8. By bus
Our guides inquired about the bus schedule and bought tickets. We ate in a small cafe and lounged in a city park until the bus arrived.
A local official inspected identification passes after we had boarded the bus. We stood again on the crowded bus until a number of passengers were discharged several hours later. The bus was old and made slow progress on the road. In addition, it seemed to stop at every village and crossroad.
In the evening several conversations ensued between our guides and the bus driver. I could sense that our guides were becoming apprehensive.
About nine o'clock the bus stopped in a village and the driver went into a lighted building. As he stepped inside the building, our guides whispered and motioned for us to alight and follow them, quickly.
We tumbled out of the bus, grabbing our bundles as we left. Like frightened deer, we jumped over a stone fence and fled down a hill, across a creek and up another hill. I learned later that during the evening we had entered the border zone where special passes were required. The bus driver had become suspicious of the explanation our guides had given him. When he stopped the bus in the village, it was almost certain that he had gone to summon the gendarmes.
After skirting back around the village, we headed south, walking and trotting at a fast pace. There was no moon, and we were getting into a hilly country. About midnight we came upon a road and followed it to an intersection. The guides were finally able to determine our location from the signpost, and we proceeded down the road.
Just before dawn, we found a secluded grove of trees, thick with underbrush, not too far off the road. We were now in an area that was undoubtedly patrolled by the Germans. Travel in the daytime was out of the question, so we settled down for the day in the grove.
When we had made our hurried exit from the bus, we had been joined by a man and a woman, presumably husband and wife. They claimed they were escaping from the Germans. There was no way of verifying their story, so we had to keep them in the party. The guides were dubious about their story, but the risk of having them report us was too great.
The fatigue from traveling two nights and a day without sleep was asserting itself. Most of us fell asleep on the ground without even eating a piece of bread.
One of the guides had walked down to a village in the forenoon. He returned shortly after noon with the news that he had hired a truck to haul us on part of the night's journey. We would now be able to regain some of the time that was lost when the bus ride was ended prematurely.
The mountain ranges rose to the south. Somewhere beyond those mountains was freedom, but there was still a hard march ahead of us. My feet were hurting from the last night's march. I had been wearing a pair of fleece lined, English flying boots which were warm and comfortable but would not have passed for French footwear. The boots had been discarded for a pair of black slippers with pointed toes which were about one size too small. I wished I had heeded the Group Commander's advise and worn a pair of rugged, comfortable, service shoes. I slept again in the hot afternoon sunshine.