Civilians continue to flee the War

French refugees flee

Across France hundreds of thousands of people were on the move.

With the Germans in Paris it seemed apparent to most that France had been defeated. British proposals to create a redoubt in Brittany came to nothing – there were simply not enough troops to realistically hold of the German advance anywhere. Late on the 16th June Petain was appointed the new French leader and steps were taken to begin communicating with the invaders.

Donald Caskie had been the Minister at the Scottish Kirk in Paris. As the Germans entered Paris he joined the mass exodus of citizens who were fleeing into the French interior.

I had caught up with a straggling mass of people when German and Italian aircraft streaked down from the sky. Machine guns spat indiscriminate death. Bombs thudded and exploded all along the road. Men, women and children were blotted out of existence in a few moments. Some died by the roadside, some quietly, some sobbing, others shrieking. Far away I heard the rumbling of guns, and behind us smoke was rising from tiny villages.

The French Army had been defeated, and it seemed that Hitler and Mussolini had given orders to ‘mop up’ the French civilians.

Half conscious, but curiously alert to danger, I flung myself into ditches all through the day. It is impossible to judge the trajectory of machine-gun bullets striking from the air; sometimes when the aircraft seemed overhead they went wide, sometimes inexplicably close and once, I felt them thudding into the earth a few inches from my head.

The attacks ceased in the late afternoon and the sky was quiet again. I felt a wonderful sense of peace, I revelled in the freedom from the threat of instantaneous death. The road was under my feet and I drew deep breaths and enjoyed the air in my lungs. I was marching again.

See Donald Caskie: The Tartan Pimpernel.

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