No. 7925934. Sgt. Greenwood.
British Army Exhibition
British Army Staff
Jess Darling: This has been another gala day for Paris. It is the fifth anniversary of De Gaulle’s request for French resistance, and there has been a big parade of France’s newly formed military might: I daresay you will have read about it in the press. I have never seen anything quite like it before: the nearest approach to the crowds and the general atmosphere in my recollection was the Jubilee celebrations you and I saw in London.
Since we arrived in Paris, workmen have been busy every day erecting street barriers and building a series of huge terraced platforms in the Place de la Concorde. We didn’t know anything definite, but there were vague rumours of a military parade today. The French people were better informed, judging by today’s crowds.
As soon as we left the hotel this morning, it became obvious that something big was in the wind because the Rue Montmartre was already thickly lined with people. We managed to get down to the Metro – it was almost 8.30 am… and arrived at our usual station without any bother – but when we tried to get out of the exhibition station, it was different: we were forbidden to pass every exit barrier, in spite of our uniforms which usually get us anywhere. We (Jake and I) had no option but to get back on a train and try another station a little further away from the Champs Elysses. This dodge worked alright – and I was damned thankful to get out into the open air. We soon found our bearings from the new station, and headed for our exhibition. Unfortunately, we were on the wrong side of the Champs Elysses and as we approached the latter, it became obvious that we’d ‘had it’. It was impossible to get anywhere near the road, let alone cross it. Every side street was blocked with masses of people and lorries of all kinds acting as grand stands. We walked up and down trying to find a loophole… but even a rat couldn’t have penetrated. There were people in every conceivable place – even the trees lining the road were solid with human monkeys. It was a strange sight.
By this time, the parade had started because we could hear the roars and clapping of the crowds, and occasional strains of music from the military bands, but we couldn’t see a damned thing of course. We had an inspiration and decided to use the Metro again – and disembark at a station on the other side of the Champs Elysses, no matter how far we had to walk back. But once again we were thwarted:- all the Metro stations seemed to have closed down: we couldn’t find one open, anyhow – and as it was now nearing 10.0 am, and damnably hot into the bargain, we went to a canteen for some tea – bugger the exhibition. I hoped that the rest of the crew had had better luck than Jake and I, and that there would at least be somebody on the tank. But I knew the answer when a disconsolate trio followed Jake and I into the canteen. They had been en route much longer than Jake and I, and had eventually given up.
Very soon, we had our first glimpse of the parade:- masses of aircraft flew overhead in beautiful formation – some of them forming a “cross of Lorraine”. They were British and American aircraft, but may have been piloted by Frenchmen. They certainly looked well. Later, half a dozen fighters flying abreast flew very low over the Champs Elysses, their wings pouring forth dense trails of red, white and blue smoke: it was a very effective display of the French colours.
The weather seemed to excel itself today. There wasn’t a breath of wind or a cloud in the sky, and the sun has been shining brilliantly all day. Jake and the other lads soon got tired, but I wanted to see something, if possible, so I wandered down to the Place de la Concorde and ultimately managed to find a place where I could just see over the dense crowds. The latter, by the way were using mirrors and cheap cardboard periscopes, just as they did in London. I seemed to be in time to see all the armour go past:- It was all British and American stuff, manned by French troops, many of them coloured. In the distance, I could see a few white robed figures on the main stand in the Concord, so I presume the Sultan of Morocco and his staff were there with General de Gaulle.
There were plenty of photographers about and I saw at least two artists perched on specially built platforms high up on the front of one of the buildings of the Concord. They were painting huge canvasses of the scene. As is usual on such occasions the ambulances and first aid people were very busy – and it surprised me to see a number of males carried away for treatment. Perhaps they were some of the semi-starved slave workers from Germany.
The parade ended at noon… and then the crowds started to move – it was hellish. I was feeling literally baked and hated the idea of walking back to the hotel for lunch. But I had no option: the tubes were impossible.
The city was more normal at 2.0 pm and I managed to reach the exhibition and found everything O.K. Luckily, our tank was just a little too far back to be used as a grandstand, otherwise we would have probably had to re-paint the damned thing. But at least one of our big guns was used: some blokes managed to climb up the elevated barrel somehow: I have no idea how they hung on.
I am off duty tomorrow, darling – but don’t yet know what I will do. I don’t s’pose I will go very far if the weather continues as hot: it is damnably tiring. Did I tell you that Jim Bevan and his crew returned to the unit on Saturday night? There are now only five of us here – or six if we include Boden who is technically in charge, but who we rarely see, thank goodness.
Jess – my love – it seems so long since I saw one of your letters. The unit haven’t yet re-forwarded any – I don’t know why. But perhaps there will be one direct from you tomorrow. I do hope so.
Good night, my darling,