Apart from a strenuous 14 hour minibus ride to Dompierre les Églises, the 2012 France Camp was one of the best camps I have experienced. It was aimed to be a historically informative trip, providing us with background information about certain events within the French resistance during World War 2, also with many elements of fun and amusement thrown in too. A large part of the camp was to learn about a man called Georges Guingouin who took a leading role in the French resistance by forming group called Franc Tireurs which translates to ‘freedom shooters’.
Upon arrival to the campsite, we immediately began to pitch our tents (which were more like mobile houses) and set out our kit for the week; later on that day, we were kindly invited to a barbeque hosted by one of the staff member’s parents. Throughout the day, we were all getting to know our fellow camp-mates a little better.
The following morning, we all woke up to get dressed into uniform and climb aboard the minibus to depart to a famous French resistance site in a large forest. There were various monuments within the forest showing the names of some extremely brave resistance fighters. All of the cadets seemed massively interested in a partially underground bunker which contained an assortment of old household items such as pots and pans and most interesting of all: a frog! We were then taken on a tour around the site to see many different small landmarks that the resistance fighters had used to survive such as a pond, another dug-out bunker and a vantage point of rocks. So we departed the resistance site after a spot of lunch to play some football and relax back at the campsite, also to get dressed for the evening meal in a nearby restaurant. Overall, a very good day.
The next day, we were simply going to drive around the local area, stopping to look at various war memorials and learning more about what actually happened during the fighting. We partially learned about a brutal event at a place called Oradour sur Glane, which we were going to visit the next day.
We spent the Tuesday at Oradour sur Glane, a completely obliterated town that was destroyed by a German military division in effort to find their commanding officer. It was probably the most emotionally touching place I have ever been to. It reduced many of the cadets to tears due to the sheer brutality of the event and the young ages of some of the people that were killed in the massacre. The entire town was in rubble with not one intact building at all. There was a monument in the Oradour cemetery with multiple plaques displaying the hundreds of names of the dead. It was a very interesting day out but very emotional at the same time.
Wednesday, D-Day, we had a full-on relaxed day at the beach, re-enacting the ‘storm the beaches’ scene of D-Day. Everyone was having fun creating sculptures in the sand and playing football on the beach, not to mention going for a swim. We were playing around on the beach for a fair few hours before setting off back to the campsite to finish off the day.
On Thursday, we visited a museum that displayed lots of information about Georges Guingouin and the French resistance. It also contained a glass cabinet filled with authentic World War 2 weapons including a handgun and holster that belonged to Guingouin (generously donated to the museum by his family). We also visited the Fire Department at a nearby town called Magnac Laval where we were given a tour of all the fire fighting vehicles and then were let loose to have a go in them. We were also able to turn on the sirens and lights! Everybody was in a world of their own.
The next day we put on a commemorative parade through Dompierre les Églises to pay our respects to the brave people that fought in the resistance then snacks with the local mayor, other head figures and an infant school. Later in the day, we had a small party at a nearby pub with food laid out kindly by the manager.
The Saturday morning was spent packing away the kit and the tents to board the minibus for the 14 hour journey back home. What a camp!!