Gisele's recollection of events 1940-1946

Some recollections of events in May 1940 are a bit hazy. Some stupid things I remember clearly and important happenings are half forgotten.

At the beginning of May there were one or two air raid alerts, nothing much; then on the 10th of May when Belgium and Holland were invaded we had an air raid. We lived at 31, Rue du Jardin des Plantes. I remember waking up that morning and seeing my parents looking out of my bedroom window. I had slept through it all!

We decided to move to Sangatte to a cottage we had rented. I travelled daily by bus from Sangatte to Calais to attend the secondary school which was situated near the town hall. If there was an air raid alert, the whole school was taken to the town hall until the 'all clear' sounded. Yvonne Sabau and her mother were already in Sangatte and so were the Vanpouille family. One day, I was doing my homework in our cottage, when a sea mine exploded, which damaged the roof at the back of the building. Yvonne and her mother left their cottage in Sangatte to travel south. Some people had already left the village. Following Yvonne and her mother's departure we went to live in their home.

In the village and district there were British and French soldiers, some RAF personnel and some British sailors billeted in various places. About the 21st of May or thereabout, the Vanpouille who lived next door woke us up to tell us that the Germans were advancing and were not far away. We collected a few belongings. Renee & Dad & Pierre on a bicycle seat cycled. I got a lift with a farmer. The road was crowded with people going south - in cars, on bicycles, walking, pushing prams or wheelbarrows with belongings. When we got to Calais, I noticed there were queues outside some shops. We went to Pierre's gram'ma while Renee went to the British consulate to see if there was some evacuation of British subjects. Dad went to our house to collect passports and a few items of value. Uncle Harold was contacted but said they could not leave because Allen was in Escalles. Jack Ratcliffe was there, having cycled from Dunkirk on a stolen bike. Uncle Edmond was also told of our departure and gave us a lift to the harbour. There was a ship evacuating British citizens. When we arrived at the harbour an air raid was in progress. There were already signs of damage to the area. We crawled under a train to shelter then finally made it to the ship. As the ship left the harbour, I saw Allen arriving empty handed on a bicycle and looking dejected. Most people stayed below deck. Jack kept going up on deck as he wanted to see the harbour taking a battering. I remember a woman being very worried because she had left some washing on to boil. I can't remember if we landed at Dover or Folkestone.

The organisation on the other side of the channel was marvellous. The authorities were ready to receive us. There were questions to be answered and passports to be checked. The WVS (Womans Voluntary Service) was of course there. These splendid middle class English ladies were dishing out tea and food. They all smelled of lavender!

We went by train to London and were taken to a large terraced building. I still don't know where it was. There were a lot of refugees like us. We were fed and given blankets and slept in our clothes among all these people. In the morning we were given breakfast. Dad had a chat with a civil servant and told him he had a sister in Leeds. I've no idea if dad had enough money or if he had to pay for anything, seeing we left in such a hurry. We went to Leeds by train. Auntie Pattie, Uncle Jack and Gram'ma were very surprised when they opened their door. They seemed to have no idea that conditions were so bad in France.

Pierre went out in the street. Being a chatterbox he was soon talking away in French to a group of children. He came back in the house and announced all the children were deaf.

Auntie Pattie and Uncle Jack agreed to young Jack living with them. A few days after our arrival in Leeds we went to Nottingham where dad I think had some contacts through the lace trade. We were in rooms in Arnold. No luck there for dad. We came back to Leeds and rented some rooms in Meanwood. I can't remember exactly but eventually, after leaving Leeds once more, dad got a job in Newark on Trent. He was talking to a bus conductor, telling him he had just got himself a job but had no idea where he and his family were going to live. The bus conductor generously said he and his family could come and stay with him and his wife. We all moved to Newark to the bus conductor's house. They were a very young couple, newly married, the wife only 19. The furniture in the house was minimal - I think we slept on camp beds. They were kind and generous but it was far from being an ideal situation.

I went to the local primary school so I could improve my English. Being 16, I felt out of place but the teachers were kind and understanding and used to take me aside for one hour or two to teach me. The children were lovely and it used to amuse me to hear them sing.

At the bus conductors house it was difficult for both families. We were in a small 3 bedroom council house. Something had to be done. I have a feeling they didn't know what to do. Renee being born in the USA was eligible for repatriation. She thought that if she went to the states, she could get dad a job at the head office of Stern and Stern - that is what I understood at the time. She decided to go with Pierre.

Dad and I got another place to live. We rented rooms with the use of kitchen a few miles outside Newark-on- Trent. The lady of the house lived there with her young daughter. I think her husband was in the forces. I enrolled at the technical college for English, life drawing and dress designing. We missed being a complete family. Saturday we went to the cinema and had fish and chips for supper. Dad used to buy a large bottle of cider; we drank that after supper. He used to tell me that it wasn't alcoholic but of course it is. Life was not easy in the states. There was no job for dad. After 8 months, Pierre and Renee came back.

We went back to Leeds and dad got another job. We rented a flat above a shop in Meanwood. And eventually we moved into a house. Life became easier. Renee got a job and I started work in a chemist shop. I remember I was paid 17/6 a week. Pierre was at school and we were not far from Auntie Pattie, Uncle Jack and Gram'ma.

I personally felt I ought to do something for the war effort. I did not want to be called up for the forces and I certainly did not want to go into munitions work. I remember girls who worked in munitions factories coming into the shop; some of them had jaundice due to the materials and chemicals they used. I rather fancied the open air and the countryside and all being well, perhaps nursing later on. I noticed all the land girls looked fit and well.

On my eighteenth birthday on my afternoon off from the shop, I went to town and enrolled for the Land Army. I only told Auntie Pattie. I was declared physically fit to work on the land by the local doctor and in September I was off for a month training at an agricultural college.

See the recollection of my years in the land army

Partager |

Mis en ligne le 27/12/2012