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June 15, 1940

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In July 1944 the Los Alamos laboratory abandon...
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I have written elsewhere that my father made his way out of Paris by the 12th of June, 1940. That was one or two days before German troops entered Paris triumphantly after giving the combined forces of England, Holland, Belgium and France a horrible thrashing.

It is very likely that I was with my mother and siblings at that time making our own way to Cognac, probably by train in truly disastrous circumstances. We expected that my father would join us by June 16.

I have been reading about happenings in France during that last week, from June 10 till June 17 when Petain took over the reins of the French government to make peace with Hitler. The book’s title is “The Week France Fell” and it was written by Noel Barber, an Englishman who lived in France before and after WW II.

Barber makes one important historical connection between the US and France. During that week there were several exchanges between the US President, Roosevelt and the French Premier, Reynaud with the latter imploring Roosevelt to declare war on Germany. Given the political situation in the US such a decision was impossible.

But one thing was possible for Roosevelt. On the night of June 15, 1940 he signed the first letter that led to the setting up of the Manhattan Project which led to development and building of the first atomic bombs that were dropped in 1945 on Horishima and Nagasaki.

Fateful times, June 1940. France fell and nuclear development was officially initiated!

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On this day in 1940

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Hotel de ville de CognacImage via Wikipedia

my father finally ended his attempt to reopen the Paris branch of the RBC in Cognac. This brief episode began when he got there on or about June 16 after getting out of Paris just ahead of the German Wehrmacht by car on June 12/13.

This attempt ended on or about June 18. By that time, tank units of the German Wehrmact couldn’t have been hours or at most a day or so away. In fact, the ministries of the French Government had moved to Bordeaux from Tours on June 14. By the 18th they felt the angry presence of German troops and with Petain as Prime Minister they proposed and accepted armistice under terms dictated by the Germans under direct instructions from Adolf Hitler. The Armistice was signed on June 22.

It is a fact that by June 22 German control extended on a line from Angoulème to Bordeaux, putting Cognac under German control for the duration of the French Vichy government. If we hadn’t gotten out of Cognac on time or no later than June 20, it is likely that we could have ended up either in a German concentration camp or in some kind of French safe house on the French side of the Armistice line.

From Cognac, he must then have made his way by car to the southwest coast of France with my mother, two sisters, one a babe in arms, my brother and myself in tow. Sometime between the 18th and the 30th of June we managed to get aboard a ship, probably a Royal Navy ship off the beach in Biarritz, to end up in England, likely Portsmouth.

By the 7 of July we were all on board the M/S Batory in Greenoch, Scotland to leave with a convoy to return to Canada, arriving in Halifax on July 11.

In 1986 I visited Cognac on a short road trip from Bordeaux. It was quite easy to detect the aroma of cognac distillation on arrival in Cognac.

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2008/06/18 at 16:15