Alan's Blog

 

Caravanning

Holiday Tour in France and Switzerland

Part II - A Change of Scene

 

Follow our tour by copying the addresses of where we are staying into Google Maps - and view the sites we stay on by viewing their websites.

Day Nineteen – Thursday 8 August 2019

Travelled from Camping Le Fief Angibaud, Saint-Gervais, Vendée, France, 85230
to the Hyper Casino Supermarket in Eymoutiers via Oradour Sur Glane

Distance: About 250 miles – including rest breaks and visit to Oradour Sur Glane, the time on the road was almost 12 hours.

Having got rather bored with the regions of France that we'd passed through and visited, we decided to head for the hills of the Massif Central area.

On the way towards Limoges we diverted to Oradour Sur Glane. This is the ruined village where 642 civilians were murdered in June 1944 by the 2nd SS Panzer Division in retaliation for having a few of their number killed by members of the French Resistance (few of whom, if any, were associated with this village). The women and children were herded into the church and the place set ablaze killing all but two or three who managed to escape and hide. Most of the men were shot, apart from a few who were sent to labour camps and a tiny number who had fled before the Germans rounded-up the men of the village prior to murdering them.

The full story can be read in the extraordinarily well researched and written book entitled Das Reich by Max Hastings.

Another book that tells the story of this horrible atrocity is: SS-Das Reich - The History of the Second SS Division, 1939-45 by Gregory L. Mattson which I quote here:

While the main part of the division continued moving due north to Limoges, SS-Sturmbannführer Heinrich Wulf led his 500-man Reconnaissance Battalion east to aid a beleaguered garrison at Tulle. At this town, a pitched battle between the Germans and members of the Francs-Tireurs et Partisans (FTP), a Communist resistance organization, was underway. When the SS battalion reached Tulle, the FTP was in control over most of the area. Meanwhile, the German soldiers attached to the town garrison had barricaded themselves in an arms factory and a nearby school and were waiting for help to arrive. As the 100 trucks and half-tracks of the Reconnaissance Battalion rolled into Tulle, the Communists executed a hasty retreat.

After consolidating his control over the town, Wulf ordered two companies to conduct a house-to-house search for hidden weapons. He also directed his men to bring every male citizen to a courtyard in front of the arms factory for an identity check. Presumably, those with valid identity papers would be released. On the morning of 9 June, 3000 confused villagers of various ages stood at this assigned location, wondering what the SS soldiers planned to do with them.

Although Wulf had lost only three men killed and nine wounded during the re-taking of Tulle, he and other SS officers were fed up with Resistance activity and thus decided to carry out systematic reprisals for what they considered to be terrorist actions. This sentiment became much stronger when the Germans learned that the Communist guerillas had killed 139 and wounded 40 members of the garrison. Officers in the SS division also claimed that the FTP had murdered and mutilated at least 40 German soldiers who had surrendered to the Communists.

At the courtyard, SS soldiers went through the large crowd of Tulle residents and singled out who they considered to be suspicious looking men as candidates for a mass execution. During the course of the afternoon, the Germans hanged almost 100 of these unfortunate civilians, despite the lack of proof linking these victims to the FTP or the AS. After three hours of performing this grisly work, the executioners decided to spare the 21 remaining villagers who had been marked for death. Wulf and other officers at Tulle claimed that Lammerding had approved of this reprisal, although the division commander later asserted that he had not known about the action until after it was over.

Before pulling out of Tulle, the Reconnaissance Battalion loaded 311 men into trucks and sent them to Limoges. There, the SS troops released 162 prisoners and sent the rest to Dachau and other concentration camps in Germany. En route to their destinations, many prisoners perished on board unsanitary railroad cars. By the end of the war, only 49 of these 149 Tulles residents had survived their imprisonment. North of Limoges, 3rd Battalion, Der Führer Regiment swept into other towns that had fallen into the hands of resistance groups. At Argenton-sur-Creuse, No. 15 Company chased away 50 FTP activists and shot several residents. To the east, SS-Sturmbannführer Helmut Kampfe led the rest of the battalion toward Gueret. After executing 29 captured guerillas en route to the town, the battalion reached the area, only to find that Wehrmacht units had already re-established German control.

Leaving two platoons behind to help maintain German control of the town, the battalion commander led the rest of his unit back to Limoges. In the early evening, after Kampfe had pulled far ahead of his troops in his staff car, a small band of FTP partisans stopped him on the main road and hauled him away in a truck. When the Germans found his empty vehicle, they initiated a thorough search throughout the Limousin area. Despite this effort, the battalion commander was never seen alive again and was probably executed by the Resistance. Not surprisingly, this incident caused the officers and men of Das Reich to become very bitter and led to more reprisals against the civilian population of southern France.

On 10 June, Lammerding finally received a message from OKW ordering the Das Reich Division to aid in the defence of Normandy. Weary of engaging in police actions against resistance groups, most SS soldiers were pleased at the idea of resuming their role as combat soldiers. However, the division still had difficulty carrying out this new order because many of its battle tanks and SP guns were breaking down én route to the destination. The lack of available spare parts for these disabled vehicles and insufficient fuel supplies exacerbated this problem. Finally, the members of the French Resistance and their confederates in the British SOE and American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) remained determined in their effort to hinder the progress of the division in its move northwards.

While the SS division struggled with its transportation problems, partisan activity continued to flare up in towns throughout southern France.  West of Brive, elements of Das Reich pushed a band of 100 FTP guerillas out of Terrasson. Although they promptly hanged a Communist that had fallen into their hands and torched a house that was flying a red Communist flag, the Germans left the town without killing any of its residents.

OTTO DICKMANN 

Meanwhile, 1st Battalion, Der Führer Regiment swept into Saint Junien, a town located north-west of Limoges. The commander of this unit, SS-Sturmbannführer Otto Dickmann, had been a close friend of Helmut Kampfe and was thus in a very vindictive mood. Two days before the battalion moved into the town, Resistance partisans had killed two German soldiers during an ambush at the train station. While Dickmann was helping a group of Gestapo and Vichy officials restore order in Saint Junien, two residents informed him that the FTP was holding a German military officer in a town called Oradour-sur-Glane and intended to execute the captive.

Not surprisingly, Dickmann assumed that this officer was his friend Kampfe and immediately requested permission from his regimental commander to take 1st Battalion to Oradour-sur-Glane, situated a short distance east of Saint Junien. After receiving permission from his superior, Dickmann led his No. 3 Company into Oradour on the afternoon of 10 June. Although the town normally contained only 330 inhabitants, it was now almost twice this size because of refugees that had been moving in from other parts of France. Contrary to German intelligence reports, Oradour was not a hotbed of Resistance activity and did not even seem as if it had been affected by the war.

After entering the town, Dickmann and his 120 SS soldiers herded most of its population into the central square. Kampfe was nowhere to be found. The Germans then declared that they intended to perform a house-to-house search for hidden weapons and led the male residents of Oradour out of the area. Dividing these men into six groups, the SS soldiers led their docile captives into barns and garages located at various points along the main road. At these sites, the German guards suddenly opened fire, pouring hundreds of machine-gun bullets into their prisoners.

When the Frenchmen collapsed into bloody piles in the execution chambers, the SS troops stopped firing their machine-guns and walked among the victims, shooting survivors with pistols. The Germans then set fire to the buildings, incinerating most of those who had not been killed by gunfire. In other parts of Oradour, Dickmann’s soldiers torched houses and murdered fugitives who had not complied with the order to gather at the central square.

Meanwhile, other soldiers in No. 3 Company herded the women and children of Oradour into a large church situated at the southern end of the town. With about 400 people crowded into the building, the Germans continued with their reign of terror, shooting and tossing grenades into the crowd before closing all exits and starting another fire. As clouds of smoke drifted into the sky, a tram filled with passengers returning from Limoges approached the edge of the town. Before the tram could proceed any further, a group of German guards stopped it and warned its occupants to stay away from the area.

Dickmann and his troops finally left Oradour the following morning, bringing looted valuables and livestock with them. Collectively, they had liquidated 642 residents. During the killings, the Germans had lost only one man: a junior officer who was crushed by collapsing masonry at the church. When SS-Standartenführer Sylvester Stadler, the commander of the Der Führer Regiment, heard about the atrocity, he became furious and planned to initiate court-martial proceedings against Dickmann. As news of the incident spread across France, Vichy officials and Wehrmacht officers called for an inquiry. Despite this pressure, the battalion commander never forfeited his command and would perish in battle at Normandy before he could be brought to justice.

 

I hope the photographs that I've taken (see gallery) will in some tiny way keep the remembrance of these murdered civilians alive and remind us all of the horror of war and how men can be sufficiently brainwashed and trained to order, and take part in, murders as barbaric as this village suffered in 1944. No photographs of the ruined village can do the horror justice, of course, but I feel privileged to have been able to visit the scene of this atrocity – where none of those involved in these murders were brought to (sufficient) justice during the war crimes tribunals after World War II.

 

 

We continued our journey to Eyemoutiers which we reached just as the sun was going down and parked in a supermarket car park for the night. A long day. I won't describe the other events of the day as they are of nothing compared to the solemnity of our heart-breaking visit to Oradour Sur Glane.

Day Twenty – Friday 9 August 2019

Travelled from the Hyper Casino Supermarket in Eymoutiers to Camping Les Clarines, 1424 Avenue Marechal Leclerc, BP 38, 63150 La Bourboule, France.

Distance: About 75 miles

To find the campsite took a bit of effort as we hadn't booked in advance. We've been finding our SatNav has been taking us way off course during this holiday, yesterday being a particularly bad day for navigation, and today that continued. Fortunately, Grace's mobile telephone has a navigation facility and this we have found to be far more use as it provides much better routing than our 'proper' SatNav. Today, there were quite a few difficult situations on the road but we managed to get to the area we wanted to stay in safely.

We left our caravan at what seemed like the top of a mountain with JP and Kanga looking after it whilst Grace and I went in search of a suitable caravan site – which took rather a long time - but we eventually met with success and, as a bonus for JP, it has a (supposedly!) heated swimming pool.

 

Day Twenty One – Saturday 10 August 2019

Camping Les Clarines, 1424 Avenue Marechal Leclerc, BP 38, 63150 La Bourboule, France.

One of the problems associated with caravanning in mountainous areas is that if you go downhill you also may well need to go uphill again. Climbing mountains with a very large caravan hooked to the back of one's car may well be an impossible option as the load might be too much for the clutch to handle if nothing else. Part of the reason for today's drive was to determine if the route we were considering taking after leaving the site was practical for caravans. We soon found it wasn't as there was a very long, quite steep ascent heading east from the caravan site. Another solution will have to be found.

The drive we had today was one of great scenic beauty, as you will see in the photographs.

One of the lovely old towns we visited was Issoire:

We also visited the Cascade de Voissieres:

And we travelled in 'The Land of the Volcanoes':

The video below is a drive along the road from /Besse en Chandesse, through Le Verdier and on towards Courbanges along the D36.

and through Perrier on the D996:

 

On our way we drove past the remains of the Murol Chateau:

View from road from La Bourboule to Le Mont Dore:

Views from near Courbanges and Montmie:

We also visited the pretty little village of Saurier:

We also drove through the village of St. Nectaire:

 

The only downside during our trip came near the end when we had to turn back a long way into the route home because the roads had been closed for a motor racing event near Monneaux - miles away from anywhere.

Not amused!

Two 'racing car' photographs above by JP.

Map above courtesy of Google Maps showing the obvious mountain roads near Monneaux where we had to stop and go back because of the motor racing event.

 

Day Twenty Two – Sunday 11 August 2019

Camping Les Clarines, 1424 Avenue Marechal Leclerc, BP 38, 63150 La Bourboule, France.

Distance: About 77 miles during the afternoon tour.

After getting up and feeding/watering Kanga, then taking her for a walk, I mobilised Grace and we went on another reconnaissance drive, this time heading west – along a different route to that we used to arrive here.

This time we were successful in finding a suitable route out of the area which will mean heading towards Clermont Ferrand and out of the mountains – and safety, as far as our caravan is concerned.

After a reasonable start, the weather became truly appalling with torrential rain and quite a good thunderstorm. We sat it out in the caravan until it stopped then went for a tour.

During our tour we visited the Dordogne Gorge:

During our tour we also came across a wonderful old chapel: The Sanctuaire du Notre-Dame du Port-Dieu:

 

Video (above) by JP.

We returned through La Bourbole town where Grace bought a pizza whilst I took some photographs of the amazing buildings in the town which must have been very prosperous at some time during its past.

Day Twenty Three – Monday 12 August 2019

Camping Les Clarines, 1424 Avenue Marechal Leclerc, BP 38, 63150 La Bourboule, France.

Distance: About 145 miles touring.

We toured volcano land and it was largely because of Grace's navigational skills (and no thanks to the SatNav) that we had such a wonderful journey through stunning landscapes of forests and dormant volcanoes. Amazing views. Somehow, we managed to leave all three of our DSLRs in the caravan so had to rely on GoPro cameras to get some photographs and videos. JP was a great help in this, particularly with the video clips.

 

Day Twenty Four – Tuesday 13 August 2019

Travelled from Camping Les Clarines, 1424 Avenue Marechal Leclerc, BP 38, 63150 La Bourboule, France to Camping Municiple Ceyzériat, Journans.

Distance: About 210 miles.

Another long day of travelling. Stopped for three small baguette type hot dogs with a couple of cartons of Frites for €15.

I was particularly worried about getting off the site in La Bourboule as from our pitch there was a long steep climb to the exit. I started the car engine quite a long time before we left to get it properly warmed-up and the oil circulating before putting the engine on load. Everything went well including JP stopping the traffic on the main road so I could exit the site safely as there was a blind bend approaching the site and I had to get across the road with my 'big rig'.

We're now only about 65 miles west of Geneva, so we've certainly covered some distance during this trip. The site is in a beautiful location although the facilities are very basic – and no Wi-Fi, much to JP's disgust.

Costing less than €19 including electricity (including €3 per night for Kanga) it's not a bad deal.

Day Twenty Five – Wednesday 14 August 2019

Camping Municiple Ceyzériat, Journans.

Trip to Geneva, Switzerland.

Distance: About 160 miles.

In many ways today was truly horrendous; as well as successful. Driving in Geneva is really, really awful. It is probably the worst city I've ever driven in for being confusing and difficult in so many ways – road works everywhere being one aspect. The SatNav was little use and I ended up on the M1 motorway before I'd bought the correct permit and entirely through accident as I had no desire to be on the motorway at all. Once on, of course, it's impossible to get off until a junction occurs – and that was several miles. Once off, the journey back to where I wanted to be was a mystery too as several roads were closed because of roadworks, so, as usual the SatNav was useless. What an awful, stressful experience – and one I could have done without.

After finding my way back to the shore of Lac Leman, we parked in an underground car park and went off by foot. First stop was to the post office to buy the required motorway permit for €40, then off to the lake shore for a walk. I wanted to show Grace and JP the water jet fountain which is the main landmark for which Geneva is famous. I'd seen it from a distance as we'd driven back to the lake from our trip on the motorway, but now I couldn't see it. I stopped at an ice cream shop and asked. The young man was very helpful and walked me around the corner of his shop to point it out to me. It wasn't there! He said that it must have been shut down because of the wind as when the wind blows hard the shop-keepers don't like it and they have to stop it. He said it would be re-started once the wind had dropped and, sure enough, a few minutes later we were able to see it. For me, this was the success of the day as it was the main reason why I'd brought Grace and JP to Geneva and well worth the trip despite all the stress and aggravation.

The journey to Geneva was on ordinary roads and we'd stopped at Nantua on the way to view the lake and give Kanga a drink and a walk. On driving away, we left her water dish behind, which we didn't discover until we reached our next stopping place, a supermarket where I bought us food for lunch – and another water bowl for Kanga.

The return journey by toll road / motorway was broken when we turned off to go to Nantua where we found the 'lost' water bowl in the car park where we'd last used it.

Once at the caravan I was feeling so shattered that I didn't even get out of the car for quite some time after our arrival. Grace and JP made me a big mug of tea and brought it out to me.
I don't think that's ever been known before, so I must have had a particularly hard day. I didn't do anything at all for what was left of the day, again this is very unusual. All I wanted to do was go to bed.

Day Twenty Six – Thursday 15 August 2019

Camping Municiple Ceyzériat, Journans.

After 12 hours in bed, almost unheard of for me, I still wasn't ready to face the world in a big way and certainly wasn't interested in doing any more driving for a while. I had to force myself to get up and showered, then Grace and I, with Kanga, went for a walk into and around the nearby village. It was almost a ghost town – hardly a soul was to be seen anywhere, not even a local baker was to be found and even the church door was locked.

At about 1500 hrs. JP and I got in the car and drove to the local supermarket for food supplies – a round trip of about 14 miles and a few road closures to deal with too – just to keep me in practice after yesterday's horror story. We left Grace having an afternoon sleep. Nice to have a rest day. JP has been somewhat bored as there is no internet availability on this site.

Day Twenty Seven – Friday 16 August 2019

Travelling from Camping Municiple Ceyzériat, Journans to Camping Alpenblick, Seestrasse 130, CH-3800 Unterseen-Interlaken

Distance: About 210 miles.

This site is very expensive at £58.90 / night - and not even a swimming pool.

However, the view of the Thun See was magnificent:


Day Twenty Eight – Saturday 17 August 2019

Camping Alpenblick, Seestrasse 130, CH-3800 Unterseen-Interlaken

Distance: About  miles

Driving around the Brienzer See. The road and views from the north side of this lake are particularly spectacular.

Day Twenty Nine – Sunday 18 August 2019

Travelling from Camping Alpenblick, Seestrasse 130, CH-3800 Unterseen-Interlaken to Camping Breithorn, Sandbach, CH-3824 Stechelberg

Distance: About 11.5 miles.

This site in the Jungfrau is in a superb location and much, much cheaper than the Alpenblick site – hence the move.

Day Thirty – Monday 19 August 2019

Touring from Camping Breithorn, Sandbach, CH-3824 Stechelberg over the Grimselpass and Oberalppass to Versam and returning to Camping Breithorn via the main road route near Zurich.

Distance: About 270 miles.

A storm started at about 0100 hrs today and foul weather has persisted ever since, although it wasn't too bad for most of the daylight hours until re-starting at about 1600 hrs. whilst we were in Versam.

It was a wonderful drive through the Grimselpass to Andermatt, where we visited the farm where we stayed on our first night in Switzerland on our bicycle tour three years ago. We met Hermann too, the man who operated the 'sleep on straw' business there. We then travelled over the Oberalppass where JP re-lived his bicycle tour by riding his bicycle down from the summit of the pass, the start of our first adventure. What fun he had doing the ride once again. Watch the videos:

After this adventure, we continued to Versam, where we had originally camped in the garden of Ueli and Erika Sutter. Sadly, they weren't staying in their holiday home when we called so we left a small gift and a letter for them and took a few photographs which I e-mailed to them the following day.

Day Thirty One – Tuesday 20 August 2019

Camping Breithorn, Sandbach, CH-3824 Stechelberg

Having a rest day after our long journey yesterday. The foul weather continues with almost continuous rain. Really dreadful.

 

Day Thirty Two – Wednesday 21 August 2019

Camping Breithorn, Sandbach, CH-3824 Stechelberg

Grace and I went for a walk from our caravan and stopped at the Stechelberg cable car station from where we had a ride to Gimmelwald. We then walked up the mountain to Murren where we stopped for an intake of Hungarian Goulash soup and bread at the Hotel Alpenruh restaurant. Sufficiently fortified, we walked back down the mountain to Gimmelwald and caught the cable car back down to our starting point - and the walk back to our caravan.

 

Day Thirty Three – Thursday 22 August 2019

Camping Breithorn, Sandbach, CH-3824 Stechelberg

After a great deal of effort on my part, we somehow managed to catch the train, with barely sconds to go, to the famous ski resort of Wengen.

 

The train ride from Wengen to Lauterbrunnen

Since arriving at our current campsite, it has been very interesting to see how the view has changed, not physically, of course, but how the weather and lighting affects our view of the mountains. This evening, for example, Grace gave me a call to let me know that there was an interesting view brought about by the change in sunlight as the sun went down. I rushed back to the caravan and grabbed my camera with the 70 mm to 200 mm lens and took a few photographs, three of which you can see below.

Back in Lauterbrunnen, Kanga was only too pleased to have a drink at one of the fountains:

Day Thirty Four – Friday 23 August 2019

Camping Breithorn, Sandbach, CH-3824 Stechelberg

Grace and I walked - and JP rode his bicycle, from our camp site to the nearby cable car station and got taken up the mountain to Murren. During our walk on the paths nearby, we met an American Professor named John who seemed to take a liking to us and, in particular, JP.

We also met some other folks and together we all managed to congregate on the terrace of the Hotel Regina after our walk where us three ate chicken nuggets and chips to build up our strength.

Day Thirty Five – Saturday 24 August 2019

Camping Breithorn, Sandbach, CH-3824 Stechelberg

Afternoon trip to the nearby village of Isenfluh. Getting to this rather isolated village meant a 1.2 km trip through a very narrow, dark tunnel that spiralled up the mountain quite steeply.

After eventually managing to park the car we walked through the village to the cable car station and set off for Sulwald - and our return journey is also shown below:

Cable car rides (above): Stechelberg to Gimmelwald; Gimmelwald to Murren; Murren to Gimmelwald.

Day Thirty Six – Sunday 25 August 2019

Travelling from Camping Breithorn, Sandbach, CH-3824 Stechelberg, Switzerland to Camping de Mandres aux Quatre Tours, Chemin de l'Oree de la Peine 54470, France.

Distance: About 256 miles.

Sadly, after about a week at the Camping Breithorn we had to move out and gradually make our way in the direction of home. It was a long drive today and quite hot too which was fine for me but tough for the others.

We had no idea where we would be staying tonight as I just wanted to travel as many miles as we sensibly could in the direction of Albert where we are due on 27 August.

About 20 miles from the where we camped for the night I did a search for suitable sites and it gave us the directions to where we ended up for the night at Camping de Mandres aux Quatre Tours.

The most striking aspect of this site is the absolute silence. Not even a breath of wind to rustle the leaves on the trees. Seemingly miles from anywhere the silence during our first evening here was total.

In the distance we could see the St. Mihiel Cemetery Memorial (USA) in this area of the WWI Battle of Verdun where more than a million people were killed.

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