"I do not want to make my story a wonderful tale. Yet there is enough to feed a legend in its extraordinary history. He was born miraculously. Rémy Bourdet blows his 75 candles on the occasion of the 75e Anniversary of Normandy landings, Thursday, June 6, 2019. His destiny is bound forever at D-Day. More than anyone else, he knows that soldiers have died so that he can live.
Not a tale, but a personal memorial. In his house in Saint-Lô (Manche), the story of his family in 1944 is everywhere. Meticulously ranked. With Nicole, his wife, he releases impressive collections of postcards, newspaper articles with yellowed paper, documents, sometimes signed by the hand of General Leclerc, one of the main military leaders of free France. Gleaned over dozens of years of research in the archives of several departments, photos, letters, sketchbooks of his brother, Fernand, a young man of 19 who had begun his fight against the IIIe Reich … He did not survive.
On August 6, 1944, Fernand joined the front and the 2e armored division, a force of 18,000 men and 150 tanks, composed mainly of French who refused defeat and the idea of Germany moving to France. The young resistant will fall on August 11, 1944 in Rouessé-Fontaine (Sarthe). His mission was to complicate the supply of the occupation troops, or to delay it, by sabotage but also to harass the Germans by convoy attacks. Mutilated by shrapnel, he will agonize for three days at the hospital in Le Mans.
"I was born, he died"
The battles of Fyé and Rouessé-Fontaine constitute for the Leclerc division the most deadly episode of the whole campaign of Normandy. Fernand was first arrested by the Germans while trying to reach Switzerland. He will be tried and held in a fort near Dijon for four months, before being forcibly sent to the construction of the Atlantic Wall in the Todt organization in Calais and Dunkirk, and escape to become member of the St. James Resistance Network. A hero. Only a few days after his death, Paris is liberated.
Remy is struggling to contain his tears by retracing the life of this elder, fallen on the field of honor. "I did not do anything. I was born, he died, "Rémy apologizes. The day of his birth, however, influenced the course of his life. On June 6, 1944, just hours before his birth, when his mother was experiencing his first contractions, began Operation Neptune, the culmination of the Overlord project, the greatest military action of all time. Young soldiers thrown on the beaches of Normandy by a gray and windy morning under the deadly fire of the German bunkers. In Saint-Lô, his family is under the bombs.
Party in the front with the 2nd armored division (Leclerc division), Fernand, the older brother of Remy, is wounded by shrapnel. He died on August 15, 1944. Private collection R.B.
At mid-day on June 6, the BBC sent a message inviting the Saint-Lois to evacuate the city as quickly as possible within a radius of three kilometers, but this call is not heard; the Germans had confiscated the majority of radio sets. Leaflets had been dropped the day before to warn the inhabitants of the arrival of the allies, but these, dispersed by the wind, will be very little read. At least 350 civilians will be killed under the bombs that day, and the city reduced to piles of ruins.
Born into a very modest family, "a railway father, a housewife", Remy is the youngest of six siblings. After four years of occupation, goods have become scarce, prices have soared. Rémy describes a childhood "in great poverty". In 1944, "my mother, Germaine, was 44 years old, my father, Roger, 48 years old. He had survived gas from the Germans in the trenches of Verdun, "he says. Roger died when Rémy was 4 years old, gnawed by the absence of Fernand, this eldest son too soon disappeared. When he had announced his desire to join the Resistance, the blood of Roger, invaded by the memory of his friends who fell by his side in 1914-1918, had made a trick. "If you leave, you will not set foot at home and you will not see your mother again," he warned. In vain.
A nun saves the newborn from bombs
In the "night of fire," Germaine gave birth to her last son, fearing the death of the first. "We were tenants of a house at the edge of the Vire," describes Rémy. The day of his birth, he tales it meticulously, thanks to the testimony of his mother and sister, Roselyne, 12 years old at the time. This day of Liberation – Saint-Lô will actually be forty-four days to be released – will be an episode of terror. The sirens of alert sounded without stop. In the sky: a terrifying air show. Heavy bombers will drop tons of bombs, telegraphs and phones will be cut off quickly.
Germaine, on the point of losing the waters, fails to get to the hospital of the city, already on fire. In panic, she is also pushed back from a German underground shelter dug under the tower of the Fine-Regards. It is finally the hospital center of the Bon-Sauveur, specialized in the care of the people suffering from psychic disorders, which will serve, that night, of maternity, in the chaos. "She's a nun who helped my mother give me life," says Rémy. But, a few minutes after his birth, this hospital too will be bombarded, and very quickly the prey of the flames.
Remy then reports an anecdote that his family so often told him, child: "My mother had come to the hospital to give birth with a pink knitted shawl in her hand. As the Bon-Sauveur Hospital began to collapse, Germaine was ordered to leave at full speed, assisted by a stretcher bearer. Everyone thought only of saving their skin. Remy, himself, and his few minutes of life, was at this moment in another room, separated for first aid. "It will make a little angel, it will go directly to Heaven, had we immediately told my mother when it was pressed to leave the place," said Remy. But a sister took the new-born baby, covered it with this pink shawl, and ran out of the furnace. Roger and Roselyne found Germaine in a barn nearby, where were gathered wounded, some dying. Roger thought everyone was dead. It is Roselyne who then discovered Remy, "wrapped in the protective pink shawl", in another part of the barn. A miracle.
A letter from Rémy's sister, twelve years older than her, testifying to the almost miraculous birth of her little brother under the bombs. LP / Lou Benoist
When the journalist Jacques Kayser enters Saint-Lô, he will have these words: "The destruction is total. Only, here and there, some isolated and bruised buildings remain standing. It is atrocious and it goes beyond the bounds of human sensitivity. Not a civilian. There is not a shop where we can house an office, not a house that we can live. All the traffic is made by the two or three streets that have been cleared or drilled in the middle of the ruins. Saint-Lô no longer exists. "
On the night of June 6 to 7, 1944, Saint-Lô, strategic crossroads, was bombarded by the allies to avoid the rise of German reinforcements. Hundreds of civilians are killed because they have not heard the BBC's message to evacuate the area. Private collection R.B.
The house of Germaine and Roger was razed. The layers of Remy, baby, will consist of old sheets. Her bed ? A wooden trough "in which we will even find shrapnel! During the exodus, the Bourdet family will live in a villa requisitioned in Hauteville-sur-Mer, about forty kilometers away. It is there, in August, that they will learn about Fernand's death. "My mother then became a dead woman, she was destroyed by her son, explains Rémy, she will spend the rest of her life reading and rereading the story of her achievements as a resistant in the local press. "
His family and his city bruised forever
Back in Saint-Lô, nicknamed "the capital of the ruins", the Bourdet family will land in relief housing, "German huts back in a hurry". No shower, no toilet. Rémy will grow up to the age of 20 years. Became graphic designer, "out of love for beautiful things" – it is he who will draw the logo of the city of Saint-Lô – he will launch with his wife in research to trace the life of soldier of the shadow of Fernand, his brother hero. A difficult task. The departmental archives of the Channel had burned during the Liberation, the only case in France with those of Loiret.
Their house razed during the bombings, Rémy (here at the age of 4) and his family lived in German barracks without shower or toilet. Private collection R.B.
Nevertheless, Remy will be able to trace the thread of history, with the help of his family, "and the archives of the Doubs, and Côte-d'Or". Father of three great children, Remy remains forever linked to the D-Day. His family as his city bruised forever. Saint-Lô will be with Le Havre the theater of the most radical destruction in Normandy. "Coming from the resistance, he was immediately distinguished by his audacity and his will. During the clean-up operations of August 11, 44 in Rouessé-Fontaine was seriously injured during the fight. This quotation carries the attribution of the Croix de Guerre with a vermeil star … ", it is possible to read on his military libretto, signed by General Leclerc in the name of Fernand Bourdet. He was elevated to the rank of second lieutenant posthumously. A title found by Remy, his unknown younger brother during a life of research.
In his very rich collection, Remy shows a picture of him (left) with his mother, Germaine, on the beach. The return to a normal life. Private Collection R.B./Lou Benoist