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Remembrance of Combat in Normandy

Guy Charland

2003, 2009 Colin Charland, Chad Charland, and Claire Ashford

Chapter 17

Christmas Eve 1944 Remembered, at Compeign, France, on Military Police and POW Guard Duty

    The last serious German assault erupted in Belgium during the winter of December 1944, Christmas Eve, in a desperate attempt to destroy the American and British forces, and attempt to win the war for Germany. It was a complete surprise. It would be a "Christmas Gift" for Adolph.

    Compeign was a famous city. It was the place where Joan of Arc was captured by the English in the Hundred Years War. We were stationed in the path of the German advance; how lucky can one be? Out of all the Christmases I remember, this is the one that stays in my mind always.

    As I said, I was with a Military Police unit stationed there. It became our job to patrol the area around the city for possible German infiltration by paratroopers and enemy units sent in to cause disruption and sabotage important military sites. Also, we had a prisoner of war compound with about 3,000 or 4,000 German POWs and we knew one of their top objectives was to capture this camp and turn all those POWs loose. Needless to say, it was a pretty nasty and scary situation and we were only a small unit of about less than 80 men in the path of a possible German advance (talk about the Alamo). Thank God, it never happened. We all would have been overrun for a fact, killed or taken prisoner. Anyhow, myself and another soldier were sent out on patrol for any possible sign of enemy activity. It was snowing and bitter cold. I'd say like about in the low twenties, but we were pretty well dressed with warm U.S. Navy parkas, fur lined head gear, gloves and arctic boots, plus weapons, and we prayed that nothing would happen.

    We arrived at this very old Catholic church called St. Jacques built around the 14th century and still standing despite wars and other calamities. The church was crowded with parishioners celebrating midnight mass and we exchanged greetings with them. This church was also famous in that Joan of Arc heard Mass and had communion there hours before she was captured by the English during the Hundred Years War outside the walls.

    We were standing there by the church entrance. Holy Mass was being celebrated and we could hear the congregation singing hymns, the same ones we used to hear back home. We both shed a few tears. The wind was swirling the snow and gently hitting our faces, but we did not mind. I guess it was appropriate, a real "White Christmas" like the song we still sing during the holidays, and this was so long ago, but I still remember it with fondness. A great Christmas feeling was felt by us and the people despite a terrible war with no sign of ending soon. People still believed in the "Prince of Peace." Who would end the conflict in victory? My pal said to me, "You know, it's a puzzle and ironic. Here we are standing by a church on Christmas Eve and there are young brave American and allied soldiers dying tonight up at the front lines." I felt the same way. He expressed it so well with deep sadness and we said both sides should have declared a truce of some kind, considering the Birth of Christ. But, there again, we were dealing with a godless unreligious enemy who held it as a pagan festival.

    The night of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day was uneventful. The German forces later never got to us and that, we felt, was a great Christmas present.

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