History in hiding

There are doubtless many forgotten secrets relating to the long history of la Ducrie. Sadly, we may never know most of them, but back in 2002, we discovered one such fascinating story, still within living memory.

One day, we were introduced to Madame Bellamy, an old lady who lived in the village, by the then Mayor Michel Castel.

She told us how she lived & worked in la Ducrie during World War II, when the house was occupied by senior German officers. The owners had fled to Switzerland, but three men and their wives (including Madame Bellamy) had been left behind to look after what was then a larger estate. Subsequently,the Germans sent the men away to labour camps, and retained the women to do the work and look after the German officers.

After a time, the Germans discovered that there had been some involvement with the résistance, and as a punishment, shot all the animals on the land. The women asked ‘How are we going to feed you?’, to which the Germans replied along the lines of, ‘You will starve, the village will starve, but we will eat because we are German officers. This will be a lesson to you not to get involved in the résistance again; next time we will shoot you.’

‘…This will be a lesson to you not to get involved in the résistance again; next time we will shoot you.’

Some time later the Germans again discovered involvement with the résistance, which resulted in the raping and shooting of the two younger women. Madame Bellamy ran and hid in a pit in the small room in the tower of the Salle de Monnaie*, which apparently the German’s didn’t know existed, even though one of the officers was sleeping in the room!

She hid there for three days, until she heard firing and bombing going on outside. She thought the whole house was falling down, until everything went quiet and she heard voices that were neither German nor French. She had never heard English up until this point, but decided she could either stay in the little room and die or come out and die.

She chose to come out, and as she got to the door of the Salle de Monnaie, discovered three American soldiers** with guns, coming up the stairs.

This will have been on or shortly after the 14th July 1944, as Pont Hébert was liberated on Bastille Day, making it a double celebration in our closest small town.

She said the soldiers were very kind and took her to the village, where she stayed until 1950, when the castle’s owners returned.

Her final comment was that there are no ghosts in la Ducrie because a lot of terrible things happened and then a lot of very happy things. This is absolutely right, as there is the most wonderful atmosphere in the house.

Sadly, Madam Bellamy died about two years ago, aged about 96. We’re so grateful her shocking tale didn’t die with her.

Historical footnotes:

*The name Salle de Monnaie stems from the 15th century, when the castle was the tax collector’s house; Louis 11th having ‘given’ it to a relative in return for collecting taxes for the region. He was also given the title of Duke (Duc in French) – hence la Ducrie.

Louis never lived in the house once he became king, and probably only used it occasionally, perhaps when he used to go to confession in St Lo Cathedral, where he donated the the stained glass windows as a thank you – presumably for his absolution!

**It’s a bit of a long shot, but always possible that one of the American soldiers involved in this story may still be alive. If so, we’d love to hear from you or your family. The likelihood (but by no means definitive) is that they would have been in or attached to one of the following units:

  • 30th Infantry Division
  • 35th Infantry Division
  • 119th Infantry Regiment
  • 134th Infantry Regiment
  • 137th Infantry Regiment
  • 3rd Armored Division
  • 743rd Tank Battalion

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