Two Aussies, Keith and Shirley, visit Paris For VE Day on the 8th of May, 2005.
Keith is a colleague from HMAS Warramunga and the Naval Historical Society, his Brother - in-law was the Captain of the Sunderland that sank the U-Boat in the Bay of Biscay, he and his friend Shirley went to Paris for the VE Day celebrations as Dudley, his B-in-L was in the Australian official party. He shared the story so that we might put it up on AHOY. - Mac
VE Day in Paris, 8th May 2005 60th Anniversary Celebrations
By way of preamble, Shirley and I had planned a European holiday. Apart from other countries, we would spend two weeks in France, with one week in Paris. One of the days in Paris was VE Day, when the 60th Anniversary of the end of World War II would be celebrated.
Not related in any way was the fact that The Australian Government was sending a Commemorative Mission of seventeen Veterans and one War Widow to represent Australia at this Anniversary Ceremony. When I say ‘not related’ that is not quite true. One member of this party was my brother-in-law Dudley Marrows. Dudley had served with great distinction in the Western Approaches as captain of a Sunderland in RAAF 461 Squadron. As we were going to be in Paris on VE Day, it seemed a good idea to try and attend as spectators and to wave the Australian flag.
The only detail in Dudley’s itinerary was that they would “depart Paris Hilton at 0900 for the Ceremony starting at 1000 at Arc de Triomphe.”
The 'heads' are in the front row of our VIP area
I could not visualize where to go to take up our station, so I wrote to the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs requesting more information.
As time was too short to expect a reply before our departure, I included our London e-mail address. The objective was to learn the actual location of the Ceremony at Arc de Triomphe, and to see if there was a preferable position from which to watch the Ceremony.
It was really asking a bit much to get a reply so I also decided on some other preparation to help us secure a good position. Although Shirley and I were studying our Travellers’ French we were never going to be fluent in conversation. So I prepared and printed the following sentences in French:
When we arrived in London there was an e-mail from the Minister’s office. It stated that the Ceremony would start at 1130 at Arc de Triomphe and that we should be there well before 1000. There was no seating for the general public. The big question, which starting time was correct? 1000 or 1130.
Paris, 8th May 2005
Our apartment was opposite the Tuileries Gardens on Rue de Rivoli. This street is a continuation (via dogleg) of the Avenue des Champs-Elysees. Just a short taxi ride to
We were dressed in all our finery and I wore my Service Medals and Naval Historical Society tie. We set out on a fine but bitterly cold morning.
Then our first set back. All streets were closed. There were no taxis. Looking back toward the Louvre, there was a police road block. A brisk walk back. Out came the ‘French Sentences’.
The response to my plea for help was quite surprising. Some distance away there was this single taxi. Out came the whistle and with a piercing shriek he was summoned. Yes, he could take us near to Arc de Triomphe but we would have to walk the last 100 metres.
When we arrived the Police presence was the greatest I have ever seen. The Champs-Elysees and all the side streets joining were blocked. Police were stationed about 10 metres apart along and on both sides of the Chanps-Elysees. It was now time for us to approach the first road block.
Out came the ‘French sentences’. “Could they please help two visiting Australians get near the Arc de Triomphe? My brother-in-law is a member of the Australian Commemorative Mission invited to attend this Commemorative Service. We would like to get near.”
There was a similar response at the next two road blocks. Each time there would be more questioning before we could move forward again.
At the last block at Place Charles de Gaulle (the ring road around Arc de Triomphe) I was sure our luck had run out. There was the repeated NON! NON! Then this very commanding man in plain clothes asked: “Do you have a problem?” I replied “No, we did not have a problem as such.”
Out came the ‘French Sentences’ and once again I related our attempts to find a place where we could support my brother-in-law Dudley and the Australian Commemorative Mission at the 60th Anniversary Celebrations.
Then came the break through. Immediately to our left was the sole VIP seated enclosure. It was reserved for retired Senior Officers, Veterans and other important dignitaries. The retired generals and admirals were resplendent in their uniforms with medals. We were invited to join them with the qualification that if our seats were needed ‘we would be nice’. To say we were overwhelmed was very much an understatement.
We settled down to wait.Talked in French/English to the lady next to us. Some time later we were presented with the “Programme des Ceremonies”. It was scheduled to start at 1130, not 1000 as on Dudley’s sheet, and would not conclude until 1300. There was still a long time to wait.
Our VIP area continued to fill. More Admirals, Generals and other Senior Officers with their many decorations. At the Ceremony site at the other side of Place Charles de Gaulle, participating guests were arriving. On our left a large group of children arrived carrying the flags of participating nations. Took a photo of our Australian flag.
Children Flag bearers
It was difficult to make out faces at the Ceremony site and we had no idea when Dudley would arrive. As to be expected all announcements were being made in French. And the Ceremony would also be in French.
I surprised Shirley by saying that maybe we should re-access our continuing participation. There was no way we would be able make an exit for our next commitment. It would not be possible to leave during the Ceremony. So we decided say farewell to our new friends and to make a discreet exit.
This may sound strange, particularly after all the effort to make the VIP area, but it did seem the best option. Although we did not know at this stage, events would soon unfold that would result in a most interesting second phase of our VE Day celebrations.
We emerged from a side street and entered the Champs-Elysees. Immediately in front of us was the most prestigious FOUGUET’S restaurant. It offered the best Café-Cremes and Pastries and was so inviting on this chilly morning. We were tempted inside. It was a lovely interlude and prepared us for our next experience.
We continued down the Champs-Elysees. After a while there was a very large build up of people, more police and more barricades. We could go no further.Clearly something important was about to happen.
A rare sight of Champs-Elysees with only one car
Part of the barricade leading to a side street into the gardens was not yet fully closed.I moved forward to take photographs, but was soon moved away by the police. It was only then that that they told me that this was the entrance to the President’s Palace. His departure for the Ceremony at Arc de Triomphe was imminent.
I continued to talk to the police, giving them my best ‘French Sentences’. Told them that an error in our timing had caused us to leave the VIP area at the 60th Anniversary Celebrations early. Showed them our Programme.
While we were talking, the Escort for the President was forming up. I asked if I could take some photographs. Again, fortune smiled. Next to us was another barricaded area for invited people.It was right on the edge of the Champs-Elysees adjoining the roadway from which the President would emerge. We were taken to the entrance, security checked and invited in.
All attention was now on the Escort. The first group was about thirty Mounted Bandsmen. Beautiful horses. Gleaming instruments. They moved forward. Behind them came a large group of Police on Motor Cycles. They formed in a hollow square abreast of the road to the President’s Palace. Behind them were another fifty or so of the Mounted Guard. Beside each group was an officer. Their task was to ensure the whole parade marched off in unison.
On signal the President’s car emerged, took up station inside the hollow square of the Police Motor Cyclists, and the total formation moved forward as one. We were on the front row, and Shirley waved our Australian flag, which the President acknowledged. We may not have greeted him at the Arc de Triomphe, but were able to do so at his Palace. We still felt very much part of the Ceremony.
The most impressive part here was the precision with which the Escort took up station and moved off. It was extremely well planned and executed.
Even now Shirley and I are quite overwhelmed at the way the events on this most memorable day unfolded. That two spectators from Australia could have been offered so much is a great compliment to our Country.
The President's guard
Before closing I would like to make brief comment about my brother-in-law Flight Lieutenant Dudley Marrows. When I was on duty with Mac Gregory at our HMAS Sydney exhibition at the Shrine last year Dudley’s name came up.I related the strange co-incidence of his aircraft’s depth charge sinking of a German U-Boat in the Bay of Biscay on 30th July 1943. Dudley was captain of Sunderland ‘U’ of RAAF Squadron 461.The U-Boat he sank was designated 461. Much would be made that 461 was common to both.
We are all aware of Mac’s very strong interest in researching and recording Naval History. Unknown to me he did his own research on this particular event. It had been recorded in many areas, and is now proudly part of Mac’s web site www.ahoy.tk-jk.net.
Included on Mac’s site is a copy of the painting by Robert Taylor that records this unique event. In all there were three U-Boats on the surface in this group. The other two were sunk by aircraft of Coastal Command and Captain Walker’s Royal Navy destroyers.
For this action a DSO was added to Dudley’s DFC.
After the action Dudley noticed some survivors from U461 in the water. Against all orders he dropped one of his life rafts and saved their lives. He has since told me that while war is killing, the killing was over and the dropping of the life raft has helped him sleep at night.
Limited editions of Robert Taylor’s painting have been reproduced under the patronage of the Australian War Memorial. These have been signed by four crew of Sunderland U of 461 and four crew of U-Boat 461.
This limited edition has resulted in yet another strange happening. The Victor of this action has since made contact with the Vanquished. Dudley was able to meet the Commander of U-Boat 461. A friendship resulted which lasted for many years. They have visited each other in their own homes. The Commander has recently died, but contact is still maintained through his Executive Officer.
If only all conflict could finish this way.