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L’invasion

December 16, 2010

1940

She was standing on the doorstep waiting, her 10 months old daughter perched on her hip, her belly not swelled yet with her second pregnancy. Jean, her husband had been called up into to the “Arme de l’Air”. On her own in the school house, she knew “they” were coming.

The past few days had proved to be a challenge beyond imagination. More than 1 million refugees had poured into this corner of Normandy, panicked out of their minds, having abandoned everything behind them as the German troops were swarming the Northern regions. As the mayor’s office was the other side of the small school building, crowds of people had tried to seek help but that was beyond the village resources. My mother had tried all she could to soothe the distress of those poor people who stopped only momentarily out of sheer exhaustion and desperation.

At the age of 23, nothing had prepared her for this slice of human distress. She had been brought up in a very strict military fashion by her father who’d fought in WW1 and was injured twice at Verdun and her mother who may have been even stricter and a strong Catholic. She had witnesed the aftermath of the Great War, the hardship in the rural areas where women had to take the place of their men who had been killed in their droves, all the sorrow, the hard times, the desolation. Now that the war babies were men, it was starting all over again.

Despite the horror stories the refugees were bringing with them, she had remembered her father’s words: “You don’t give in to the enemy, you fight for your rights and for your freedom”. As the village school mistress, she felt the duty to set an example and, together with the mayor and the priest, had appealed to the local inhabitants to stay calm and dignified and not to abandon their houses. Running away was admitting defeat. Out of the 500 villagers, only a handful left.

She was waiting. The last and most pathetic refugees were dwindling away.Yes, “they” were coming for sure! The faint sound of a motorcade soon grew to confirm her dread.

The first motorbike stopped, bringing the convoy to a halt and the officer dismounted. She steeled herself, she would not show her trembling. The officer came straight to her, immaculate in his riding gear and very direct in his near perfect French:

“Madame, my men are billeted here and I want a room for myself”
“Monsieur, I am a woman on my own and it is not proper for me to have a man in my house!”
“Madame! I am an officer and a gentleman and ,in any case, this is an order and France is KAPUT!”
“Monsieur, your men can camp here if they must, I will show you to your room but tonight, my baby and I will spend the night at my friend’s house.”

In the next few days, the local chateau was commandeered and the village life was upturned under the oppressive rule of the SS 2nd Panzer Division. The French Government had retreated south to Bordeaux, the county town inabitants had almost all fled, Paris was occupied, and, horror of horrors, Petain who was now Head of State, signed an armistice. The only gleam of hope rested with an appeal to resist by an unknown French general called…de Gaulle, speaking from London on the French service of the BBC. Resist, how do you do that?

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Stephen December 31, 2010 at 10:33 am

This is excellent and very gripping stuff. Can’t wait to read the next bit, and please please please do a book, it would definitely make the best sellers list I’m sure.

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Annie Thom December 31, 2010 at 4:24 pm

I am still wondering if my mother is going to write the book herself. She says she will do so ‘when she retires’. At the age of 93, it is about time!

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Seb December 31, 2010 at 1:00 pm

I do like your writing style!

I look forward to reading more of your experience from this time.

Happy New Year!

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Annie Thom December 31, 2010 at 4:27 pm

Thank you. It is very encouraging to have comments. Keep reading, there is plenty more where this came from.

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PETER RITA TOBIN January 16, 2011 at 2:25 pm

VERY INTERESTING OUR GRANDSON IS GOING TO NORMANDY IN MARCH THIS IS ONE OF THEM THAT LIVES IN SPAIN

ALL OUR LOVE RITA AND PETERXXXXXXXXXX

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