Soldiers Without Uniforms
Augusta Marguerite Etienne, was born 3/12/1899, married Joseph Louis Daygue on July 20th, 1920. She had two daughters, Josette born 2/2/1922, and Raymonde (Ramy), born 9/9/1926.
Josette Daygue married Jacques Dupon in August of 1938, gave birth to Jackie, the gal this writer met in Florida and who pointed me to this story.
Augusta’s husband worked for the French Railroad and when Augusta was widowed she was given a small house containing a café (buffet, billet, canteen), about a mile and a half outside Saint Jean de Losne, France, roughly 30 kilometers south of Dijon. The little canteen was just steps from the railroad tracks and had served French soldiers prior to the German occupation.
But the French were defeated quickly after the German invasion of World War II and a Vichy government was established in the free area in the south of France.
In 1940, when Ramy was nearly 13 years old, the German soldiers came.
Jackie and her Mom left for southern France when Jackie was about 1-1/2 years old. They were to work their way to southern France, then to North Africa to be near Josette’s husband who served in the French Air Force.
Ramy remembers the French emptying gasoline into the river and setting the river afire. They also blew up a bridge so as not to be used by the Germans. When activity in the town was too dangerous Ramy’s mother rented a bedroom a mile and a half from their home. Sirens would announce night bombing raids, driving them into shelters. They were ordered to leave just before the bridge was blown and got out five minutes before the explosions.
Once the area was occupied, letters from families in Free France would be sneaked to the train’s engineer. Augusta would receive the letters and distribute them away from the watchful eye of the German occupiers. Letters would come to Augusta addressed to her with a separate envelope inside addressed to the actual recipient. So began Augusta’s involvement behind the backs of the Germans.
This eventually led to further risks. Escaped POW’s would hide away in train coal cars, deep beneath the coal. The escapees had fled the mines where they worked to supply the German war effort. Ramy relates how she walked along the coal cars and out of earshot of the Germans called out for anyone under the coal to come out. “Tell us now!” she would warn anyone hiding.
From the coal cars, escapees would be spirited to Augusta’s small cafe, now serving the Germans, and be hidden away until escape to southern France could be arranged. While German soldiers enjoyed their wine upstairs, escaped POW’s would be hiding in the cellar.
In one incident a French soldier, in uniform, was in Augusta’s kitchen, washing the coal dust away when in walked a German soldier. When the German spied the French soldier Ramy told the Frenchman that for sure she would be shot along with him.
But the German calmed them, stating he was an Austrian lawyer drafted into the German army and loathed the Nazis. He left and returned with food and blankets. Civilian clothes for the escapees were made from blankets.
The escapees would hide in Augusta’s cellar until they would have 2 or 3 needing to get away. Sometimes their German sympathizer would distract guards near the train so the POW’s could be snuck onto the southbound trains.
Ramy tells of a time when at 3:30 in the morning, two women with three children were begging at their door. Augusta gave up her bedroom and put a mattress on a dining room table to give them a place to sleep. They were Jews from Belgium trying to elude the German checkpoints. Ramy walked 30 kilometers with the two women and upon reaching a river at the border of Free France, a boat took them into Vichy controlled territory.
Some families like this were hidden in dog kennels inside the train. Many who Augusta had helped visited or wrote letters of thank you after the war. In another incident, Augusta tossed a small kitten into an empty wagon but was spotted doing this by the Germans. She was arrested, suspected of tossing a bomb but was later released. Elevating the danger, Augusta agreed to let some boxes be stored in her home. While seemingly nondescript, it was later revealed that 1500 gold bars from the French bank were in the boxes. The Germans never searched the boxes.
When the fortunes of war for Germany changed, the occupiers were to blow up the railroad bridge in town. Being very close to the bridge, Augusta and Ramy where forced to evacuate. Ramy witnessed the bridge being blown and upon returning later to the cafe she found a gaping hole in her bedroom roof.
On her 18th birthday, Ramy says the French army came and the Germans withdrew. Saint Jean de Losne was liberated. In 1952 Augusta received a Citation signed the now famous Charles De Gaulle for her bravery.
Any story of courage and risk of life can be told by many who lived through the ordeals of World War II. But stories of Augusta and Ramy’s courage need to be told for the generations that follow. Facing the risk of being caught and executed, Augusta and Ramy did for their country what they felt was more important than their very own lives.
Raymonde Daygue married Robert Friberg 9/27/45 and currently lives in the U.S. northeast. We still talk occassionally on the phone. This writer is so very inspired by stories such as these.