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The Pram

January 7, 2011

Normandy, Spring 1943 – 45

Baby Michel was born, in the middle of an increasing turmoil that would end in disaster for the family. What a start in life!

Mother and father were both doing their utmost to resist the overwhelming presence of the occupying forces. The Resistance movement was, by 1942, better organised thanks to the dedication of its members and the leadership from London. The Maquis, fighting for the same cause, were hiding in the woods up the road, its members being on the wanted lists of the Gestapo. Although very resourceful and resilient, these poor displaced men and women needed the help of the population who often risked their lives to keep them supplied with food, medication and clothing through all weathers.

The pram The pram

With the birth of baby nº3, the pram came down from the attic and was promptly put back in circulation. Of course, my brother Jacques and I fought to push baby around, not a mean feat as the vehicle towered above us. We loved to rock it as the suspension responded so very well. A huge body, hanging low on sturdy rubber wheels, with a surprisingly small canopy. Baby Michel, just as we had before him, sat quite high in the contraption, like a prince in his carriage. One third down the bodywork of the pram, you could imagine a Plimsoll line corresponding on the inside to the level of the shelf supporting the baby’s mattress. Below the shelf was a great void which you could access through a little trap door under the mattress. This void was extremely useful to store potty, nappies, baby’s milk bottles and a change of clothes……sten guns, revolvers, medical supplies, false papers, emergency clothing and provisions to help the army in hiding.

Mother often used to take Michel in the pram up the hill, to the woods, especially when we, Jacques and I, had our afternoon nap in the house. She’d take ages to get ready, and then, all of a sudden, she and baby were gone, leaving us in the care of our nanny.

The pram The pram

On her way up the hill, she would frequently meet the German patrols who were used to see her walking the baby in all weathers. They would invariably stop her and try to chat with her, congratulating her on having such a healthy looking infant. Soon, they were showing her photographs of their own children back in Germany, expressing how they missed home and how they wanted war to stop. Mother humoured them for a while, fighting to keep her composure, worried about the safety of her precious cargo and wary of the dangers posed by appearing to sympathise or fraternise with the enemy.

Once she’d reached the small wood, she’d meet up with the Maquis leader and distribute what she had brought, also exchanging information that would be of great use to those directly involved in the war effort.

However, Father soon put a stop to this highly risky enterprise and baby Michel was quite content to be pushed around the school playground by his older siblings. Then, Michel graduated to the pushchair, an “Art Deco” all metal, squeaky and very uncomfortable vehicle which was in the habit of ejecting the occupier when on bumpy ground. The pram was relinquished once more to the attic.

The pram The pram

On August 2nd 1944, Father disappeared at the hands of the Gestapo. For the next twenty days, the Gestapo agents were watching Mother closely, hoping she would lead them to other members of the resistance in the area. Baby nº4 was due to be born in February. Mother, determined to continue the war effort,——- brought the pram down, ostensibly in anticipation of the birth of the next infant. She started to use its cavity to hide all sorts, from false papers to allied uniforms ditched by those she was helping in their escape from the enemy.

The village was liberated on August 22nd. Mother had no news of my father and was facing “the most difficult time in her life”, she says. She immediately became heavily involved in the welfare of the community in the aftermath of the Occupation, as well as resuming her teaching post and raising three young children without a father. Baby François was born on February 27th, Father’s birthday. She never gave up the hope of seeing him again…………..but that is another story!

The pram, a little worse for wear, eventually found a new home in the village. How I wish we could have kept it!

{ 1 comment }

Stephen January 7, 2011 at 12:41 pm

I’m loving this. Fantastic writing style, extremely interesting, and quite gripping. We want more, plus a book please!

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