcomed her return, looking tired and much thinner but thankful she was able to do this. Arrangements to have our grandparents over to England was the next stage. We were still without permanent accommodation* to do this. We were eternally thankful for good neighbours in France, especially Monsieur et Madame Vasseur who had kept an eye on our grandparents for a very long time now, especially during the dark days of the Occupation.

Foot Note:

Germany capitulated on 7 May 1945.

Accommodation*: From 1940 to 1949 we spent time in 9 different lodgings until we were offered a permanent residence by the Coventry City Council. A council house in 1949 at 37 Templars Fields, Canley, Coventry.

The month of May 1940 was equally difficult and agonizing for Harold Ratcliffe, his wife Angélina and their two sons Allen and Guy.

They were aware of the notice at the British Consulate, but decided to stay in Calais. The shop that was under Harold's charge could not be abandoned just like that, and in his opinion a wait and see position was favoured. This was endorsed by his family.

The following account was written by Robert Chaussois, a journalist working for 'La Voix Du Nord' the newspaper of the Pas-De-Calais (Northern France) region. He was credited for having written five books about Calais during the war 1939-1945.

This translation describes what happened to Allen Ratcliffe and the family. Robert Chaussois wrote:

During the end of March 1944 a young member of the Resistance, Allen Ratcliffe, was arrested in the Lille region and deported to Dachau Concentration Camp (not far from Munich, Germany) where he did not return. Allen Ratcliffe was born on the 24 April 1921 in Calais. His father Harold had married a local girl, Angélina Dauchart. This was not the case of one of the many Franco-British marriages, sometimes insecure as some were after the 1914-1918 war. This family had local links for many years, Harold Ratcliffe was born in Calais, his father however was born in Yorkshire, England in 1861. He settled in Calais during the period where exportation of coal from Cardiff (Wales) and other English ports were exchanged. Allen Ratcliffe, whose Christian name was in fact 'Harold too, took the Christian name of Allen so as to prevent confusion.

An Integrated Calaisian, he followed his education at the College of the Rue Leveux. His parents ran a grocery store run on the co-operative principle known as the "Co-operative Anglaise" 43 Boulevard Jacquard, specialising in English products.

At the beginning of the German occupation the parents of the young Allen were arrested. Mr. Ratcliffe was interned and later deported to Poland with other English residents which stayed behind in Calais. His wife was sent with his young brother Guy in a restricted area in Paris compelled to register at regular intervals at the Kommandatur.

The student Allen Ratcliffe decided, despite these separations, to complete his teacher's degrees and finds a job teaching the alphabet to the small children of the Commune of Wissant (near Calais). Having French nationality due to his second generation status, the authorities did not bother him at this juncture, but when they started deporting young people to work in the factories of the Third Reich Allen decided to join some relations in Belgium.

This is when he becomes aware of the existence of an organized channel who gave the possibility of interested individuals to reach Britain by this clandestine way with hope to a path through Spain and then on to Britain. For some mysterious reason Allen stayed in northern France? Perhaps we shall never know why.

On the 21 March 1944, Allen was arrested by the German Police whilst he was staying with an active member of the Resistance, Mr. Charles Damerment, a postmaster in Marquette-lez-Lille, he was arrested too. His function since 1940 was to shelter English and French soldiers and prevent them from being captured. In February and October 1941 he was arrested with his wife; due to insufficient evidence and after brutal questioning they revealed nothing. Charles and his wife were released. Each spell of incarceration were spent in the Loos prison (to the south of the town of Lille). These events were very close to all (link).

Returning from this second arrest they were surprised to find that their daughter Madeleine, aged 24, had decided to join the Free French in Britain using the passage of escape which her father operated, and was responsible for just a link in this process. Madeleine Damerment left of the adventurous journey on 12 December 1941 reaching England safely and therefore proving that the german police had not broken this clandestine route.

After their arrest with Allen Ratcliffe, the Damerment couple were together imprisoned in the Loos Prison until 1 September 1944 when, ironically, the last train was formed for a journey that Charles and Allen did not know would be the journey of no return. Madame Damerment had the chance to be liberated, but the postmaster and his young companion found themselves in the Dachau Concentration Camp, from which they were sent to work in the salt mines if Kochendorf about 15kms from Stuttgart. Charles Damerment did not have the physical strength to sustain this forced labour and at 52 years of age, a native of Tortefontaine, also a veteran of the 1914-1918 war, died in the arms of Allen on 26 February 1945, a victim of deprivation and violent treatment. Allen Ratcliffe has lost his companion who shared this misery.

He continues to sustain the difficulties before him, such as the darkened cells, the repulsive food, the beatings, the inhuman work of the salt mines, his health by now had reached it's lowest ebb. This tall young man who by now could not possibly work in those terrible conditions was brought back to Dachau.

When the Americans liberated Dachau on the 29th April 1945, Allen Ratcliffe had reached his 24th birthday five days before. Still hanging on to life despite everything and seriously infected by typhus, his weakened body could not have withstood a move, so despite all possible on the spot care he succumbed on the 4 June. His body was brought back to Calais and is now laying amongst the martyrs of the Second World War in the Calais South Cemetary. This young member of the resistance who had given his all, finally returned home to a possible unjust future of being forgotten.

Madeleine Damerment joined the Secret Service of the B.C.R.A. (Bureau Central De Renseignement et d'action). She was parachuted in France in February 1944. She was arrested by the Germans whilst on a mission, she was sent to Dachau. She died there on 13th September 1944 at the time that her father and Allen arrived at the camp.

********** 1 Foot Note

Dachau was one of the earlier concentration camps (12 miles from Munich) where medical experiments were carried out, operations on healthy persons by SS doctors and medical students. Some operations such as the removal of the gall bladder was performed b y inexperienced students, many died of complications, the patients were really just human guinea pigs.

Other activities, a Dr. Sigmund Rashel (Lufwaffer Major) did air pressure tests on the human body, many patients died of brain and lung haemorrhages, organs were sent to Munich for examination. Anyone that survived were put to death. Other tests by this individual was temperature test on the human body, freezing them until they became unconscious, then heating them with artificial sunshine to revive them.

A Dr. Schutz carried out an experiment on a large number of Polish, Czech and Dutch priests. A group was selected to have pus injected in their body, causing blood poisoning and great pain, even treated with various drugs inflammation and general blood poisoning set in. Those who did not die of septicemia became permanent invalids. A large number of Hungarians and Gypsies were in 1944 compelled to drink salt water, given nothing to eat, urine and blood tests were carried out, also their excrement was analysed.

No steps were taken to minimize suffering, whether patients lived or died mattered not. Carried out by inexperienced people under unhygienic conditions, survivors were often disfigured or mutilated, concluding that such experiments had no medical and scientific importance. Most of these experiments were raised at the Nurenberg Trial later. (Extracts from The Scourge of the Swastica, by Lord Russell of Liverpool). (Bertram Russel (Corgi Books 1973) - Russel also quoted that twelve millions murders, horrors such as occurred at Auschwitz, at Dachau and at Belsen, seems almost beyond belief. The extermination of millions of men, women and children was a calculated plan to destroy whole nations and races.

There was 12 camps spread in the following countries, Netherlands, France, Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia. Other camps were extermination camps, 8 of them in Poland.

On the lowest computation, twelve million people were put to death by Nazis - not in battle, but murders - mass production genocide.

Jacques Fontaine

Jacques Fontaine was to bear the unpleasant events of occupied France. He had some engineering skills and the Germans were eager to mobilize such talent for their war machine. Before he was taken away to Germany he made one particular observation which its end result is still clouded with mystery. Living so close to the main Calais Canal he could not fail to observe the build up of landing crafts being assembled to the unmistakable conclusion that this was the preparation for the invasion of Britain. Some crafts were made of steel, others were cut off to the fore using wooden canal barges with the necessary landing flap for debarkation. The strange thing was one night the arsenal towards the end of September 1940 disappeared without trace. What ever happened to these crafts manned by numerous young Army and Naval personnel.

It was later revealed that the German High Command had a plan called "Operation Sealion" (invasion of Britain) which could have been put into force, but was it! Where did all the materials go to? Much later it was claimed that the Royal Air Force lit the sea after pouring inflammable liquids to challenge numerous crafts leaving the French coast. Many were burnt to death, others suffered injuries caused by fire, hundreds of burnt bodies were washed ashore along the French coast, a sad fact! The terrible thing is to this day this event has never been admitted by Britain. This remains a tragic mystery which is still to be investigated.

Jacques Fontaine, born on 12 February 1921, lived with his parents at 23 Route De Guines * opposite No.28 where Robert also lived with his family some years previously. Amelia, Jacques dear mother was a hard working housewife caring for his two sisters, France and Raymonde, also his younger brother Jean who was of a similar age to Sidney West. Hence the closeness of the two families for a number of years. Jacques father George Fontaine was a lace maker employed in what was in those days in Calais a prime manufacturing industry.

Jacques followed employment at the same factory as Robert "Brampton Chains" (Établissement Brampton) ** makers of transmission chains and associated chain wheels. Jacques worked in the chainwheel department. During the occupation the authorities recruited skilled labour to work in the German factories to supplement their war machine. This happened around October 1940 when supposedly a drive towards unemployment called the S.T.O. (Service Du Travail Obligatoire) the obligatory work services was formed. Offices organized workers in the north of France and the Pas-De Calais asking for volunteers, the response was minimal. Realising their destination, only about 2900 people applied in the first three months. The Germans used other methods, such as seizing the people coming out of cinemas, churches, trains and tram stations as well as factories. Jacques was arrested outside Brampton's the very exit gate shown on page 1. From July 1940 to August 1941 they had 15,000 of so called volunteers all sent to Germany. By the 16th February 1942 the cooperative Vichy Government under Maréchal Petain introduced a new system, three skilled workers in exchange for the return of a French prisoner of war! A handover ceremony was organized where the skilled workers were present at the railway station while the prisoners to be exchanged disembarked and the workers took a waiting train in the opposite platform for a return journey. One can only imagine the emotion of such an events and more directly the low mentality of the organizers who thought they were doing someone a big favour! This so called ceremony was later embellished with the presence of high ranking officers, as well as diplomats, army personnel, even with a fanfare to jolly things along!

Between 1942 and 1943 tens of thousands of skilled and unskilled workers were dispatched in a similar way, those desperate to stay close to home and with the rise of unemployment were forced into sea defences and gun emplacement projects, constructions which are still present today along the Channel coast.

Jacques was sent to Germany on two occasions and. Thinking back. Robert might have been one of his companions had he stayed behind. For Jacques dual nationality was not a question, one can only surmise how he must have felt being torn away from his loved ones.

One of the factory where he had his enforced employment was Mercedes Benz, a plant well earmarked by the Royal Air Force Bomber Command who carried out very damaging bombing missions of the German industrial complexes, very precise Jacques recalled. The bombing was so accurate so when they returned the following night they continued where they finished the night before. He survived these bombing raids.

His new found comrades and work mates were not without engaging in a bit a sabotage! Many jobs were all to do with engine parts for powering their heavy army vehicles. Jacques explained that one of the jobs that came their way was the trueing of crank shafts castings. (Perhaps an explanation of the part in question and its history at this stage of its production. The zigzag shape of this part was carted in the foundry, after cooling it was again heated in a furnace to a critical temperature then allowed to cool in the same environment. This process is known as "normalizing". The crankshaft with excess metal left for machining had to be trued so that this important part would clean up to its various sizes on machining). The casting would be rotated so that the main bearing sections along the shaft would be gauged for some accuracy and to a satisfactory limit before machining began. It is at this stage of the operation that interference was carried out clandestinely, the bending of the crankshaft before respecting the limits mentioned above was bent up and down between blocks on an hydraulic press with some zeal. This rough treatment was sure to crack the structure of the metal. Surface cracks would be quite difficult to spot even on a polished surface. Jacques and his colleagues rejoiced with some anticipation at the prospect of crank shafts seizing up or at best shearing off whilst in action on the Russian front.

This would have meant serious retribution had the interference with the product been found out, such penalty would have been sudden death by hanging or firing squad! The pressures of that period must have been horrendous. It was only natural that when Jacques returned to France in late 1945, his taste for engineering had waned somewhat. Calais had suffered massive damage, from the defence of the town in 1940 to the bombing during the occupation and to the shelling during the liberation. For Jacques it was natural to think and decide to join with other people and work for the reconstruction of his native city.

Calais suffered the ravages of War to major buildings, much of them historic and impossible to replace, many houses, in total as many as 73% in ruin, the town was proclaimed a disaster area.

Jacques traumatic experience in Germany had some visible effect. He had lost quite a bit of weight but he was philosophical about what had happened to him. In many ways his quiet disposition was very similar to Robert West and although they went their separate ways the respect for each other remained the same.

Zohra, already a family friend, joined Jacques as his life partner. They both moved to the outskirts of Paris sometime later and faced the future together.


* (Route be Guînes) is now called Rue du Lt. Jacques Faguer, a local Resistance Fighter 1939-1945 War.

** (Brampton) The Brampton Factory established itself in Calais on 4 June 1898. Brampton Bros. Ltd of Birmingham (known for their roller skates) decided to open a factory in Calais and one of the brothers, Arthur Brampton, was to head this enterprise making chains for bicycles in France. The firm was taken over by Renold Chains of Manchester in the 1920's producing from then onwards some of their products. Up until then the chain production at Brampton's had made similar advances in transmission, cycle chains, machine driving chains and more importantly the silent chains for motor cars. The factory closed on the day we came to England and re-opened under French management on 13 August 1940 with a different function. During the German occupation the factory became a center for the Red Cross (not sure whether this was a camouflage?) Production of chains continued, 20% of the production went to Germany.

The reasons for writing the episodes of three young cousins during the 1939-1945 War is to inform our family and explain why such events should not be repeated again.

The renewed suffering, death and destruction at present engulfing the World stage shows the urgency for numerous people to align themselves on the path to peace and succeed in improving the lives of everyone.

The Middle East, where a lot of people are suffering at the moment, would no doubt be pleased to run their own affairs. It is difficult to differentiate who the centre of evil happens to be. The countries who are armed to the teeth and acting like bullies are asking others that they should not have this and that! When really complete disarmament by all would really help the situation, the arms trade continues to flourish and the trade off is not help the starving people of Africa" but the exploitation of the oil and mineral resources. Colonisation has never really gone away, despite the independence of many people, sanctions have seen to that, if your politics are not to the liking of the stronger powers you will be invaded!

The United Nations was created to argue problems without conflict. This was the conclusion put forward after the 1939-1945 cruel War where millions lost their lives. It is interesting to witness the claims by the fascist organizations of today seeking electoral respectability in Britain and in France that the Holocaust by Nazis in their camps and other places as an "evil hoax" and that only whites are supreme. No wonder the French and Germans were not keen to sanction the War on Iraq. Their history reminded them of the pain that War had brought to their nations.

In this country there has been many demonstrations about the U.S. and Britain's links to go to War, with strong appeals for peace. Its most spectacular one was on Saturday 15th February 2003 when 2 million people in London joined hands. They were from different backgrounds, religions and political persuasions to show those politicians who have lost their way a different course, believing differently and displaying with some wisdom the way to sanity.

Sidney West Coventry October 2003

Question About The Name 'West'

Robert West was the eldest living son of Frederick West, an Engineer born in Gillingham (Kent, England) on 9th March 1692. He married Marguerite Louise Prudhomme in 1918 in a small wooden built church in the Rue Du Moulin Brûlé (Calais), a Wesleyian church; officiating: an Army Chaplain [lien]. Marguerite Louise Prudhomme was a trained bank clerk and worked at the Credit Lyonnais before her marriage.

Robert West was born on 25th March 1921 and his younger brother Sidney West on 16th June 1927. They would have had an elder brother 'Freddie' who died at an early age from meningitis, around 1919 or .920 when the parents lived in Armentières. He was rarely talked about, the sorrow of the event was too great. Mother became grey at a young age through this upset. At the end of the war Frederick West called it a day with his association with the regular Army. Having been in the services for many years, from Cadet to Staff Sergeant in the Royal Engineers, then himself and many ex-patriots settled in France after the war. He formed with other comrades the Calais branch of the British Legion whose membership at one stage reached 400.

Was Robert West called up in the French Army?

No because up to 1926 the law was any foreign nationals having children in France took the nationality of the father. It was therefore a different situation for Sidney as regards Robert's 'National Service in this country. He was deferred during the duration of the war due to his engineering skills.

Why did you not go back to France?

At the end of the war this was definitely considered. We had a house in Calais and our grandparents would have welcomed this decision, but the French authorities thought differently. Brampton higher management returned but in keeping with a four percent foreign labour quota, my father was not considered. His position was at the time of his departure to England a maintenance superintendent, perhaps factory politics played a part in this decision, we shall never know? So our return never took place.

Mis à jour le 10/11/2011