Irma Targnion's Story
Arnold & Irma Targnion and Maria Gaspar
from Irma & Arnold Targnion ( Our Belgian friends)
Dear Ben, dear friends in America,
Here there is the following of my souvenirs [memories].
December 1944, Battle of the Bulge
Brux, Lierneux - Belgium
Now, I shall try to tell you about my life during the war and during the Battle of the Bulge. It is just my childhood memories and I beg your pardon for the mistakes.
I was born in a very little village called Brux, near Lierneux (15 kms from Trois-Ponts) on 1940, august 22. My father was in Germany, from may he was prisoner in Altengrabau, Stalag XXI A. My mother was alone to work in the farm, my brother René was 18 months old. My father was an Ardenne Hunter in the Army but he was lucky to be in the medical staff. Because of that he came back in december 1940. His brother Joseph came back in may 1945 and his 4 children did not recognize him. The life for this family has been very hard. During the war, we never were hungry because of the farm but my mother helped many persons who came from the big cities where the life was so difficult, my mother gave bread, butter, eggs, potatoes and also, she welcomed at home some children from the towns to feed them. I can remember Lilianne and Georgette from Liège, Carlos, Christian, Pierre... from Brussels. Pierre staid 3 years with us. In Ardenne, the life was rather quiet, except the german administration and its rules and restrictions. I was too young to know how my parents suffered a lot in the war.
I am 4 years old. My father and my godfather Louis are picking the apples. My godfather Louis is my father's brother. My grand-parents died in 1938 and he is living with us. He seems to be very happy. Very soon he will marry his fiancée Louise, she is living near Soy, (Hotton) in Amonines. He is also very happy with a cheerful expression because there are so many soldiers in the villages with trucks and tanks and other machines.
This day is september 27th. My godfather tells me "come with me to the Gilles' field. He has a big basket full with apples. All around the fields, there are many young beautiful boys, they smile, they talk to me but I do not understand, they call me "baby", I am not a baby because I bring the basket with the apples and I help my godfather, so I gave apples to the soldiers. They give me many little boxes and when we came back home the basket is full with chocolates, sugar, chewing-gum, many good things. I am happy and proud.
December 1944, my mother is crying, my father and my godfather seems to be so sad.
Irma's Story - Part Two
Everybody is crying, they says "they are coming back", they are now in St Vith !.
Our neighbour, Nestor, is 75 years old and he gets together all the men in his house and he says "go away immediately, I will stay with the women and the children" and then, my father, godfather, cousins and neighbours leave with their bikes. They wish to cross the river Meuse.
My mother takes us and we go to stay with auntie Marie and auntie Pauline because their cellar is very solid and secure. My brother René is 6 and he wants to know what's going on. My mother answers : be quiet, shut up... she never speaks like that, she uses to be so soft with us but now we know that it is a very special day and we keep silent. The cellar is vaulted, Auntie Pauline and our cousin Catherine are in the basement already, they brought many things and in a corner, auntie Pauline put clean white sheets on the potatoes, She says, it is my corner so we cannot share this corner with her, we are not careful enough. My mother says, once more : "be quiet" My little brother Roger (2) is sick. "lay down" says Catherine, we are running under the stone table (table for the butter). A big, big noise makes the house shake. Somebody knocks at the door, Nestor is coming with his family, a bomb blowed up on their house, no wounded. Now, we are 15 persons in the cellar. Helène is looking through th little window, "german are coming, I can see their boots" Everybody is praying, especially auntie Pauline, we are frightened to death. Noise, somebody is opening the door. A german officer is coming down in the cellar, looks around and says to Auntie Pauline "move away". Some soldiers are now bringing a wounded soldier, he is screaming, he is very dirty, he lost his blood, the soldiers let him in the so clean corner, auntie Pauline's corner. René, Roger and I, we are under the stone table and we are laughing because of the neat, clean corner. My mother looks ghastly pale, she murmurs "be quiet".
Irma's Story - Part Three
I beg your pardon but it is not easy for me to express those souvenirs in english. As you may understand, the memories of a child are different. I forgot many things and I can remember special events. Best wishes and Love to all of you. Irma TARGNION from Ardenne. Arnold says hello to you.
december 1944 - BATTLE of the BULGE
...... The german soldier is gone. They all pray in the cellar, they pray more and more. Hélène says " I think that the americans retreated to Erria" she seems so sad. My mother says " I must go to the farm to feed the cows and we need fresh milk, it is a little more quiet by now". there was a sudden silent and my mother goes out. When she comes back, she doesn't look afraid, just a little pale. She brings back milk, eggs, biscuits, water... and when she can see that everybody feel reassured, she says " the bullets whizzed overhead, I think they comes from Beau-Ru (north/west)" Youppee, says, Marie-Josée, the americans are coming back ! yes, says my mother, but it was also whizzing from the south, so, we are just in the middle of the battle. Silence. René, my oldest brother (6) asks "where is Pierre ? " Pierre is this boy who came from Brussels one year ago. He was very hungry in Brussels, when he arrived, he was 14 and he was looking like an 9 years old boy. For a long time, children from the big cities are living with us. When they are better, they go back home and others are coming. But with Pierre, things are different, his is like a brother for us, he tries to help my parents, he likes very much all the animals, especially, the horse Max and the dog Jacky. Mum, where is Pierre ? Pierre is in Hierlot with our grand-parents (Hierlot is located between, Lierneux and Erria. By now, nobody knows that the Germans took all the men as hostage and they are all in Verleumont as prisoners and Pierre is with them. Pierre is very thin and small, the Germans does not pay attention to him, so he escapes and from Verleumont, he comes in Brux at the farm, takes the dog Jacky and through the lines in the middle of the battle, he goes to Hierlot to see the families of the hostages, gaves the news, asks for food and comes back to Verleumont to join the hostages with the bread and milk. Some stories will never be written in the books but Pierre shuttled back and forth many times, telling to the families "they are OK, give me food for them", he was like a ferret. My uncles Léon, Camille and Alfred were in this group. Later, the Germans liberated them because of the advance of the american troups, they put the german troups to rout. On december 27th and 28th, G Cy 508 th beat of the enemy to the Thier del Preux (Jos. KISSANE - 508° cy G) Thier del Preux, woods, 2 kms from Brux. Hélène is looking through the little window. "the boots, the boots, there are american boots. Everybody is crying in the cellar. My mother is taking us in her arms, "we shall go out very soon", we are still waiting and at least, the beautiful young soldiers are coming back. The boys who called me "baby" and who gave me chocolates and sugar.
N.B. my mother's first name was Hélène, she was very courageous, generous and
devoted but also self-effacing just like Helen in Savannah. I was in motion to
see Helen because she looks like my mother and today, I would like to send my
love to all of you who liberated us with a special thought to Helen with thanks
for her kindness to us and her love for everybody. Irma.
Irma's Story - Part Four
Dear Ben, dear friends,
I will try to follow to tell you what I remember from this so hard time. I am happy to read the note of Howard Hensleigh. In fact, a few years ago, we tried to find this family and the young girl. We were looking for her on the way from Stavelot, Hénumont, Logbiermé, Poteau... no luck. Arnold's cousin is living in Hénumont (near Logbiermé) he was 11 years old during the Battle but he is not able to remember who could be this family. Sorry. I am very touched that you are interested in this part of my life. Thanks. Irma.
BATTLE OF THE BULGE
Brux - Lierneux
We are leaving the cellar. Nestor's house has been completely destroyed. They are upset but happy to be alive. They say that they will try to stay in the barn. Our house is not destroyed but everything is broken, all the windows, the doors. On the floor, there are many little holes and René says :"it is OK to play marbles". My mother does not like untidiness, she must be very angry but she only says "what a mess". Immediately, she begins to clean, to arrange, she is looking for the kneading trough. She goes to the fountain to get water and she tells us : I shall knead bread. There is a room downstairs which is rather saved; it is a kind of kitchen where my mother used to bake. This room opens on the farmyard where there are now many soldiers, trucks, tents and a big fire. A soldier calls us and he gives us soup and meat. It is good but there is a strange red sauce on the meat. I never eat such a gravy. The dough is ready, my mother is going to milks the cows and to feed them. She wants to bake the bread as soon as possible but the kind soldiers asks her to go into the house. They are gathering all of us in a room as my mother is coming with packages. Auntie Pauline and Auntie Marie join us. We cannot move and Auntie Pauline begins to pray again. I escape and I go in an other room which is full with soldiers. Surprise, they are also praying! A big boy called Willy takes me on his knees, he joins my hands and he talks to me but I do not understand so I begin to pray. I only know "Ave Maria" (not very well) but I try, I think that Willy is glad, I see tears on his face. My mother is coming to pick me up, she looks angry but Willy says : Me...ci, Madam. Auntie Marie says in our dialect : they have children too...
On the road, there are now many big trucks and we are in the doorway. We shall leave very soon... no news from my father, where is he ?
Irma Targnion Part 5
Bonjour Ben, hello dear friends,
This evening, we shall go to Maria's as the Committee has a reunion to prepare all the ceremonies of december and especially the celebrations of january 7th. Of course, the spirit of 517th will be with us with all the memories. Now, I shall try to follow my little story but before this "english exercise" I would like to wish you a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year from all your friends in Ardenne. May all the joy and wonder of this holiday season remain with you always. With Love and gratitude. Irma, Arnold, Maria and the members of CADUSA (US Airborne Reception Committee) Trois-Ponts. Best wishes to Patricia, Roland and Robert. Joyeuse Fêtes.
Belgium, Ardenne, december 1944 - january 1945
Many trucks are now on the road and we have to get on. My little brother Roger is very sick, he is afraid. The soldiers are giving some blankets and so, we leave our little village and all the neighbours too. We are cold, we are sick, the way seems so long. Lastly, we arrive in a town called Prayon (near Liège). We are waiting in a big hall, the Casino, people called us : evacuees. A young lady of Brux (Yvette) is washing me but she has nothing to wipe me, so she uses her apron. We are still waiting in the room but some people of Prayon are coming to welcome the families. My mother is in a corner with her 3 children, nobody choose to take us with. Mummy seems so sad. And then, he comes, Mr Laval, he is telling a chief that he wishes to welcome somebody who is very demanding. He looks so kind and we leave the big room to go in his house.
Mr and Mrs Laval are living in the main street in Prayon, at the back of the garden, there is a river : la Vesdre. Mrs Laval gives us a large bedroom and a kitchen which is opening on the garden. They have a very nice baby girl, her name is Michèle.
Now, we are in Prayon for 2 weeks, no news from our area, no news from the men. What is happened in Ardenne. A cousin of my mother, Joseph Rixhon, is living in the area of Prayon, he has a farm and he is bringing fresh milk for us. He is very kind and sometimes, he comes with vegetables and food. He also tries to give some news of the war but he is not able to tell us about the situation in Lierneux, Vielsalm, Trois-Ponts... René, my elder brother is doing some clangers.
Mr Laval has a big map on the wall, he is putting little american flags and german flags, every day, he changes the flags , he is drawing arrows. To day, there are more american flags, Mr Laval seems happy. But René thinks to tease him and he changes the places of the flags, he mixes up everything. Mr Laval is not very pleased ! to day, once more, we listen the V1, we call that : robot. The noise is : tu ku... tu ku tu... tu ku...tu ku... but when the noise is stopping, we run in the cellar.
Today, the noise is stopping very soon, we are afraid, an explosion, noises, dust, and everything is broken in the house. No panes of glass in the windows but nobody is wounded. The day after, cousin Joseph is coming, he went in Nonceveux, near Remouchamps to visit auntie Catherine, my mother's sister, she is living in a little farm and she has 8 children. She told Joseph that very soon, we may go to Nonceveux to stay with them. Weeks have passed, we are still in Prayon and when everything is quiet we go along the river Vesdre. We miss our father, we miss home.
Irma Targnion Part 6
BATTLE OF THE BULGE - december 1944/january 1944
We are still in Prayon, time is dragging but now, we receive some news from our area. They say that in Lierneux in a cellar an old man died in a corner as in the same time a baby was born in an other corner; baby's name is Jean-Pierre. They say that many houses are destroyed, burnt or ransacked, many persons were killed or disappeared. To day, our neighbours want to go back to our village. It is a long way, they decide to walk (about 55 kms) So, Hélène, Catherine, Jean, Victorine are leaving in the morning, they want to stop in Chevron to spend the night. My mother says that we shall go to stay a few days with auntie Catherine in Nonceveux (Remouchamps). The Battle of the Bulge was stopped in Stoumont and Nonceveux is saved.
We leave the family Laval with a warm thank you and Mr Laval promises to visit us later as he is traveling a lot for his job. Cousin Joseph and his brother Emile drive us to the farm in Nonceveux. Auntie Catherine tries to calm my mother who wishes to go back to Brux immediately. She wants to go on foot (30 kms). After a good night, my mother is leaving early in the morning and we stay with the family Bodson. The younger girl is Rose, she is 5 like me, the elder brother is Jean, he is 15; the 8 cousins are all very kind to us and uncle Joseph Bodson is funny and tries to amuse us with many games.
Now I have to explain what happened to this beautiful family. In 1947, uncle Joseph died of a heart attack: the life has been very hard for all of them but my aunt was so courageous that she worked so hard on the little farm to pay school for the children. Jean became accounter, 2 boys served in the belgian army (major and captain) 3 girls became teacher, 1 had a restaurant and Paul became master at the University of Montréal (Canada) now, he is retired but still living in Montréal.
For my brothers and me, this week in Nonceveux is a nice souvenir. Later, my mother tells us what about her way back to Brux. She walked, she ran, she was exhausted but went on to run and when she was arriving where she can see our house, she cried, she laughed, the tears are coming, she shaked all over as she catched sight of a silhouette, she ran, she ran... the man is my father! he is just arriving, back from Leers et Fosteau.
Many damages in the house, no windows, everything is broken and it is like after a tornado but they are alive and rather in good health. They begin to "clean" , to put millboard in the windows frames and suddenly my mother says : "where is my dinner service, no dishes, no plates left..." my father is laughing, he just found it. Do you remember that when my mother left the cellar to go back in our house, the first thing she did was the dough for the bread ! the dough is green and rotten but all the dishes and plates are in the dough. The soldiers used them but as they cannot do the washing up, they put the crockery in the dough... even during sad situations, there is always something strange or funny. After many days of a hard work, the house was nearly ready to welcome us and we came back home. Our neighbours, family Demonceau are now living in the barn and they are going to spend the night with friends, Marie-Josée is sleeping at home. Some people are living in the stables but nobody is complaining. People of Ardenne seems to be primitive and boorish but they are stout fellows. Everybody began to work hard, to take care of the animals which is very important for the future life. I have never seen my parents groan or complain. Now, we are a stricken population and because of that I received the most beautiful dress of my life. Marie-Josée is a needle woman and is sewed for me a dress made with a parachute ( found in the woods) it is a silk dress, Marie-Josée also sewed shirts for my brothers. I am very proud to wear this wonderful dress when I go to the church with Catherine (I have to say that our beautiful old church is destroyed and that all the services are celebrated in a shacks) A wonderful souvenir of this time is the sound of the bells on sunday. The germen could not take them, somebody had hidden them during the war.
Irma Targnion Part 7
Bonjour Ben, hello to everybody,
Now it is time to follow with my childhood memories. We are now in 1945.
BATTLE OF THE BULGE - the end of the war - first days of Liberty.
American soldiers left us. Just some of them stayed in our village. Some people say that it is for the munitions. They are very kind to us and are giving us food, chocolates and chewing-gums. As we lost everything, Marie-Josée is sewing, she makes shirts, dress, pants with all the material people can find. She uses the blankets (khaki) to make coats, capes, mantels, she uses the parachutes to sew for the children and the ladies. It is like a new fashion. For us, the children, there are many new games, we find many things to play with in the trenches. With René (6), Roger (3) and me (4,1/2) we collect the bullets. We knock them on a stone, we open and so we find some kind of pellets. When we have gathered a big pile, we are porrowing some pellets in a line and put the fire. wham ! psiiiitt ! boom... fire. My father surprises us one day and he did not find that very funny. He gets angry and put us in the cellar for 2 hours. I have to say that a few children were killed as they play with guns. Our neighbour Louis (14) and his brother Joseph (12) were killed as they are playing "war", some other boys were wounded with mines, one lost his arm an other became blind, and...; after that, we were afraid and we tried to be more quiet, we were building huts with all the loss in the fields. In my village, all the men are farmers and the problem is to feed the cows, Everybody is waiting for the spring. During our stay in Prayon, my uncle Joseph of Hierlot and Pierre (the young boy from Brussels) came every day to feed the animals. Pierre was living in Hierlot with my grand-parents and family during our evacuation. In may, after 5 years, my uncle Joseph (my father's brother) came back from Germany where he was prisoner. His 4 children could not recognize him. My mother's brother Léon came back in the same time from a concentration camp in Germany(5 years too). He was captured as a member of the resistance movement. He was 29 years old when he came back but he was looking like a man of 70.
During the summer 1945, we had many celebrations to welcome the prisoners, we had parades and the ladies sewed american and belgian flags with the material they can find, sometimes with curtains, sometimes they dye the sheets. In fact, all the floats, vehicles and horses, were giving a famous colored procession. In spite of the sorrow and the pains, the people of Ardenne trust in the future and celebrate the freedom with joy and hope.
Nov 2005 - Jan 2006
Cohasset (MA) Mariner
November 10, 2006