It was a warm late spring Saturday, June 10, 1944, in Limoges, France. Six young friends decided to take a bike trip into the country. France in the springtime is glorious, and the hilly vistas in the countryside surrounding Limoges was alive with blooms and greenery. The friends packed a lunch and the obligatory bottles of wine to accompany it. It promised to be a fine day.
The small group felt like celebrating for the first time in years. You see, news had reached the city that the Allies had invaded the beaches of Normandy, some 300 miles north of Limoges. After years of humiliating occupation by the Germans, it seemed that the iron grip of the Nazi invaders was coming to an end. So, a celebratory day in the countryside by bike seemed like a wonderful way to spend a Saturday.
The group decided to leave early that morning and strike out northwest of Limoges. They made their way through the outlying villages of La Vergne and La Lande and on a route that took them slightly south of what is now the runway of the Limoges Airport. By the time they reached Saint-Quinten, they had left the noise and traffic of the city behind and were truly in the countryside.
About one o’clock, the group of friends coasted into a sleepy village. They had decided that they would take a rest break and have their lunch in the grassy area of the square when they reached the small town, and so they slowed down as they entered the village. But something was wrong. The main street of the village was lined with military vehicles, German army vehicles, and armed men were standing next to them. The group of cyclists had no choice but to continue. There was no chance for them to turn around and leave the village the way they came.
Perhaps this was only an identity check. After all, the Germans were on high alert since the invasion. They were keenly aware of French resistance activity that had seen an uptick since the Allies landed only four days before. Maybe all the Germans in the village wanted was to make sure the cyclists were who they said they were–innocent friends out for a bike ride on a warm Saturday.
The Germans were on a mission of revenge. The resistance had struck damaging blows to the Nazi war effort around Limoges, and the occupiers were out for blood. They rounded up the villagers and separated them–men, women, and children. The women and children they put in the centuries old church building. The men…well, the men they first put into barns. Then they shot and burned them. A large bomb was detonated in the church building where the children and women had been herded. Those who survived the bomb, fire, and smoke were then shot. Fires were set all over. When the massacre ended later that evening, not one of the over 350 buildings in the village was left standing.
And the six cyclists from Limoges, the six friends who only wanted a nice day of biking in the French countryside, they became part of the 643 victims of the destruction of the village of Oradour-sur-Glane.