Lots of Queens

When we called our friend, MJ and told her we had a swarm if she wanted it, she was so happy. We were too because we knew she was anxious to get another colony started.

So, The Engineer carefully shut the openings and put mesh over the vents on our plastic nuc box for transporting.

This morning MJ came over to pick it up.

We gently loaded the box into her car, careful not to jostle its contents, and MJ drove away.

About twenty minutes later, I got a phone call.

“It’s a good thing I was so careful driving and carrying that nuc box,” MJ said. “When I opened it, there were three bees inside.”

What the heck?! Sometime yesterday, those crazy girls must have returned to their original home!

We recently learned this happens sometime and usually means the workers left without a queen. Oops!

On a positive note, we have hope that at least one or two of our three splits will soon have a viable queen so MJ can take it as a nuc.

Meanwhile, in an effort at preventing any more swarms from that hive, we did a complete check, intending to remove all queen cells except the two biggest.

There were many, some open and some closed.

And then, The Engineer noticed this!

A queen was emerging from her cell!
It’s a very in and out process!

You can watch video of it here. Because it takes a while, I also did a time-lapse video, which sped up the action so much you can hardly see what’s going on. 😦

When the new queen was fully emerged and had scampered on her way, we moved on to Hive #3, the one we planned to split on Monday.

Now, we generally cover open boxes with a towel when we’re not working on them, and today when I lifted the towel on the second box, I spotted the queen … who promptly flew away.

$#@%&! Had we lost the queen forever?

All we could do was make sure both the split we were making and the original hive had eggs to make a new one.

But, then we found another queen, larger than the one I saw. So, she was probably the original queen. We put her in the split.

There weren’t any queen cells, and the many queen cups we saw last week hadn’t developed further, but maybe we missed one that resulted in the flying queen. The bees would have to make a new queen from an egg.

Hive #1 has been looking crowded, with a lot of bearding (as you can see in yesterday’s blog), which is weird because when we split it, we put the queen in the split. This means they don’t yet have a laying queen. We weren’t even going to check for one until nearer the end of the month, but it seemed so full, we decided to put on an extra honey super to allow bees a little more room.

This group of bees were clustered on the inside of the telescoping (outside) lid. To me, they looked like they were saying, “I’m not going out there! You go!”

When we looked inside, we were surprised to see a queen! She also had to be quite newly emerged because there were no eggs, no larvae , and only capped brood. Since we split on 22 April, this makes sense. It takes about sixteen days for a queen to develop, and another week or two to really start laying well. It’s only been about twenty-eight days.

Evidently, we must have left in quite a lot of eggs and larvae when we split because the hive is bursting at the seams. When she begins to lay, we will need to get on a second brood box posthaste!

We also found a queen cell on a frame in the honey super, which we set aside to put in the now queenless Hive #3.

So, after we closed up Hive #1, we moved back to Hive #3, opened it, and went to put the queen cell inside, only now there was also a queen on the frame. Perhaps the one that flew off?

The OH Honey Apiary

Now, we have (left to right) Hive #1A (laying queen, split from Hive #1), a very crowded Hive #1 (new queen, needs another brood box very soon), Hive #2A (tall nuc split from Hive #2), Hive #2 (aka the “swarmed hive,” newly hatched queen and queen cell), Hive #3 (freshly split with queen and a queen cell), Hive #3A (laying queen, split from Hive #3), Hive #2B (swarmed from Hive #2, probably has a queen).

With Hive #2B, we are attempting to get the bees to make comb in a jar. It’s supposed to be difficult to get the bees to start building comb on a glass surface, but it sounded interesting, so we decided to give it a shot.

All the hives with new queens (#2B, #3, #2, and #1) will need to be checked to for eggs in a week or so. If there are eggs, the hive is “queen right.” If there aren’t, we give it another week, and then it will need another queen from somewhere.

Since we really don’t want seven hives, we hope to be able to give a queen right hive to MJ and possibly another acquaintance as well.

What an exciting couple of days in the bee yard!

… and a Bonus Swarm

Today, I came home from my morning walk to find The Engineer replacing the tubes in both my bike tires. They blew out yesterday while the bicycle was sitting in my hot car. I’d filled them to the psi listed on the tire, which turned out to be the maximum. And it was cold when I filled them and hot in the car. Air expands, so …

A little later, when I went inside to make some breakfast, I looked out at the hives, and darned if the same one wasn’t swarming again, only this time they hadn’t gotten past the hanging off the front of the hive.

Here’s the Instagram video of what it looked like.

“No problem,” I thought, “we’ve handled this before,” and I told The Engineer not to worry, I’d put on my suit and scoop them into the box we’d set out yesterday.

And that’s what I did.

A little later, The Engineer decided it was getting confusing keeping track of what hive spawned what split/swarm. He numbered them and marked which we knew had queens.

Then, before we left to go buy more boxes and frames, it looked like that hive might be thinking about swarming it again. We set our only remaining box in front of the colony to encourage them to settle there if they did, but on return, it doesn’t look like they’ve swarmed.

Now, we have (from left to right) Hive 1A, Hive 1 (bearding pretty heavily, but they don’t have a queen so in theory they shouldn’t swarm), Hive 2A, Hive 2, Hive 3, Hive/Nuc 2C, Hive 2B.

We are giving today’s swarm, Hive/Nuc2C to our friend MJ to try her hand at. She’ll need to check it in 10-15 days to see if there are eggs. If there are, the queen has mated and all is fine. If it isn’t, MJ may need to buy a queen, but that’s still significantly cheaper than buying a package or Nuc.

Tomorrow, we plan to split Hive 3 and put a different setup on the first swarm’s hive — trying to get them to make honey in jars.

Just another day in the life of two beekeepers during swarm season.

Mothers Day Swarm

It’s been an exciting day.

The plans were to get up, watch some Premier League Football, have breakfast, go for a bike ride with Darling Daughter, visit the Aged Mother, and return for a lazy evening at home.

But our plans took a detour after the football game when I glanced outside at the bees as I prepared for my bike ride. There was a cloud of them swirling around outside one of the hives, with some clustered at the bottom.

They were swarming.

This photo doesn’t do justice to what it looked like.

Meanwhile a chipmunk sat on our deck, apparently thinking, “What the f—?”

Photo courtesy of The Engineer

The swarm was also on one of the lids for our septic system with a bee ball hanging from both our rhododendron and one of our roses, pulling the branches nearly to the ground.

It was quite convenient for us, all things considered — no high trees to scale or branches to cut in order to rehive them.

We took the empty box we had set on the picnic table to use tomorrow to split our most recently inspected hive, set it under the rose bush, and shook the bee ball off and into the box. Then we moved the box under the rhododendron and did the same for that bee ball. Lastly, we began scooping the bees up into the box.

I think the queen was in one of the balls because the bees on the ground began to move inside.

The whole process from discovery to being able to move the box to the picnic table took about forty-five minutes.

By afternoon, they were apparently cleaning out the frames in their new home.

Photo by The Engineer

Also, the hive that swarmed was one that we’d already split, so we still need to deal with the one that seemed to be prepping to swarm, which will involve spending more money on boxes and frames.

In summary, we now have The Palace (which has a queen) and The Palace’s split (which we are hoping is requeening) on the far left and second from left, respectively. Next we have the split from the hive that just swarmed, which we now know doesn’t have a queen because its mother hive just swarmed, and hives don’t swarm without a queen — that’s the tall, skinny, pink one. We have the now-queenless mother hive that just swarmed (fourth from the left) and the swarmed hive which apparently has the queen (far right). And we have the hive we plan to split because of the many queen cups we saw last week (second wood box from right). The yellow and brown box is a nuc box just in case anyone else feels like swarming and wants to make it easy for us.

Links to swarm videos:

This one you have to click through for some reason — You’ll have to ask WordPress why. I’m pretty sure I uploaded both the same way: https://www.instagram.com/p/CdUNPIipEL2/?igshid=MDJmNzVkMjY=

As for that bike ride with Darling Daughter — it was lovely, as was our late lunch afterwards. And Aged Mother was as feisty as ever, surrounded by many cards, flowers, and chocolate.

Her Egg-cellency

Being retired means not having to check all our hives in one afternoon, which sometimes felt like a marathon. Also, we only know the location of two queens, which means there are only two hives we are willing to disturb by doing a full hive check.

This is because we didn’t spot the queen in one of the hives we split last week, so we don’t know which of the resulting colonies is queen right and which is (hopefully) making a new queen. Erring on the side of caution, we’ll leave both alone.

Thus, our beekeeping duties felt light this week. We looked through one hive on Friday and one today.

I should admit right now I’ve given up on trying to think of clever names for our hives. With all the combinations and splits and iterations of colonies in our beeyard, it’s become impossible to keep up the practice.

For lack of a better idea, we’ve begun referring to them as “The Palace,” or “The Eight Frame,” “The Palace split,” “The Nuc,” “The Hive 2nd from the Right,” and “The Hive on the Right.”

Catchy, right? But, together, they form the OH Honey Apiary.

As you can see, graphic design is not my forte.

Anyway, The Palace was up first, called that because it’s our new eight-frame hive, freshly painted and beautiful. It’s the one on the left.

We’ve been feeding this hive because, although it has the queen, it is to the left of the location of the original hive. When you split a hive, the foragers tend to return to the original location, and we wanted to be sure The Palace had plenty of food to tide them over until new brood was reared to replace the nurse bees who then would become foragers.

It’s true they used much of the food provided, but we also noticed foragers returning to this hive almost immediately. Through the week, the number increased, and we decided they would be fine without the supplemental food.

We removed the jar, which was housed in the top two boxes, and left one super filled with frames for them to use for honey storage. Two of those frames were the ones we removed last week because they were filled with drone brood. In theory, the workers should clean out those cells and use them for honey.

That’s what we hope, anyway.

Also, since we (The Engineer) spotted the queen on another frame, we were able to move the final super frame with brood up into the super box. There, the workers can care for the brood, but the queen excluder will keep the queen from laying any more eggs in the honey super.

No bees aren’t usually quite that fuzzy. It’s my less than stellar camerawork. (And if you think this is bad, you should see the video I took of the queen — about 2 seconds of her back and then a quick upside-down view of our yard culminating in about 10 seconds of my finger).

The girls had made some beautiful comb on the bottom of that last super frame, which we scraped off.

Comb is a marvel of engineering, I think.

We removed the comb because the last time we tried to save comb our bees made, they used it for drone brood, which is a magnet for Varroa. So, it’s not that we don’t want drones. We just don’t want a whole hive full because that would mean we likely had a whole hive full of Varroa as well.

Sadly, this piece of comb also some new eggs in it as well (which you might see if you look closely).

At least now that hive is set up with the queen downstairs where she has space to lay eggs that won’t be all drones.

We hope.

There’s a lot of hoping involved in beekeeping.

Today, we inspected the hive we considered the weakest of the three that made it through the winter and were pleasantly surprised.

It was full of bees, brood, larvae, and eggs!

And I spotted the queen!

Here she is. At least here’s her abdomen: Queen bees move around very quickly laying eggs, and it can be hard to get a good photo.

Can you see her?

I’ll make it easier for you.

We also noticed a lot of queen cups, many of them clustered together.

This frame had six, all near the bottom of it, which may or may not mean they’re preparing to swarm. I kind of think they are because, although our bees always seem to like to have a queen cup or two around, they generally don’t have this many together on the bottom of a frame.

Consequently, we’ll be checking this have again in five or so days and splitting if these cups become full-fledged queen cells.

If you’re not sure of the difference, go here. There are several pictures of queen cells in the post where I explain how we learned the hard way why it’s a bad idea to scrape off queen cells, especially when you haven’t seen the queen.

Just for the record? It’s always a bad idea to scrape of queen cells. If you have a good queen, split the hive, and put the cells into the new hive [s] for the bees to raise. If you don’t want another hive, give or sell it to another beekeeper.

For now, however, we are happy beekeepers. The hives we split have calmed down now that we quit rearranging their homes, and today’s hive was so chill, we only used smoke a few times to move them off old ugly frames we were replacing with new. The dandelions are out, and the flowering trees are beginning to bloom, so there’s plenty of pollen and nectar for our girls to forage.

The Palace split was even bearding today.

Maybe warm weather is finally here.

We hope.

The Sting

Well, it happened again. I got stung, this time on my forehead above the eye. And you know how I always say honey bees are uninterested in humans? That they don’t sting out of sheer meanness, like, say, yellow jackets?

For the most part, this is true, and we’ve got thousands of bees living just behind our house to prove it. However, every so often, you come across a bee that just seems to have a gripe with the world.

Well, for me, today was that day.

There was a bee stuck between the two slding doors that open onto our deck, so I was outside to trying to help her to freedom when along came another bee flying right at my face.

Out of sheer instinct, I waved at her, trying to get her to fly away — exactly the thing you’re not supposed to do.

Suddenly I felt that searing sensation on my forehead that told me I’d been stung.

I brushed at my face with my hand — another thing one shouldn’t do when there’s a bee around — and she began flying around my head and face, so perhaps her barb didn’t enter or leave her body completely.

Who knows?

I began scraping at the area, trying to make sure the stinger wasn’t still under my skin pumping in more venom, and yelling for The Engineer to make sure she was off me.

Then, I swore a lot and called that bee many profane names. I could feel the venom moving through my veins and was afraid my eye would swell shut.

After a minute or two, I found the sting kit I keep with our bee gear. It contains several different antihistamines. A nurse anesthesiologist spoke at our beekeeping club this winter, and these were part of the protocol she advised, along with icing the area.

Here, among my wrinkles and grey hairs, you can see where I scraped at what I thought was the bee stinger.
A few hours later

You can see the antihistamines and ice did their job. The area is puffy and sore, but not nearly as bad as it could have been.

I’m still annoyed at that bee though!

Once it was clear I wasn’t having a major reaction to the sting, we went outside and split the second big hive.

Unfortunately, we didn’t find the queen, so this was a true “walkaway” split, where the beekeeper divides the hive, making sure both the new colony and the old have eggs to make a new queen. The hive with the queen will let the eggs develop normally; the hive without a queen will make one or more from the eggs.

At least that’s the plan. It remains to be seen if the bees fall in with this plan or not. It takes sixteen days to raise a queen from egg to adult, and even longer before she begins laying eggs, so it will be a while before we know if the splits are successful.

Our new set up: (l to r) 8-frame hive with a queen, 10-frame split with no queen, Nuc colony that may or may not have a queen, 10-frame hive that may or may not have a queen, and 10-frame hive with a queen.

Right now, four out of our hives are a little riled because we’ve been moving their houses around. We won’t be messing with them for a few weeks, but the hive on the far right (the weakest of the three that came out of winter) should be inspected again soon.

And that’s all the news from the OH Honey beeyard!

Mead Ginger Rogers

The Engineer has been crowned Mead Supervisor of the OH Honey Apiary, and today he declared it a good use of our beekeeping downtime to rack (bottle) our latest batch of mead. We made it in September 2021 and it’s clarified nicely as you can see from the back row bottles. I can also vouch for its flavor — pleasantly gingery, without being too strong.

Actually, I don’t think there’s such a thing as too much ginger and would be happy with more fire, but others disagree. 😉

I can’t describe why I like sipping mead so much. I think it’s because the alcohol level (usually 16.8%) is neither high, nor low, and I always feel quite mellow after a small glass. It probably also has something to do with the fact that it’s 100% natural — basically honey, water, and yeast, along with whatever flavor we decide to use. In this case it was freshly grated ginger.

We have yet to decide on a flavor for the next batch, although The Engineer does have a growler on the go with hops and orange zest. Our backstock includes bottles of Cessna (just plane mead), Coffee Bee-n, Hot Mama, Cherry Baby, and Raspberries. And we’ve finished or shared all the bottles of Sourpuss (grapefruit).

Maybe we’ll try a cyser in the fall when the local cider comes in, but the Mead Supervisor wants to get another batch going before then.

What flavor should we try? It’s way too early for our raspberries to fruit (or even blossom). Maybe a strawberry basil in June? Or vanilla bean sooner? I keep finding recipes for vanilla bean and chamomile, but who has chamomile flowers at the ready? Not us, that’s for sure. I wonder if chamomile tea would work.

I kind of wish we’d added a vanilla bean to at least some of the Coffee Bee-n, but I guess we’ll save that for another time.

Hmmm … worth thinking about!

I also made a loaf of sourdough bread, but won’t share a picture of that because I cut into it immediately. It no longer looks pretty, but it tasted delicious slathered with butter!

It’s Splitting Time!

Today we finally(!) had temperatures warm enough to split a hive.

This is the same hive that briefly had two queens last summer. When we checked it earlier this month (before all the cold weather), it had a lot of brood, so we decided it should be the first of two we plan to split.

I’m not sure if I mentioned it, but we over-wintered all our hives with honey supers this year. That’s the smaller top box (the proportions are skewed in this picture because of the angle from which it was taken) which was quite full of nectar and honey last fall.

During the summer, we place queen excluders between the brood boxes (the bigger bottom ones) and the honey super to keep the queen from laying eggs around the honey.

Many people prefer not to use queen excluders, calling them “honey excluders,” but we have found them useful. Maybe sometime we should experiment by leaving it off one hive and see if we get more honey.

In winter, we take the queen excluders out to allow all the bees access to the extra food, even though we knew we might end up with brood in the honey at the start of the spring nectar flow.

That’s exactly what happened, so when we checked the hives for the first time, we put the queen excluders back. We’d seen the queen in the hive that’s not as strong as the other two, so it was only in the two strong ones that we needed to remember the queen might have gotten caught upstairs.

I actually thought if she did, it might actually make it easier to split the hives. Supers are smaller, so there would be fewer bees, ergo the queen would be easier to spot.

As it turned out, she was in the super of the hive we split, and I actually spotted her. Me! The woman who has only ever spotted the queen one other time in a hive in my life!!!

This made splitting the hive much easier. We just moved the frame with the queen into the new eight-frame box* and filled the rest with a couple of frames of brood and some honey. We know most of the hive’s foragers will return to the orignal hive because they’re oriented to it, so we’ll be giving sugar syrup to the new split (with the old queen). This syrup is a ration of 1:1 sugar to water, with some Honey B Healthy added to encourage them to feed. I also added Honey B Healthy’s Amino B Booster, which supposedly helps with brood rearing.

We also discovered the wax foundation frames we experimented with last year were full of drone brood — not necessarily a good thing because Varroa love drone brood because its growth cycle is similar to the mite’s. Ugh!

I’m not sure if you remember, but we tried a couple of frames of wax foundation last year because we heard the bees really like it.

Newsflash! Ours didn’t. They dismantled it and rebuilt it with their own wax cells, which they decided should be drone cells.

The queen obligingly filled every one with drone brood.

We removed one to freeze (Try to look upon this as euthanising a few drones to benefit the hive because that’s what it is), which will take care of some of the problem, but we probably should have done both. Maybe we can find a moment to pull it when we work the other two hives.

The other issue is there is now a short super frame in a deep box (because it had the queen on it and we don’t have a great record of managing to move queens anywhere without damaging them). You can bet your life the bees are building comb on the bottom of it even as I write this post.

So, we’ll have to get that out too and replace it with a regular deep frame.

Still, it was a fairly easy split.

Of course, since the queen had been laying in the super, that meant all the eggs were up there, which meant we had to put the super back on the original ten-frame box so the bees could make a queen from the eggs.

Alternatively, we could buy a new queen to introduce, which would be faster because she wouldn’t have to be raised and then do the whole mating flight thing. However, a new queen costs upwards of $40, so we usually let the bees at least try to make their own first.

Obviously, we didn’t put the queen excluder back in because we don’t want to infringe the bees movement in any way while they are at this delicate point, nor do we want to separate the new queen from the rest of her hive if they are successful in this operation.

We know there were queen cups, but we’re not sure if they had eggs in them or not. So, they may be working from scratch, which could result in a smaller, weaker “emergency queen.”

In the past, we’ve only split after seeing queen cells in our hives, but we’ve learned that’s cutting it fine and risking a swarm. However, by splitting sooner, before there are full-sized queen cells, we may be taking the risk of them raising a not-so-great queen.

It’s sort of a “damned if you do, and damned if you don’t” scenario, as seems to often be the case in beekeeping.

On another note, some people say if you split a hive, you need to move the new colony two miles away. But, we’ve learned otherwise. As long as you make sure there are plenty of nurse bees in the new hive, it will be fine. The foragers will mostly return to the old hive, but the nurse bees have never been outside, so they’ll stay and raise the young.

From one hive into two! Original, now queenless, hive is on the right, and the new hive with the old queen is on the left.

As you can see from the photo above, the bees are confused for a little while after the split, but they settle down pretty quickly.

We also took a quick peek in the super of the other strong hive to see if there was evidence of a queen, i.e, new eggs or very small larvae. There wasn’t, so she’s down in the brood boxes where she belongs.

Here’s a slo-mo and a time-lapse video of the girls bringing in pollen, which I took before we got busy with the split. I love to watch them come in loaded with beautifully colored pollen!

Next we need to turn our attention to the other big hive and do a check of the not-so-busy one too.

I’ll keep you posted!

*In an effort to keep The Engineer’s back healthy, we are trying to shift our hives from ten-frame to eight frame.

Retirement and Bee Busy-ness

I worked my last day on Friday 15 April. At least that’s the theory if all goes to plan. When I retired from the library and started at the grocery store, I planned on staying for a year or two. It worked out so well I ended up staying for 5-1/2 and intended to work until next February, when I’m eligible for a (reduced) Social Security benefit.

However, after The Engineer finished work in December, and we started to plan things, even working part-time seemed to get in the way. Also, since I’m four years older than him, I began to wonder why I was still working when he wasn’t. This isn’t quite true since he’s actually doing a little contracting, but it sort of felt that way.

So, we had a look at our budget, with and without my salary, and concluded if we couldn’t live without it, then we were spending too much money.

I’m convinced we can do it, even though — as is usually the case with our monetary moves — this decision runs exactly opposite to what the economy is doing right now. I’ve gotten a little lax with my spending, and this is a good time to cut more of my wasteful habits.

In addition, we — or at least I — have reached an age where it’s time to think about how we’d like to spend the years we have left. We don’t know how many years that might be, and I’m determined to begin to do more of the things I’d have liked to do in the past if I’d only had the time.

And what might those things be, you ask? At least, that’s what everyone else asked when I told them the news.

Here’s my list:

— Clear out every cupboard, drawer, closet, shelf, and storage area in our house and cut my belongings by at least a third

— Have a garage sale with those items

— Work with The Engineer to get our house in marketable condition, sell it, and then move into a smaller place

–Start working again on my family tree

— Read (even) more

— Travel (even) more

— Take more hikes

— Go cycling more often

— Fly more often

— Volunteer for park cleanups and other one-day events

— Go to garage sales and thrift stores again with an eye to re-selling items on eBay

— Work the bees when the weather is good instead of having to fit that work around two schedules

— Possibly grow our OH Honey apiary to include a few more hives (but not too many)

Anyway, that’s enough to be getting on with. I’m quite sure we won’t be bored.

And since we’re talking about bees, I think it’s time for an update.

I am happy to announce that all three hives made it through the winter. Two seem quite strong, and the remaining one is still active, if not quite thriving on the level of the others.

We were finally able to inspect the colonies about a week and a half ago, and although we (The Engineer) only spotted the queen in one hive, they all seem to be doing fine.

As expected, two were doing a little better than the third, but all in all, they looked pretty good.

They are bringing in a lot of pollen!

Some of the pollen was light green, and we even saw some blue. (The green didn’t show up very well in the photo, and the bees with blue pollen moved too fast for me to get a photo.)

Can you see the larvae in the cells on the left?

After attending two sessions on swarm prevention, we both concluded we’ve been lucky to never have had any of our bees in the trees. Apparently, we’ve been splitting our hives rather late in the swarming process.

They’ve already been hatching drones, and we saw several queen cups. Even though we didn’t see any big queen cells, we weren’t able to see if the cups had eggs in them, so they may or may not have been the beginning of an actual queen cell. Our bees almost always have a queen cup or two in their hives, so it’s hard to say.

Queen cups in a poorly focused photo

Nonetheless, the presence of drones, and the number of bees in the colony indicated it might be time to do a split as a means of swarm prevention. I’m not going to try to explain how and why this is so because there are others who can explain it much better including Perfect Bee and Honey Bee Suite. If you really want to delve into the subject, I suggest you take a look at Swarm Essentials by Stephen Repasky. He literally wrote the book on swarms.

We decided to split the two larger hives, one at a time.

Unfortunately, it then got cold.

And we had snow.

Today, the sun is coming out, but it’s later than predicted, so we will split a hive tomorrow instead.

It’s so nice to be retired and have that option. 🙂

Oradour-sur-Glane: The Martyr Village

It is difficult to write about Oradour-sur-Glane, even more challenging to do so without resorting to cliches, but I will try.

Oradour panorama, 2022

In 1944, Oradour-sur-Glane was a prosperous village of about 350 people. Its location, on the River Glane about fifteen miles from Limoges, made it a popular destination for picnicking and fishing.

On 10 June, four days after the Normandy landings, the town was bustling with activity. Its population had grown with the arrival of refugees from other areas, school was in session (as was customary in France until early this century), and monthly tobacco rations were being handed out to the area’s residents.

Before I recount the day’s events, it’s important you understand that many French citizens resisted the occupation of their country. Some in the Resistance knew D-Day was approaching, and to try to ensure the success of that operation, the Maquis were making life as miserable as possible for the occupying forces. There were attacks on German divisions, there were German soldiers being killed by Resistance groups in the area around Oradour, and the Nazis had begun to respond to such activity with ever increasing savagery.

According to the Holocaust Encyclopedia “those who had seen service on the eastern front and whose response to partisan activity had been conditioned by the extraordinary brutality of anti-partisan measures there, radicalized and intensified responses to real and perceived resistance activity.”

The 2nd Waffen Panzer Division Das Reich was one such troop, having seen two years of combat action including against the partisans (Resistance) on the eastern front. And it was they who approached Oradour on 10 June 1944.

Led by SS Major Adolf Diekmann, the division rounded up the town’s inhabitants on the “fairground” or village green.

First, they claimed to be checking identification cards. Then, the Nazis said they were searching for weapons. And finally, they began to separate the men from the women and children.

The latter were herded into the church, the former divided into six groups which are moved into various buildings while the town was searched.

Around five, an explosion served as a signal to commence firing machine guns at the groups of men. They shot until all the bodies lay still.

At five, soldiers entered the church, placing a large chest trailing a long fuse near the altar, and then retreating, lighting the fuse before shutting the door. The chest exploded creating a suffocating smoke. The women scrambled frantically toward the door, eventually ramming through, only to be met by machine gun fire.

One woman, Mme. Rouffanche, survived by somehow climbing on the altar and jumping out a window, surviving the ten foot drop to the embankment below. Another woman followed, handing out her baby before jumping, but the child’s cries attracted the attention of soldiers who shot all three, killing the mother and infant. Mme. Rouffanche was injured but managed to crawl into a garden where she spent the night among the pea plants.

Sign below the church window
The outside of the church

In the end, 642 civilians — the youngest only eight months old — were killed. Six people survived.

The Nazis then looted the village, burning the remains of the dead as well as the structures of the town.

A little later, the tram from Limoges arrived. The soldiers forced the passengers off the train and sent it back empty. Strangely, they held the passengers for two hours, warned them not to enter the village, and then released them to find their way home.

The tram tracks are still there, and the station.

The village is still there too, or what remains of it. In 1946, the French government proclaimed the whole town a memorial and gave orders for it to be preserved.

Below is the official German version of the events as relayed by the Holocaust Encyclopedia.

The German Army High Command  … offered this explanation to the State Secretary in the Vichy Ministry of Defense, General Eugène Bridoux, after Vichy diplomats had sent a formal protest note that contained an accurate account of the events of June 10. The German explanation stated that:

  • The men of the village died during the fight
  • The fight had been initiated from the village
  • The women and children had taken refuge inside the church and died as the result of an explosion from an nearby insurgent ammunition supply dump that ignited the inside of the church.

As I tried to translate the signs of the village — “Ah, this was a bakery, and here was a dentist” — I couldn’t help but be struck by the ordinariness of the lives that were snuffed out suddenly and seemingly without reason, certainly without justification.

A cafe — You can still see where the awning once hung.
The girls school
The infants (primary) school
The wine and spirits shop
The local garage
The post office
Nearly every house had the remains of a sewing machine amongst the rubble.

There were other signs.

Ici lieu de supplice, un groupe d’hommes fut massecre et brule par les Nazis. Recuillez vous: Here, a place of torture, a group of men were massacred and burned by the Nazis.
Ici dorment les morts. Pelerins pensez a eux le silence et le recueillement: Here sleep the dead. Pilgrims think of them in silence and prayer.
Ici fut retrouve le corps de M. Poutaroud: Here was found the body of M. Poutaroud.
(Translated via Google Translate)

The memorial also has a crypt filled with the daily bits and pieces found among the remains, the sort of items a person might carry in their pocket.

Pocket watches and thimbles
Eyeglasses and more watches
Loose change and bills
Pocketknives, most complete with a corkscrew

There were also children’s toys.

Bicycles and a toy pram
Whole families perished.
In the hallway of the entrance/exit, there’s a gallery of photos of those who died, with blank spaces for those for whom a photo seems to be unavailable.

Oradour was just a town that fell in the path of the 2nd Waffen Panzer Division Das Reich on their way to Normandy.

To walk its streets was to struggle to comprehend the magnitude of what happened there. Worse, to do so two weeks ago was to be forced to reflect on the likelihood of it happening again.

Now, two weeks later, after seeing the photos and reading the stories from Mariupol and Bucha, I know that it has, and still, I cannot comprehend … not any of it, not then, and not now.

There is no magic there, or mayhem, only futility and loss.

View from a Viaduct and Saint-Germain-de-Confolens

Following our usual procedure, we arrived at Auntie J. and Uncle G.’s after a brief detour down their neighbor’s driveway/farm track. During our stay we enjoyed many convivial glasses of wine, delicious meals prepared by Auntie J., and forays to see the sites of the area, during which we tried to walk off some of the calories.

We walked across this viaduct. Since I don’t have the best head for heights, so I stayed right in the middle. The view was lovely, but I find I didn’t take any pictures, probably because I was concentrating too hard on crossing without freezing in place!

The next day, we visited the ruins of the castle at Saint-Germaine-de-Confolens. Local lore says there has been a castle on this site for over a thousand years.

The castle was cordoned off, so we weren’t able to take a closer look, but we enjoyed looking just the same. The town and river are beautiful.

Whenever we visit the UK and France, as an American, I find it hard to imagine living in buildings that have been there for centuries. At home, a structure is old if it survives fifty years!

French graves often have these little plaques, which Uncle G. explained are given by family, friends, and/or organizations the deceased may have belonged to. He learned this while riding with his local cycling club when the group stopped to place one such memorial for a member who had died.

I noticed this tree, the likes of which I’d not seen before, and was told it’s a mimosa. Now, when I enjoy a champagne and orange juice with brunch, I’ll know what the drink is named after (although the English call this drink “Buck’s Fizz”)

One afternoon, we walked into Pleuville. The commune (area), which is also called Pleuville, was divided by the occupying Germans during the second world war. From the time of the occupation until 11 November 1942, the village of Pleuville was in “Vichy France” (the so-called “free” zone), but the its nearest neighbor, La Courcelle, was occupied. As a result, Pleuville (the village) was a hotbed of resistance, with messages, and even people, regularly smuggled across the line.

Google Translation: “In memory of the maquisards: Tombs 3 August 1944 for the liberation of France with the passage of a German column, Jarrassier Clement, Mandinaud Ernest, Quiring Joseph, Bourgoin (Canadian)”
One memorial, two wars
Google translation: “For the children of Pleuville who died for France, 1914-1918”

“In Memory of all those who fought, who suffered and died for the homeland and for freedom”

“Deported: Pautrot, Alche; Thromas, Marcel, F.F.I.; Jarassier, Clement; Jaud, Henri; Mandinaud, Ernest; Quiring, Joseph; Sauzet, Jean; Polet, Raymond
Soldiers: Petit, Pierre; Thomas, Marcel; Bourgoin, Louis, Canadian, P.G.; Buissonneau, Alphonse; Nadeau, Emil; In occupation: Michelet, Denis”
I found F.F.I. listed as meaning the French Forces of the Interior, but didn’t find “P.G.” or “EN A.F.N.”

We also passed this grave marker in the back of someone’s garden. Auntie J. knew, or at least knew of, the people who own the house, and I think she said the deceased wasn’t related to them. It’s nice they are maintaining the grave though, isn’t it?

Back at Auntie J. and Uncle G.’s I was taken by the sight of this old gate, which I thought was picturesque.

On our last day, we went to dinner at this restaurant. Of course, I can’t remember its name or where it was, but the setting was beautiful, and the food phenomenal.

We had one more outing with J. and G., but it requires its own post, so you’ll have to wait.

Meanwhile, I’m happy to report our stay with them was all travel magic and no mayhem!