I am neither a historian by training nor a full-time author. Only a passionate young Frenchman seeking to honour those who fought for our freedom. In 2015, when I decided to turn my 10+ years of research into a book, hundreds or even thousands of veterans from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France and other allied nations were dying every day. While their attics were being cleared by the movers, the memories and correspondence of our liberators often ended up in antique shops or auctioned off on the internet. Over the years, I have endeavoured to collect and preserve these direct testimonies of the war, before they were lost forever. To the soldier on the front line, these letters meant everything in the world. They are now of inestimable value. "Till Victory" is a collection of nearly fifteen years of carefully selected accounts and writings from allied soldiers. They are presented in a series of exclusive stories, intended for those who think they have already read everything about this war, with the historical context for neophytes.
The letters of hundreds of soldiers were read, and in the end only a very small percentage were used. Deciphering the writings of each of these letters, often retrieved in batches of several dozen pieces of correspondence, could take days to process. I then had to translate and transcribe in full those that I thought were interesting. However, in the 1940s, censorship was (more or less) vigilant and few ventured to disclose information about their living conditions and combat experience... The majority of the messages were of no historical interest. But from time to time, a nugget caught my eye, and it was put aside: the inch-by-inch fighting, fear, the loss of comrades, the miserable life on the front line, opinions on current events and the enemy, the contact with civilians before and after the German border... It's all in Till Victory.
The second step was to research the history of each soldier in order to better understand the context in which these letters were written. There is no shortage of online sources for American archives, but it was often necessary to use the Kew archives for the British, or the Service historique de la Défense in Vincennes for the French. Sometimes, associations or forums of enthusiasts were able to help me to complete my research. I then spent days going through old handwritten documents, loaded with military abbreviations, hastily photocopied decades ago and then scanned in low resolution, to retrace the whereabouts of these soldiers. Some documents were more than a thousand pages long... But the effort was often worth it: a love letter becomes so much more poignant when you discover that its author was killed a few hours later.
Finally, when I was able to blend the individual story with the big picture, and I was sure I wanted to publish a correspondence, there was one last crucial step: finding the soldier's descendants, in order to ask his family for permission to publish the letters and learn more about him. I could find some clues about the existence of possible children in the letters themselves, but the information was usually incomplete... The unfortunate trend with antique dealers to maximize their profits by splitting batches of old letters (and then selling them individually) makes a large number of leads disappear and the research much more complicated. Fortunately, I had other means at my disposal: genealogy sites, obituaries, veterans' associations...
The first family found was that of Ray Alm, an elite American soldier in the 2nd Ranger Battalion, who landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day. His son Rick, who unfortunately lost his battle with cancer on February 16, 2017, was a very sweet man and very interested in my project. As a renowned journalist (he won a Pulitzer Prize), he always had a great story to tell about his father. One of them was about the secret language that Ray and his wife Audrey had developed. Censorship did not allow Ray to reveal his location, so he used his signature in a clever way: closing his letters with "With love" meant he was in England, "All my love" in Scotland... France was "Lovingly". Without knowing where he would go, they prepared in advance many codes for countries such as Italy, Japan, Russia, Australia, and even Guatemala or Somalia. As you probably guessed, "Till Victory" was the one for Germany. The kindness and trust of his son gave me the courage to find more than 45 other families. So, before Rick's tragic passing, I promised him that the title of the book would honour his father. Beyond the anecdote, "Till Victory" represents optimism and determination, while expressing the uncertainty of what this horrible war could bring to two young lovers. The title perfectly sums up the content of the book: hope and fear, love and sacrifice, home and front, "until victory".
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