Wednesday, April 3, 2013
A Wartime Christmas Gift 1944
Evidence: string, paint, circles, kraft paper, newsprint paper, tag, burlap, numbers, washers.
Testimony: I documented a gift, included the inspiration words gift and remember, journaled on a tag with handwriting, and included handwritten items.
On the pull out tag which is attached to string on the right hand side of the layout (pulled out from under the paper bag), I have handwritten some of my Dad's thoughts and memories of this special Christmas gift which was presented to the 5th Signal Team. The words are simple and they are his, how they were related to me 6 years ago: "In Sete we had the most wonderful Christmas dinner, which was offered to us as a gift as an honor for being there. It was quite something, I tell you, with white tablecloths, fancy dishes, waiters and all! We were each given a special menu, and all the team members had a course named for them! Imagine that! We had the best food and the best time, and I still have that menu with my war stuff, and I remember everything about that day to this day!!! Boy, it was great!!!" (I have tucked a copy of the menu in with the tag.)
Because this layout is going into a book about my Father's war experience, I have journaled on the page opposite this layout the story about the team's assignment to Sete, France and the Christmas Party.
"In November of 1944, the Fifth Signal Center Team landed a "plum" assignment in the port city of Sete, in the South of France.
After months of traveling up into Northern France under precarious circumstances, living in bombed out cellars and make-shift shelters, the team was abruptly ordered back South to the port city of Sete. Here they were to work communications for Base 109, a French base bringing over colonial troops, Moroccan Gouhmiers, from North Africa. (At this time most of the south of France had been liberated.)
Sete was then a small port city with many canals and a very steep hill. The team was billeted half way up the hill in a former convent school called Sainte Marie des Anges. Before their arrival it had housed the German Gestapo, and the Germans had built a large concrete bunker in front of the property! The beautiful old building was large, with a center hall, sweeping staircase, salon and library with fireplaces. All rather grand!! There was a big dining room with tall windows where meals were served. Off of this was the kitchen and the servants quarters. The French had "loaned" the team 3 German prisoners of war, who were very happy to be cleaning the toilets and maintaining the furnaces, otherwise they would have been clearing the harbor area of mines that the Germans had left behind in their retreat. Also "on loan" were 3 Italian prisoners, who did the cooking and serving of meals. This was living in style!! Each man had a private room, an unheard of luxury, with a cot, chair and small bureau. The view from these top floor rooms was lovely, overlooking the town and the harbor out to the sea!
The men went into the town to work at the French Communications center. First Sergeant Brigodan was good buddies with the French military commander, and this led to "perks"!
On Christmas Day, 1944, the team was given a special gift by the French, a traditional Christmas dinner, and the Italian waiters really outdid themselves serving up with grand flourishes!
So, here in this photo we see the team assembled in the dining room, with their French hosts, the Italian waiters, the German cleaners, amazing!! It was a grand affair, all men together in a spirit of goodwill and reconciliation. (My Dad is standing third from the left in front of the windows, his head is peeking out).
My Father never forgot this gift of love and goodwill. He remembered it fondly, still excited by the whole scenario, 60 years after the fact!