A Risky Meeting

The writing prompt for today was to describe how we met our significant others, or BFF’s, what impact they had on our lives, etc. Since joining the writing group in 2019, I have written 4 stories to similar prompts, so I went off on a historical fiction track this time.

A Risky Meeting 

June 5, 1944, outskirts of St. Marie-Du-Mont, France

In the corner of their dining room, Francoise Bouchard sat huddled around a small wireless radio with his brother, Rene,  and father, Charles, listening to jazz being broadcast by the BBC in London.  Shutters drawn, blackout curtains pulled tightly close, the only light in the room came from the radio dial.  The musical program ended, the Bouchards leaned in closer to the radio.  A French speaking host announced “London calling with Frenchmen speaking to our countrymen, London calling with some messages for our friends”.  All messages from this point would be broadcast in French.  After a brief pause, the voice recited a line from a poem by Paul Verlaine “Wound my heart with a monotonous languor” then repeated it.  The Bouchards sat bolt upright, emitted a collective gasp and looked at each other’s faces with wide anxious eyes. They leaned back over the radio as a series of other abstract messages poured from the wireless.  “Molasses tomorrow will bring forth cognac” announced the voice. “My God!” exclaimed his father.  The next radio message declared that “the dice are on the carpet”.  Charles sobbed, stood and motioned for his sons to stand.  Hugging and kissing them both, through his tears, he said “the liberation of France is imminent.  We have a long night ahead of us, be quick we have work to do”.  Messages still were being transmitted when Francoise turned off the radio and hid it away.  It no longer mattered, they heard what they had to hear.  The messages indicated that the Allied invasion of France would begin before dawn, and that the Bouchards role in this drama would be to cut communications between the German army rear support depots and the coastal defenses at Normandy.  Armed with explosives, they set off for their targets.

Avoiding German patrols along the roads, the Bouchards followed obscure paths through the orchards and hedgerows to woods astride the rail line where the Germans had run their telephone lines.  At the edge of the woods they met their guide, a young woman named Margaux.  She was carrying a British made sub-machine gun.  Margaux led them to a second team of Resistance fighters tasked with blowing up the rail bridge over the Merderet River, close to the telephone poles the Bouchards were to destroy.  They carried weapons, there were German soldiers guarding the bridge.  The two teams reviewed the plan one more time.  The explosions of the bridge and telephone poles had to occur almost simultaneously.  The Bouchards would set their charges first, allowing the other group time to approach and set their bridge charges.  When the bridge team was ready, Margaux would jog back along the tracks and signal with a torch.  Seeing the signal, Francoise would turn to his brother and father and signal his torch.  The charges would be detonated and the Resistance fighters would melt into the darkness and return to their homes.  The groups separated.  

It did not take long for the Bouchards to have their explosives in place.  Crouching, Francoise scuttled alongside the rail line towards the bridge.  Hiding behind a utility box, he awaited the signal from Margaux.  “Where was she?”, he wondered, “this is taking too long!”.  

Shouts, German voices, from the bridge made Francoise’s heart skip a beat.  Gun shots now, more German voices yelling “Halt”!  He could see tracer bullets searching among the trees, there were gun flashes from the woods.  Someone was approaching fast along the rail line, he had no weapon to use if it were a German.  It was Margaux!  She began to signal with her torch, Francoise turned and sent his signal.  A stream of German machine gun fire spit down the tracks.  He heard Margaux cry out in pain, saw her tumble down the rail embankment.  At the same moment the explosive charges detonated, toppling the telephone poles and collapsing the bridge into the river.  In the light from the explosions, he saw Margaux lurch off in to the woods.  He stood and began to run towards where she entered the woods.  There were Germans on this side of the river!  They were walking in his direction with weapons at the ready.  Spotting Francoise, they shouted “Halt”, but began shooting wildly at him.  The burping of Margaux’s sub-machine gun from the woods to his  left made the German soldiers scramble for cover.  He sprinted into the woods, calling Margaux’s name.  He heard her call out “Here”!  Discovering her behind a fallen tree with a wound in her side, he bent to help her up.  Throwing her over his shoulders, he lumbered off deeper into the woods.  They would not be able to outrun their pursuers.  Margaux begged him to put her down.   German soldiers tracking them on both sides of the river now began to fire indiscriminately into the woods, the rounds striking very close to them.  Bursting from the woods, Francoise discovered the Merderet flowing right in front of them.  Without much thought, he plunged into the water and began swimming along with the current, his arm around Margaux. Soldiers following on the other side of the river saw them and raised their weapons to fire.  The sound of plane engines, hundreds of them, halted the German soldiers in their tracks.  They now stood gaping up at the sky.  Soon searchlights broke through the darkness, parachutes blossomed in the glare.  The Germans sprinted back to the smoldering bridge.

Francoise floated onto a shoal.  Catching his breath, he began to carry Margaux back towards town.  From the darkness came whispered voices,  Margaux let out a cry of pain.  Voices called from the darkness “Stop right there”!  Francoise shouted back, “I am French, I have a wounded friend”.  Three men appeared from the woods. Looking at their uniforms, Francoise saw a black patch with a white eagle one the left shoulder, on the right shoulder was an American flag.  Francoise exclaimed “Americans!”.  Seeing the wounded Margaux, one of the Americans yelled “Medic”!

Paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division (USA) liberating Ste. Marie Du Mont, June 6, 1944

L’Estaminet Hotel, Sainte Marie Du Mont, June 1994
A couple in their 70’s were seated at a restaurant table.  “Hi, my name is Annette and I will be your server tonight.  Are you celebrating any special occasion this evening?”.  

They both answered “Our 50th wedding anniversary.” 
“Oh my!  How delightful!  Congratulations!  Can I ask how you the two of you met? I am always curious as to how people who have been together a long time met each other.”

With a twinkle in his eye, and a wry smile on his face, Francoise looked at Margaux and replied “Well, Annette, we met while swimming. It changed our lives forever.  We had a blast.”

Ernie Stricsek, Chatham Writers, February 8, 2021

The BBC radio broadcast to French Resistance fighters alerting them that the D-Day invasion was less than 24 hours away. The messages following this announcement were codes to various Resistance groups to begin sabotage operations against key Nazi military objectives:

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