Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Some local history

I must write this down before I forget it. Remember the old man I helped one day when he felt ill? His name is Robert and it’s quite a time since we had a talk of any length. Today we started to talk about the war. He was 14 when the Germans arrived and took over the village. He’d just finished school and had been awarded a new bicycle for being a good student. The Germans took all of the good bikes, so he dug a hole on the courtyard behind his house, wrapped up the bike and buried it so they couldn’t find it and take it. When the soldiers went to the beach for a swim (they used to skinny dip apparently), he and his friends used to go down and cut the tyres of the bikes so they would have to walk back to the village. I’m sure that they got up to other tricks too. To get to work at the boatyard Robert had to ride an old bike with hard tyres, sometimes he told me people used hose pipes wrapped around the wheels.

On the day that La Rochelle was liberated he heard the church bells ringing so he sneaked into the village church and rang the bell. The German HQ was only across the road so he disappeared pretty quickly after doing that.

Life was very hard for the villagers. The men were taken away to labour camps and the woman, children and elderly had to manage the best they could. There was hardly any food. As soon as he could, he joined the French Navy. He was in French waters for a year or so, which was a ‘comfortable’ job after the war and then they sent him to Indo China until he finished his five years duty. It was a much harder life and he was ill while he was there. On one of his train journeys from base to base he met the girl who was to become his wife, their first two years consisted of exchanging letters

Coming back to France in the early 50s wasn’t easy as there were no jobs, so he became a gendarme and worked his way up through the ranks to Major – he came back to the village to retire.

That’s what I remember from what he told me.

9 comments:

A Lady's Life said...

That is such an interesting story.
I love to listen to old peoples stories They have so many interesting things to say.I am sorry my grand parents died.We never think to ask questions and then when they go we have so many to ask.:)

Connie T. said...

I loved reading his story. I used to love getting letters. People don't mail them much anymore, they call you or email you. The thing with an email is they are not very long, just quick messages.

Marie said...

So fascinating! Thank you so much for sharing this. Our elderly are walking history books.

Doug Stephens said...

It is interesting to get a first-hand perspective on a different time, like you did here.

That what what I loved most about my short stint as a newspaper writer - the older people had the best stories.

Anji said...

A Lady's Life: I didn't ask my Grandparents, but I remember my mother's stories and my MIL has told me about her youth too.

Connie: I used to write a lot of letters, but now I'm an emailer I'm afraid. They do get quite long sometimes.

Marie: What seemed ordinary to them is fascinating for us

Doug: Writing for a newspaper would give you a good excuse to ask lots of questions. Most people have a story worth telling, though they might not think so.

alan said...

When you hear of the sacrifices that were made "for the greater good" during those times, it makes you wonder if the "we" of today could rise to the occasion if it were necessary...

alan

Anji said...

Alan: he told me that at the time he didn't realise how dangerous things could have been.

It's good to see you back!

A Lady's Life said...

My Mom never spoke about that time and neither did my Grandmother.
They wanted to forget but when she got her alzheimers and began to go back in time she relived it all and fixed the things that tormented her and I was witness to that. So when she died, she died at peace cause all was said and done.
If for this reason alone, no one should decide when a person should die because the soul may have unfinished business.

Anji said...

A Lady's Life: That must have been very hard for you. I think that you have a good point.