The declaration of war in Mussidan : testimony of Jean-Baptiste Erasme Marotin (1875-1947)

Friday 1st September 1939

« At the table, 12:20 or 12:30 TSF. Press review. Two sentences from the speaker announce the catastrophe: « At the hour when the alternative was still possible »; and « a few hours later, Germany attacked Poland ». – A quarter of an hour of anguish, but already of certainty. 12.45pm: news. That’s it, general mobilisation is decreed. The atrocious reality overwhelms us. Robert will leave tomorrow. This evening, a short walk […] before going to bed. So as not to sleep. As early as yesterday evening, five women coming from Strasbourg with some luggage and their gas masks arrived here to take refuge with relatives in Église-Neuve. One of them is 80 years old. She has seen three wars. French, then German in 1871 and French again in 1918. Two sons were killed in the German army in 1914-18. Grandsons and sons-in-law currently in the French army.

Saturday 2 September 1939

« I accompanied my poor Robert, already in uniform, to the 8.30 train. It is Sergeant Robert Marotin who is going to Périgueux. I can hardly control my intense emotion and I don’t think I managed to hide it from him. For his part, he does what he can, but I know well what his apparent resignation conceals. When will we meet again? Will we meet again? Under what conditions? With him gone, I write hastily to Maurice [Jean Marotin’s eldest son, then a teacher in Brittany]. I tell him about the departure of our dear Robert, my intention to go up to Villeneuve-le-Roi as soon as possible and my desire, shared by Robert, to go as soon as possible to Lorient near Josette. Soon enough to see, by stopping at Le Mans, to kiss my grandson as his mother used to say. At 10 o’clock I take my letter to the train. New departures. Between 11 a.m. and noon, I tidy up Robert’s room with the atrocious impression of tidying up a dead man’s things. In the afternoon, opposite the station hotel, a long trench is dug which is covered with canvas and foliage, no doubt to justify its name: « fusillés ». Military field toilets. I deposit at the town hall, for legalization, the power of attorney that Robert signed for me in view of possible withdrawals from the Savings Bank. Trains loaded with mobilized people start to pass in both directions: Bordeaux and Périgueux. They all stop here to pick up and drop off those going to Bergerac. There are also requirements for the procedure in this town. A certain number come to ask for food and drink.

Sunday 3 September, 12.40 pm

« There are rumours of a stampede at Les Aubrais station. There are said to be 60 dead. This figure will be reduced to 30 during the day. A mobilised man was reportedly picked up as a corpse. His wife and 4 children left with him to take refuge somewhere. The radio and newspapers remain silent on this subject. 12.40pm: the radio announces the declaration of war by England at 11am, that of France at 5pm. The trains of the mobilized and required continue to stop and to leave a little more loaded. The Ribérac and Bergerac lines were back in operation, having been discontinued for a few months, along with the coaches that had replaced them. But the trains are very spaced out, the mobilized and required having to wait here for long hours. The Janet Hotel, and others, have many customers as a result. The weather, very stormy since the morning, changes abruptly in the afternoon. It rained heavily and the temperature dropped sharply. I have to change my clothes. I learn from the station that I cannot expect to return to Villeneuve any time soon. The trains move slowly (30 km per hour) and carry mainly soldiers. The newspapers from Paris did not arrive yesterday, Saturday. Today, only the Petit Parisien and perhaps the Matin have arrived. Neither the Aurore, nor the Populaire. It is expected that Paris will be bombed tonight.