Base Hospital - photo taken between 1958-1961
August 2006 - My wife,
Elaine, and I have recently returned from a wonderful
five-week holiday in Scotland and France. The Scotland
leg was to catch up with Elaine's family and friends and
the French visit was generally for my benefit - to see
if I could locate my exact birthplace which was the old
United States Air Force base. This had long been an
ambition of mine.
After seeing what the hospital looked like in the fifties through the wonders of Google, we checked out buildings around the town and a base which is run by a French Training Regiment. A couple of serious-looking security guards at the boomgate couldn’t speak a word of English between them, but through a taxi-driver named Benoit and Elaine’s broken French, they eventually understood what my intentions were. However, they still couldn’t help so we disappointingly drove back to town to do a spot of site-seeing before relaxing at a street corner café sipping a popular low alcoholic drink called a Monaco (a mix of Kronenburg beer, lemonade and a splash of grenadine). Perfect for the warm 30C days we were experiencing.
The next day, we again drove around the Châteauroux township looking at American-built buildings before we decided to give the army base one more try. This time, after showing the security guards my Australian passport, which contained my place of birth, I was met by a warrant officer named Hervé Simonnet.
He told us the hospital (pictured above) is now the headquarters for the French 517 Training Regiment. He took Elaine & I into the base and stopped outside the building which I immediately recognised with delight. After having a few photographs taken in front of the building, WO Simonnet surprised me by inviting us inside.
He took us to the top level and there, situated in one area of the hallway, was a bit of American memorabilia hanging on walls, next to a mannequin donned in the American Air Force uniform from the 50s and 60s. It was then I was introduced to the Major of the base, Major Bouchet, who presented me with a ceramic plaque containing the 517 Regiment logo, and a couple of writing pens. Meantime, another man named Michel Vat, a former soccer player, had also been made aware of our visit and presented me with an old, bound report on the history of the base – which was in English! And, it was extremely interesting what went on during those Cold War years!
Everyone we met was very helpful. The only dampener was the rail trip from Châteauroux back to Paris, which cost us an extra 10 Euro because we didn’t frank the return ticket at the station when we boarded the train. The 'nice' Ticket Inspector who fined us showed me on the back of the ticket where it says you must frank the ticket. But, it was in French and my teenage years of understanding the language had long gone.
I enjoyed the experience of a lifetime!