5. ROND-POINT BUGEAUD
Paris XVI August 29th 1940
My Darling Family!
As I can no longer SEND you a letter, I shall begin to write sort of a diary, which will be sent when we are liberated by the British Lion, which I feel confident we WILL be - in time! I havent even tried to write anything since the letter I wrote from Port-Navalo, after our dreadful trip there, and which I hope you got. So I'll go back a couple of months to the time BEFORE, but LITTLE before the time we were "occupied".
Albert had to remain in the clinic in Vannes for five weeks - the dreadful weeks of our capitulation and occupation - while I remained with Cecile and her mother at Port - Navalo. When THEY penetrated even to that quiet, out-of-the-way corner of Brittany, I was no longer allowed to use "Marie-Rose", my little car and had to go to Vannes to see Albert twice a week in a little train that was ALWAYS crowded and that took an hour and three quarters to get to Vannes. The station was a couple of miles from the clinic and as the train arrived about one o'clock, I always went straight there and ate my sandwitches and hard boiled egg, that C. provided me with, beside A.'s bed. He was always SO glad to see me, poor Dear and he suffered so much at first that I could'nt possibly disappoint him, but it was always an exhausting trip. After staying with him about an hour, I would again fare forth in search of books for him to read and other errands for the house at Port-Navalo, where many things began to be scarce. After my errands, I would go back to the clinic and sit with Albert another hour, then to the station to stand in line for a seat in the train going back, which I did'nt always succeed in obtaining, arriving at Port-Navalo just in time for dinner. After five weeks of this, A. was better and was able to get up and C. went with me to get him and bring him to Port-Navalo to get back some strength before undertaking our trip back to Paris - we having been informed that all refugees must return to their homes as soon as possible. It was only because the doctor wrote a certificate saying that A. was in treatment in his clinic and unable to travel, that we could stay on.
Poor A. was very thin and so weak that he could hardly walk and yet he HAD to walk to the station to take the train, no conveyance of any kind being obtainable. We simply CRAWLED along and I thought we would never be able to make the grade! I had arranged with the obliging conductor of the train to let us in before the doors were opened, so that we could get seats, explaining that my husband was just out of the hospital, so he took us through a backdoor and we got settled before the doors were opened for the usual rush! It happened to be pouring rain and such a high wind was blowing when we reached Port-Navalo that I thought we could never fight our way to the house.
I dont know how I happened to hold out for so long before collapsing in my turn, but fortunately I did and it was only after A.s safe arrival at Cecile's that I was taken ill. I had a high fever for a week and felt like hell. A nice country doctor came to see me, but A. was worried and telephoned to his doctor in Vannes, who in spite of the difficulty of getting gas, managed to come out in consultation. After a very careful overhauling by both doctors, the specialist said "I dont think that its typhoid or pneumonia, but sometimes it takes a few days to be sure"- which did'nt sound frightfully reassuring to me !!! It turned out finally to be an infection of the kidneys. C. nursed me with untiring devotion and the doctor gave us a second certificate saying that I would need another month's rest before being able to undertake the trip back to Paris - this being the second time we had put off coming back. By the time I was up, the weather had turned lovely - it had been bad in July - and we spent our days sitting in C.'s sweet garden, I in a chaise-longue knitting layettes for the refugees and A. reading, getting brown and stronger and loafing and practically never going out of the garden, so that the obnoxious silhouettes spoiling the countryside were not too much in evidence, as far as we were concerned. C. was always very busy, first running a place where they gave aid to the many refugees and where she spent every afternoon - the mornings she bycicled over the countryside to get butter, eggs, meat, etc. for the house. When they began bringing detachments of our prisoners to dig trenches for the occupants, she also headed a committee to cook a meal for them each day and carry it to them. Everybody contributed what they could, a fisherman would bring his morning's catch to offer and Germaine (C.'s maid) would fry the fish - others brought meat, bread, wine, cigarettes etc. There were about 20 prisoners, different ones each day and my! were'nt they glad to get the food! I dont know how C. ever held out, she never sat down quietly anywhere during the 9 weeks we were there! My contribution had to be limited to knitting children's clothes for her to distribute where most needed - one layette going to a family who lived in one room with 7 daughters and when the eigth was born and was a boy, there was great rejoicing! All these refugees had to go back north as soon as means of transportation could be found and by the time we left, most of them had gone. A letter from C. tells me that the prisoners no longer came either, they have been sent north too, so perhaps she now sometimes sits down to enjoy her garden. When I Arrived in June it was a MASS of roses, climbing all over the house and walls of the garden, besides two arches of roses over the standard rose-garden. There was also a little regiment of lilies looking over the hedge into the lower part of the garden which is called the battery, because it was there that the guns of the old fort were. Now they are replaced by rows and rows of the finest dahlias I have ever seen and which are C.'s especial pride. The property consists of an old fort, which is the present living and dining room and in one end of which there is a large couch and a screen to conceal the washstand - this was Albert's and my room. There is another small house on the road with two bedrooms and a dressing room and this is where C., her husband (when he is there) her little girl and her mother sleep. The property extends right along the ocean front at the entrance of the Golfe du Morbihan and has the finest view in the place. Of course its pretty exposed to wind and weather and for this reason they planted hedges and rows of pine trees to protect the garden and by this time they make a splendid wall against the wind and they have turned this barren land into a garden which recalls those of the Cote d'Azur. To the left of the rose garden and separated from it by a lovely old stone wall, there is a small pine woods which also gives onto the road. While A. was still in the clinic in Vannes, shortly after our arrival, I was sitting in the garden knitting - C. having gone to her refugees - when I saw an unpleasant grey figure approaching along the wall. I at once rose and went towards the intruder and said "Monsieur?" He saluted and asked if we had any rooms to spare and on my answering that we had not, he said "can I see?" I said certainly and proceeded him into the fort. He at once pointed to the couch and said "someone can sleep there" - and I answered "yes, my husband and I sleep there" - said he "does this place belong to you?" "No, it belongs to my sister, who occupies that little house on the road with her husband, her mother and her little girl." "How many rooms are there in it?" "Two" - "in all there are three rooms and we are two families" - Said he "Its very beautiful here" - "Yes". And he left. Little by little, every house that was pleasantly situated and had an empty bed, had it occupied by a german, in one house near us, they made it so unpleasant for the proprietrice, that she decided leave her house and go away - so they had it all. Every time new ones arrived, they always tried to come to C.'s, but fortunately there really was NO room for them. So as they could not sleep there, they decided to place a gun on her property and chose our favorite spot for watching the sunset. They came, half a dozen officers and studied the situation and discussed where they would bring in the gun and which trees they would cut down to get it in. Fortunately by that time, Etienne (C.'s husband) had been able to join her and he went around the place with them. They noticed his ribbon of the "croix de guerre" from the last war in his buttonhole and at once became more polite, even deferential (strange to say they have the greatest respect for the "anciens combattants"!) and they even consulted E. about the best place to put their gun!! He answered that he was not an "artilleur" - so they asked in what arm he had made the other war and he said "I was in the tanks" - he might have added that he was decorated because his was the only tank of the division that survived! So it was all arranged where the gun was to be placed and we had our farewell view of the sunset that evening and then nothing more happened. This did not altogether surprise us, as what was true or forbidden one day, was wrong and allowed the next and it became difficult to know just what one could or could not do. In fact they appeared unable to make up their minds JUST what to do next. They are dreadfully afraid of a possible landing of the english somewhere and the whole coast, even in the most improbable and out of the way places, is covered with guns. They put guns on the lighthouse, left them for several days then took them away and placed one on the beach which disappeared in its turn? When we left, they had brought a detachment with pontoons and tried to build a bridge of boats across the gulf, with no success, as the current is too strong, but they came with many horses (all our horses in Brittany have been snatched) and Cecile now has 40 horses in her pinewoods and a tent for the soldiers to sleep in. The horses smell so strong that its impossible to enjoy the garden.
One of the hardest things to bear is the complete absence of news, all our newspapers having been immediately taken over by them, publish only lies, so we dont read them at all. There is a dreadful penalty attached to listening to the english radio and they have people on the watch to report anyone listening. Nevertheless people DO listen and a friend of C.'s - a lady from Nice who has a summer place near Port-Navalo - gave us news from time to time. We also got news from the german soldiers who are quartered with the inhabitants and cant always keep from talking. In that way we heard about the first contingent that tried to disembark in England. About 1500 that were quartered in a village nearby, where Germaine lives, were told that they were to leave for Brest next day. Many of them cried when they heard the news. Several days later, a soldier came to give the news to those that were left, that all those who had gone were drowned. Another day, they found the body of a german officer who had drowned himself rather than leave for Brest, he said he preferred to drown there. It seems that in many cases, they had to force them to get on the boats at the point of the bayonette and many who refused were shot. They are terrified of crossing the Channel. Forty young french boys at Lorient got a fisherman to consent to sail them over to England to join the french army they were trying to form there, but unfortunately they struck a mine and all were drowned. The French set fire to the huge petrol tanks at Lorient before the arrival of the Germans and we saw them burning for ten days from Port-Navalo - huge columns of smoke that fairly covered the sky. When I was in Vannes one day, I bought a cable to put in Marie-Rose, in order to be able to have her towed in case of a breakdown on our way home. Of course in any shop, if no-one is listening, we always exchange news and the young man in the shop told me that he had just come back from Lorient and that there he had seen his uncle - an old fisherman - in conversation with a german officer who was trying to get some information about the tides and currents and he heard his uncle say "you'll never land in England!" "Why not?" said the german furious and his uncle answered "I am an old fisherman and I have spent my whole life in those waters - I know the english coast well and I tell you, NEVER will you land in England!" This opinion of a connaisseur pleased us all very much. Another nice tale was told C. by the little schoolmistress of Arzon (a village about 4 kilometers from Port-Navalo). Her son, a boy of 15, on one of his walks, came upon three english soldiers who seemed perfectly exhausted and were trying to hide. He made them understand that he would help them and that they were to follow him. He brought them home to his mother, who had them undress and put on some fishermen's clothes and she buried their uniforms, then she gave them a good meal, which they devoured and then locked them in her room where they slept for 24 hours without waking up. They had escaped from a german prison camp and had been wandering and hiding for 3 days. She then found a fisherman who consented to take them in his boat to England and we hope with all our hearts that they got there safely!
Well, when I was up again and had got back some strength, I had to begin to make all the preparations necessary for our return to Paris. This meant first a trip to Vannes - one of those very tiring trips which made me wonder wether I was really well enough to undertake another one! I had first to have a permit to go back, next cards giving me enough gas on the way to reach Paris and an emblem to paste in front and back of my car. My gas tickets were to allow me to buy 50 litres of gas, ten of which could be taken in the Department of the Morbihan. Fortunately I still had about 20 litres in my tank, but this I did not reveal. Next came the problem of getting marie-Rose out of the garage in which she had been reposing for two months and in front of which were now installed german field kitchens. There was nothing for it, I HAD to ask them pleasantly in german to please let me get out my car - it was the first time I had even LOOKED at one of them! - However they were obliging and as it was evident that Marie-Rose could not be made to start, they called one of their drivers and he tried to help. However my battery was completely flat and there was no place in Port-Navalo where I could get it recharged. So THEY towed her about trying to get the engine started, but in vain and I had to end by getting a new battery sent by train from Vannes. The general impression one gets from the german soldiers is that they dont care a damn about invading England THEY ARE FED UP AND WANT TO GO HOME! In fact one of them said to me "I hope England will win and that she'll do it quickly, so that we can go home!"
On Sunday, August 18th, all was finally ready - permits of all kinds, Marie-Rose in good condition and tightly packed with as many of our belongings as she could hold, and we set forth on our homeward way. It was lovely weather and we had the top down and resolved to go slowly and enjoy this, our last trip until the end of the war. We had been told that we could get gas at Surzur - about 20 kilometres away and so that was our first stop - not for long however as we were immediately informed that they had none, but perhaps would get some next day! So we enquired WHERE they thought we would find any and they said that someone had got gas at Surzur, through which we had to pass anyway, so we went on. But here also there was no gas, but probably we might find some at Muzillac, they said, so again on we went. It was lunchtime when we reached this place and after a poor substitute for a meal, I proceeded to the only gas station to be told again that they had none! It would have been a desperate situation if I had not had some gas in my tank to begin with and if the nice young woman who kept the Hotel at Port-Navalo, had not sold me a small reserve of gas she had and was not allowed to use. At Muzillac they said I MIGHT find gas at Peaule, so with little hope of a favorable result, I tried again and this time to my great surprise I got 10 litres! We began now to see many signs of the refugees along the way - there were literally hundreds of cars in the ditches, partially burnt, and there were little groups of farmwagons, camping by the wayside. We kept hoping that as we got away from the coast there would be fewer germans, but they simply covered the whole country and we NEVER got away from them! The farther we went, the thicker seemed to be the troops of occupation and the fact that perhaps we would not be able to find a room for the night began to worry us a good deal. We also began to go through towns that showed signs of having been bombarded and along the side of the road there were simple soldiers graves, with a wooden cross and the soldiers helmet on it and always a bunch of fresh flowers. We reached Chateau-Gontier at the end of the first day and luckily found a room in the Hotel des Anglais, though the place was crowded with germans. We were pretty tired so we decided to spend two nights here. I went to the prefecture in the morning and was able to get 10 more litres of gas. There was street fighting in this place and many traces of it were visible. Its a charming old town with quaint streets, a little like Dinard. The fine old cathedral, part of which dates from the XIIth century and the surrounding buildings had been completely wrecked. The shell is still standing but it looks as if a wind storm would send it all crashing down. It is beautifully situated on a hill above the river, surrounded by a "jardin anglais". I looked into the church through the iron gates and saw only rubbish heaps and twisted iron, except at the foot of one column there was one of those small white marble placques that are given in thanks for prayers answered which was the only thing untouched in the whole cathedral - it had on it in gold letters "Merci"!
At Chateau-Gonthier we saw them practising with pontoons on the river - also passing in review hundreds of OUR horses, also "Stosstruppen" marching through singing (they HAD to sing, however out of breath they were, for a watchdog ran constantly along the lines to see if ANYONE was NOT singing and he was soon called to order!) Troops of soldiers in shorts were running along all the streets exercising, for they keep them busy every MINUTE and if any of them HAVE brains they never have time to use them! This was the last place I could get ANY gas, tho' I asked EVERYWHERE, so it was lucky I had hidden that little reserve!
We left Tuesday morning early with the idea that we would try to spend the night in Chartres, about 200 kilometres away. We had a good lunch at Le Mans, good as to quality but very small as to quantity. Again I tried for gas, but they looked into my tank and said they could only give gas to people who had less than 5 litres.
The nearer we got to Paris, the more everything was full of germans and we did'nt even slow up at Chartres. We went on to Maintenon but here too everything was full up. We reached Paris about 4 P.M. next day.
October 13th - We have been home now for almost 2 months. Marie did wonders in getting us food each day by making endless queues in front of shops and we have cards for everything. We can only get very tough meat as everything is requisitioned and we can get so little each day that we save our tickets for a week and then get a piece of tough meat for a "pot-au-feu" which lasts us for several days. The rest of the time we eat green beans, carrots or turnips - sometimes mushrooms or by some miracle an egg or two. Of course potatoes were a resource before they had that row at Les Halles when 1000 kilos of them arrived and the g's immediately requisitioned 800 of them; generously leaving 200 for the whole of Paris. There ensued a general riot, the police had to be called in and a couple of germans got killed. So to punish Paris we got no more potatoes and the 200 kilos that were left were inclosed in an iron cage where they could rot for all to see!
All shops have lists posted in their windows of the things they HAVE'NT got and for which its useless to stand in line, such as butter, milk, eggs, coffee, tea, chocolate, rice, noodles, any canned goods whatever, chickens or rabbitts. Some find it simpler to write on a slate "plus rien" and place this in the front window. We somehow manage to exist. I got a small stock of couscous (which I dont care for much) and when there is nothing else we eat that. Another little incident in the food question happened the other day when Marie having heard the good news that some cabbagges were to be had at our little market rushed forth at once to get one. There were already about several hundred standing in line since dawn when 2 trucks of this rare treat drew up, was unloaded and as everyone got ready to pass by in line and each get one, an order was received from the "Commandature", the cabbage were all put back onto the trucks and driven away under escort! You can imagine how such things make people feel about the Germans! Each day Marie spends a good deal of her time running hither and yon to get food of some sort and I always go about with a folding bag in CASE I should see something in some other part of town which we lack in ours and usually I come back with some find such as washing powder, for instance (soap is entirely out of the question ANYWHERE!), or a rabbit or a bit of fish and once even a cold storage chicken!!, or mushrooms or a gift from my friend in the hospital - with a broken hip! - in the shape of an egg or so or a jar of peanut butter. It was last December that my friend fell and broke her hip and she has been in the American Hospital ever since; Then the dreadful time came when it seemed best to leave Paris, she was packed into an ambulance and driven with the crowds of refugees to Chateauroux and so joggled about that her mending hip was all broken again! Now she is back here and has to have the operation all over again!
About a month ago I had a telephone message from my elderly friend G.O. who lives in the Hotel Lord Byron where she had furnished an apartment and where she hoped to end her days in peace and quiet! This Hotel having been requisioned, she had to get out with all her furniture and belongings in 24 hours time! The proprietor of the Hotel managed through friends to find her a small apartment, get a moving van at once and she and her belongings were fairly catapulted into it where I was waiting to receive the things and arrange the rooms as much as possible for her to sleep in a bed with sheets! For an old lady of 80 this was a pretty trying and difficult matter - especially as she has no longer a clear head and could'nt understand what it was all about! Of course this same thing may at any time happen to us!
The spoken journal we hear while standing in line for each and every thing we buy is the only one we care to hear and the other day we were cheered by the news that the R.A.F. bombarded the Casino at Havre while an important meeting of Germans was being held there and 13 Generals were killed! This seemed too good to be true, but was confirmed by the passage of two sealed railway carriages through the Gare de l'Est en route for Germany and by the fact that all the flowers were being bought up and the red flag with a spider in the middle, that floats on all houses where they are, was put at half mast and has disappeared from the Eiffel Tower. Also many wounded have arrived at the American Hospital. A friend of mine told me the other day that coming back from a trip somewhere a number of german officers got into his compartment and taking it for granted that he did'nt understand german they talked freely among themselves saying that this was a stupid war - that England was going to win and that the best thing for them to do was to get out as quickly as possible - one of them saying that they had come into France at 80 kilometres an hour and would probably go out at 120!
Someone who works in Guerlain's Perfume shop told me an amusing story when Goering honoured them with a visit. He arrived surrounded by a bevy of officers while soldiers kept guard outside letting no-one else into the shop. He bought 14000 frs.worth of perfume and was about to leave when suddenly he turned back, saying "Oh I forgot "la Marechale" (his wife)! thereupon buying 2000 frs.worth for her! Puzzle: for whom was the rest of the perfume, for himself ? It may well have been, for his brother lives in Neuilly in one of the Rothchild Houses opposite which M. lives, who has ample opportunity for seeing all that goes on there. They do a great deal of lavish entertaining, thereby rapidly diminishing the Rothchild's fine wine cellar! The fat Goering brothers paint their faces like cocottes!
Goering lives in the senate, which is in the Luxembourg Gardens He is having it all changed . The English being always very accurately informed of all that is going on, dropped leaflets on Paris the other day telling the germans that it would be a good plan NOT to have any meetings THERE when all was completed, as they would then see to it that the building would be damaged!
When first they arrived in Paris, they organized a monster military parade to edify us and in preparation for which they displaced several "islands" on the Place de la Concorde to make more room. When all was ready the R.A.F. threw down leaflets saying : "Parisians, stay home today, we will take care of the "Boches"!, so the revue was countermanded and never took place.
November 14th - The days are so taken up with the hunt for food that I havent written in my journal for over a month. The last two weeks have been really Gala occasions, we having been able to acquire through a cousin in the country, a piece of beef and a chicken! The beef made a "pot-au-feu" which lasted the week and the chicken was really DEEEEElicious! We divided it in half (we are three) feasting two days and on the third Marie made a "ragout" with the head, feet and generally unattractive parts! She brings in this steaming dish proudly and selects the head and a foot "pour Monsieur" - "Ah on pourra se regaler" (we can now have a feast!) and we DO! I had a sweet potatoe instead and with a puree of onions this makes a fine meal. We have in fact more trimmings for meals than meals. There are plenty of apples, dates, chestnuts and breakfast foods, which can be changed into desert by putting fruit juice on them, there being no question of course of milk! Also once I found some currie powder and this helps couscous greatly when there is nothing else. So we manage somehow and are both perfectly well, though a bit thinner each day. The unfortunate part is that as I always have to walk many miles to find something to eat, I get VERY hungry and NEVER has food of any kind tasted so good. Our german owned newspapers in the meanwhile give us good advice such as tasty way of accomodating nettles or that 6 dozen oysters make a good meal and besides have the advantage that the shells can be used as fertilizers or to make roads! In fact you get the impression as you go about town that the ONLY things that are really plentiful and can be obtained anywhere without tickets are oysters, apples, salad (because there is no oil for dressing) chestnuts and "mate-rancho" which is some sort of south American tea. We HAVE achieved salad again, Marie brought in triumphantly a whole bottle of oil which she had made with something she bought at the Drugstore and boiled for half an hour in a quart of water. It is'nt objectionable - in fact it has NO taste at all - mais "on fait ce que l'on peut!". I seem to be talking a great deal about food, but you have no idea what an obsession it can become! For instance when I come home in the metro and have some find peeking out of my filet, immediatly the persons next to me, after eyeing my bag enviously begin a conversation such as "oh, what beautiful turnips, where did you find them!" or "You have found cepes" (a large kind of mushroom) "How do you cook them?" As Marie is the one who cooks them I feel a bit embarassed, but I say "oh with a little garlic and a little butter - if you have any!-" "First of course you make them disgorge their water!" "Oh yes of course!" "I found some coffee the other day in the Rue Levis'" - so everyone who heard this piece of news got out at the next station to rush to the street in question, only to find that it had all been sold long before we got there!
My poor friend Betty is again at the American Hospital and this time half of her is in a plaster cast for three months. Dr.Bailleul has recently been made french head of the Hospital to replace Dr.de Martel, who committed suicide the day the germans entered Paris. He was a jew! I went to see her the other day and she gave me a magnificent present - an EGG!!! - We thought long before we decided what would be the best use to make of such a rare treat and finally voted for a cauliflower with béchamel sauce, in that way four could enjoy it! The Germans take 80 per cent of everything we have. The paper announces today that for Xmas we are to have an extra gramme of butter apiece! I dont know just how much or how little that will be, except that it would be a twentieth part of the 20 grammes packages of tea I am still able to get sometimes and they contain just 6 teaspoons full of tea - tea being lighter than butter, I suppose the extra gramme would be about the amount that sticks on the paper it is wrapped in!
We have been hearing rumblings of revolt coming from the Latin Quarter lately where the "jeunesse estudiantine" is getting more and more openly for de Gaulle, two young girls (15 & 16 years old) had been pasting inscriptions with "Vive de Gaulle" on german motors. Then on the 11th of Novembre about 1000 young students paraded each carrying two poles (a gaule is a pole) and chanting "Vive, vive,vive". Also at one of the lectures at the Sorbonne, a german officer came to assist (the lectures are free for all) and immediatly all the students got up as one man and left the room. As there was nobody left but the german, the prof. folded up his papers and left too. A more serious thing happened in a café on the Bd Saint-Michel when a german officer who was slightly drunk (they lap up champagne like milk) saw a young girl who pleased him and intimated his desire that she should follow him out of the café. As she refused to go, with true german gallantry he slapped her face. In the twinkling of an eye all the students rushed at him and threw him over the balcony!
On the 11th I went out about 5 o'clock and walked to the Etoile, with a little bunch of Parma violets, joining the long procession of people bringing similar bunches to place on the grave of the Unknown soldier which grew and grew until they made a carpet way out into the street. The Champs-Elysees were full of students, in little groups as all manifestations were forbidden, first one group singing the Marseilleise, quickly to be followed by another group across the way and when each time the police charged to stop them, they flitted lightly and rapidly in ALL directions like sparrows, the Marseilleise always being taken up again by the group farthest away from the police. Of course a great many were arrested and banged about, but there were so many of them, and they could run so much faster than the police, that the latter became perfectly exasperated and were joined by a detachment with mitrailleuses when of course everyone decamped. The Sorbonne has since been closed.
There are five Pensionnaires here now. One of the new lot expected was killed and two others are prisoners, so there are only Two new ones. I envited them to spend the evening and made a lovely surprise for all as I found a few sticks of wood and had a cheerful woodfire burning in the fireplace, the first heat we had seen or felt this year and the Fondation being all stone and very large is very, very cold!
November 17th - This week is beginning admirably! We had fine porc chops for lunch and we have beef for a pot-au-feu for tomorrow! Having Marcel, as it were a member of the family, since he is Marie's husband, is proving very useful, for not only has he a cousin who is a butcher, but one of his "copains", with whom he convoys munition trains, is employed in the "Octroi de Paris" and seems to be engaged on the side in a little bootlegging - hence the porc chops, also a pound of butter, 6 kilos of potatoes and perhaps some beans for next week!! He also MAY be able to get us chicken now and then, so we are looking forward to a decided increase in our food supplies!
A french aviator told me a nice bit of news yesterday. When the germans bombarded London the other day, on their return trip - it was night - an english plane joined them and came back with them, in the dark they could not see this uninvited guest. On arrival at their french base, the headlights of the air port were turned on to allow them to alight, illuminationg them so splendidly that the english plane could aim his six bombs perfectly, dropping neatly one on each plane before flying away! Another tale heard at Orly is that the alarm we had the other night was occasioned by a german plane returning and failing to announce the fact, it was taken for a british one and brought down in flames!
We hear rumors from time to time to the effect that leaflets have been thrown down by the english saying that they are going to bombard Paris and that the Parisians must prepare food for several days and go underground when the bombardment begins - also we hear that the germans say if they have to leave Paris, they will first blow it all up and THEY advise people to take food for several days and also go underground! I dont really believe it will actually come to that, still one never knows and its well to be prepared. So my picnic basquet is well packed with biscuits, chocolate, foie-gras, Brands essence of beef and chicken, two bottles of wine and two of water and a little brandy. There always seems to be something else that one has to prepare for! I have just finished mending all my old sheets - those that were destined to become dishcloths-and have put my good sheets away in the attic. This was because the germans have been going about Rennes, Versailles and some parts of Paris requisitionning all the bed-linnen - they went right through everybodie's linen closet and carried off half of everything - so I prefer that they could have my old mended sheets if they come here.
Betty's doctor is at the head of a military hospital, still full of french wounded. They came there and asked how many blankets they had on each bed and when they heard that there were two, they took one off each bed.
December 30th - Since last I wrote things have been going on much the same way, except that it gets constantly harder to find food and most of our time is spent running hither and yon to discover some. Things have a curious way of suddenly disappearing completely from one day to the next - this has happened to onions, potatoes, chestnuts, oranges and even carrots - people now have to stand in line for these as well! All these things seemed to abound and suddenly they disappeared and never are met with again. In view of this repeated phenomena, Marie bought supplies of carrots, turnips, rutabaga and leeks and made a garden in the cellar, laying the vegetables in layers and covering them with earth they stay fresh for a long time. She was so proud of her garden that she announced each new kilo of carrots she planted till finally A. - after a steady diet of carrots which lasted a month - said "dont talk to me any more about carrots, I dont want ever to see one again!" Just the same he will presently be very glad to find them in soup during the winter.
Like a diligent "ant" I run all about with my basket collecting any canned things I can find - one here, another there, on the hunt each day so I now have a nice little reserve of canned corn, foie gras, jam, asparagus (served on toast with a cream sauce this takes the place of meat and makes an entire meal). For two weeks we had no meat at all, even the butcher cousin could get none. This is why - there are german officers in all the markets and they immediately requisition the best of everything. One got into conversation with a farmer the other day and told him that he wanted to buy some beef on the hoof and would go along with him to his farm to see what he could offer. So they started off in the farmer's car and talked, as it was a long drive to Normandy, and finally the farmer admitted that he would be darned glad when the germans left. Then he got frightened, thinking he ought to have been more careful especially as the officer then changed the direction in which they were going and on coming to a wood he told the farmer to stop, the latter said to himself "ca y est" now I'm going to be shot. The officer got out saying "here is where I leave you - I see that you dont care much for germans - you can go home alone now, I'm english and here is where my plane picks me up".
As time goes on, the french of all classes and all parts of France are more and more unaninous in their enthusiasm for the english and this is shown sometimes in a curious way. For instance when the english bombard aviation fields, stations, bridges or concentration of troops, the inhabitants all stand about and watch with the greated interest instead of going underground or even thinking of their own safety.
My nice "filleul de guerre" - he is a "journalier", that means he hires himself to work in the fields at harvest time - his great ambition in life is to grow beautiful flowers - is now here in a hospital where he is to be fitted with a pair of legs his own having been burnt off in a bombardment. When I went to see him I found him sitting up on his bed, his two legs, but he is full of courage and can shift himself along the bed and get alone into his wheeled chair which he then rolls rapidly through the domitory and even out into the garden. When pointing to his two stumps he said to me "it is'nt THAT that hurts so - its seeing them everywhere and knowing that that was useless". His wife told me that she had been to see her husband in the summer when he was in the Hospital in the North. She was preparing to go there on her bycicle but when she had her permits to go and was all ready to start the germans came and took her bycicle, a bran new one that her husband had worked so hard to be able to buy her! They also took the twelve rabbits that she had raised to have something for herself and the three children to eat. She had to use her husbands old bycicle and when she reached a wide river, there was no more bridge, so she crossed in a place where the water came only to her waist, carrying the bycicle above her head.
A wave of hilarity has swept over the country, occasioned by Mussolini's bombastic speech announcing that the machine of war of Italy was beginning to march and nothing would be able to stop it and they would break the backbone of the Greeks - in reality it seems to be the Greeks that cant be stopped and are rapidly taking Albania and "breaking the backs" of the Italiens. So when italien officers appear in the streets of Marseilles they are hailed thus : "Teh! Les Vainqueurs" and on the frontier they have put large signs saying "Attention! les Grecs Ici la France!" Also they have scattered leaflets along the Cote d'Azur saying "Touristes!! Si vous voulez visiter I'Italie Engagez-vous dans l'Armee Grecque!" "Tourists, if you wish to visit Italy Enlist in the greek army!"
March 16th Food is getting more and more difficult to find and after so many months of being underfed we are beginning to feel the effects a little - one gets tired VERY easily and feels sleepy all the time, otherwise there is no especial inconvenience for one does'nt feel very hungry, one gets used to it. During Jan.& Feb. we had plenty of oranges and ate about four a day which was nice, but now they have disappeared and the only fruit are rather ratty apples and dates. Here are our week's menus, which it may interest you to see:
Sunday - lunch small fried fish (they are larger than minnows, but much smaller than sardines), a can of corn, a small fragment of cheese and an apple. dinner soup of carrots, rutabaga & turnips with a great deal of bread, to give consistency, cauliflower, stewed figs.
Monday - lunch lentils, smoked eel, cottage cheese, almonds (they LOOKED fine, but when the hard, fat shell was cracked, the kernel was as thick as a piece of paper and out of 5 there were 3 bitter ones, which did not encourage one to crack more, as bitter almonds give one a headache) dinner - same soup as the day before, oysters, apples.
Tuesday - lunch omelette (we got the eggs through Betty's cook, who got them from her "marchand de volailles" because she is from the same "pays" and I went across the river to get the precious things, a long and tiring trip for ME, but it was well worth while as I got a whole dozen eggs and they did us for three days), cauliflower, cheese and figs. dinner usual soup, noodles (they are no longer made with the right kind of flower and are as tasty as castor-oil!) apples, dates.
Wednesday - lunch omelette with a little bacon on it, cauliflower, apples, dates. dinner Lentil soup, smoked eel, puffed barley with fruit juice.
Thursday - lunch veal chop with noodles (same as above!) apples. dinner oysters, oatmeal (without milk or sugar), cheese, dates.
Friday - lunch omelette, spinach, apples, dates. dinner kouskous with mushrooms and bean soup, cheese, dates.
Saturday - lunch coquilles of fish (VERY little fish, some bread crumbs and mustard sauce, you buy them already made), beans, apples. dinner bean soup, carrots, apples, dates.
You will notice that the same things come back every day until you wish they had never been invented!
Occasionally we have a beano when B.'s night nurse finds something in Courbevoie at the "Marche Noir" and then I can walk four miles to the Hospital and get once a guineahen (it fed us for two days) and once a whole kilo of mushrooms (two more days food). Now I'll leave the subject of food, though one HAS to give a great deal of time and thought to it, and speak of other things. Here is a french definition of how the germans understand collaboration. "Give me your watch and I'll give you the time!"
Marie has made soap lately with great success. She used ivy leaves, talcum, a little washing soda, a little washing powder and some alum. You boil it for a long time, strain, pour into a tin box, let it cool, turn it out and let it harden for several weeks. At the end of that time it washes somewhat and foams a little!
April 14th - The news of the day is that we have a wireless! Georgia was the good fairy who gave it to us. For several months she has been trying to make up her mind to go home as the American Embassy are continuilly enviting her to do. The idea that she might be put into a concentration camp - as the english have been, in case the U.S. came into the war, was what made her think of going home and she was miserably making her preparations. But as she has passed the age when she would have to go to camp, she has now decided to stay. The trip to America is anything but pleasant now. You cant engage any sort of passage ahead but you must go to Lisbon and wait your turn for a birth on a boat. This may mean waiting for several months and there are very few rooms to be found in Lisbon. The boats are small and of course crowded to the utmost, so taking it all in all, it seems better to stay here. But she wants me to keep the radio and its grand now to hear a calm, cultivated english voice telling us the truth about things instead of having only the official german lies on our radio newspapers feed us on.
Albert went to the annual "flea-market" the other day and the only thing he brought back was an especial "antenne" that can be fixed on any wireless to hear better. The man selling them amused him very much. There was a crowd around him and this is what he said : "Messieus Dames - naturellement vous avez chacun vot' petit poste de radio et naturellement aussi vous voulez entendre les emissions sur ondes courtes. Je n'ai pas besoin d'en dire davantage - vous comprenez tous pourquoi et vous savez tous pourquoi vous voulez entendre sur les ondes courtes" and he explained that with his especial antenne this happy results would be achieved! Everybody immediatly bought one!!!
The virulent anti-british campaign that our present masters treat us to in our papers and plastered all over our walls has exactly the opposite effect of that desired and NO-ONE believes anything they say. There have been enourmous posters everywhere with a figure of Jeanne D'Arc burning at the stake or Napoleon on his way to Saint Helena with the legend "c'est toujours les memes!" "La Perfide Albion!" Written below on one of these someone had written in large blue pencil "c'est pourtant pas eux qui m'ont pris mon velo!"
At the beginning of the war the Printemps got out charming scarfs with silhouettes of english soldiers marching across one half and french on the other. I got one and wear it constantly with the english soldier on the outside and when opposite any germans I ostentatiously pull it to rights and draw attention to it as much as possible. THEY seem to be too dumb to recognize the little silhouettes, but the French DO and give me many a friendly smile and nod of recognition on their account. In one shop when I was paying for my purchase, the cashier looked at my scarf, saying "Vous en avez des petits Tommies!" - said I "oui, n'est-ce pas qu'ils sont gentils? Il y a aussi des Francais!" - "Oui, c'est l'entente cordiale" - "Pour moi, elle est toujours aussi cordiale" - "Pour nous aussi, Madame"! And so it goes and there is a community of ideas that draws all classes of French together such as I have never before seen. They say there are quite a number of Italiens here too, but I never see any, they dont go about much, there being almost always a fight when they do. It seems that they fought with their dear german allies on the Place du Trocadero the other day and some french person sent in a call for "Police-Secours" who arrived rapidly in a camion full of police but when they saw who were fighting they just got in again and drove away saying "Thats none of our business". Another tale that goes the rounds is that a german officer stopped a military car at one of the Paris gates and asked the driver where he was going. He said to Melun and the german thereupon got in saying he was going there too. They drove off together and on reaching Melun, the driver of the car asked where his passenger was going, received the address, drove there, the passenger got out and the car drove away with its driver waiving his hand and saying "By-By".
May 2nd, 1942 - For over a year my journal has been waiting for a new chapter and after rereading it I feel the need of going on to tell you some of the many things this last year has brought. The changes for the most part have been so gradual as to be almost unnoticeable - for instance I am AMAZED to see the richness of the menus we had last winter, given as an example of the very limited amount of food we were living on. Probably we have now reached the minimum we can exist on. It seems beyond the dreams of avarice (or gluttony) to have been able to enjoy so many dates, apples and cheese as we did last year! Now there is no more need to trudge about the streets in the hopes of finding something, for there is nothing to be had ANYWHERE now without a special ticket and being inscribed in a special shop for that article. One no longer gets exhausted running about, but also there is never the pleasure of the hunt and perhaps SOME happy find! On the whole we got through the winter better than we expected and this partly because we went through a very bad time first. The second of last October, I went my usual rounds with my bag, this time to the Etoile, where I sometimes found canned things. It was rather cold and windy and after buying some tomatoes, as I emerged onto the streets I was met by a burst of wind and felt as though I had had a blow on my chest which made me feel so queer that I decided to take the metro home. While waiting on a bench for the train, I felt worse and worse and thought it would NEVER come. When it did I ran to get in, & I suddenly could'nt see anything more but nobody was in the door, so I fell into the first seat, feeling dizzy and frightfully sick at my stomach! I managed to hold on until I got out of my station and then I unswallowed! I got upstairs and to bed where I had an access of chills that made the bed shake for an hour in spite of hot-water bottles and eiderdowns. One nice young doctor got here by evening on his bycycle (they not being allowed to use their cars) coming all across Paris from the Hospital. He said he though it was grippe but in a couple of days it proved to be a fine attack of double pneumonia. He got me a good trained nurse who slept in the adjoining bathroom while A. slept in his bureau. I was very, very ill for 2 months, my doctor coming almost every day. Very opportunely an unexpected check for one hundred dollars came from Will Lyster just as I was taken ill and thanks to that and 10.000 frs sent by Mme de L. and 6.000 from G.O. we were able to meet all doctors and nurses expenses without worrying. One complication about having a trained nurse now is the difficulty of feeding them and it certainly was a joyful day when we could let her go. So alls well that ends well and I am glad you all knew nothing about it!
When I was up again and gradually getting back my strength, Marie appeared earlier than usual at the foot of my bed and without the usual breakfast tray saying "Madame, Marcel est mort!" (Marcel was her husband). We awoke with a start and she said: "il s'est tue dans la nuit, il s'est pendu dans la cave!" The poor fellow had a bad inheritance, his mother having died in an insane asylum, his father drank, added to this was the lack of food and the necessity of going on working just the same. The systematic slow starvation which all people in the occupied countries are subjected to reduces the power of resistance to such an extent that any inherent weakness may end disastrously. Marcel was given a decent funeral and there was a church service for our nice Doctor, though he had never seen Marcel, did not think it wrong to write a certificate saying that he was out of his mind and not responsible when he committed suicide, as of course any one is! To Marie it was a great comfort that he could have mass said.
The metro being the only way to get about is always very crowded and the other day when rushing along to our transfer station at the Chatelet we heard what sounded like a street Fair, namely the music of an accordeon. It proved to be a blind "mutile" of the last war, sitting propped up against the wall and playing with all his heart and soul while the crowd surged past, encluding many germans; ALL the French stopped to drop coins into his hat for he was playing "Vous n'aurez pas l'Alsace et La Lorraine" followed by the "Chant du Depart" (which would correspond to Dixie with us!).
Our metro experiences are'nt always so amusing, for when there is a raid on, the metro has to stop, everyone must get out and go into the deepest parts and wait there for the end of the raid. This may happen several times during one trip and when it does, one saves time by getting out and walking home, even if its all across Paris!
When I was again up and able to listen to the radio, it was wonderful to hear the news over the B.B.C. to which has been further added the news from America. One evening as we were thus employed we were very much annoyed by a thunderstorm which interfered with hearing, but we kept on just the same for the usual ¾ hour, then I opened our windows to look out at the storm and behold, it was'nt a storm at all but a bombardment! The R.A.F. were bombarding the Renault works and threw down flares which hung in the sky and made everything look vivid and unreal and very beautiful. The racket was deafening and went on for another hour. The next morning I went with hundreds of others to Billancourt and wandered along the bombarded streets where the destruction was appalling and heartrending, as the Renault works are scattered all about amongst living houses and though bombs fell very exactly on the works, the force of the explosion brought down all the houses around as well. The hundreds of people I elbowed in my walk gazed at all this ruin silently, then moved slowly on, but I did not hear one single word of unfriendliness for the english - everyone knows its necessary.
June 17th ,1942 - I am a year older than when I wrote my last instalment. It seemed as though we would have to celebrate by fasting, as Marie went early to market to come back emty handed after 3 hours standing in line to get carrots (which by the way are NOT my favorite food and not a very good substitute for a birthday cake!). But when I sallied forth in my turn, fortune favored me and I discovered some mushrooms at a very high price (if it had'nt been inordinately high they would have been all gone!) and also some peaches, not very ripe ones, but still peaches, so we had a fine lunch after all, consisting of potatoes (lately we have been allowed to buy a couple of pounds each of this longed for treat), lettuce salad (to be sure without oil!) and creamed mushrooms (with powdered milk of course!) and peaches for desert. This was crowned by a cigarette, the first in six months. Marie's butcher cousin obtained a pakage of 10 Nav-Cut, probably in exchange for more meat than the cigarette owner was entitled to. We further celebrated the day by each having an extra slice of bread, which we shall have to make up for by having a little less each day next week. The bread has grown so poor that we have to buy especial "pain brioche" which requires more tickets, so that gives us each one slice per meal. We both had a regular attack of ptomaine poisening by the bread a month ago. A.'s attack came first and never have I seen anyone so seasick, except one of those lions wounded by the arrows of Ashurbanipal on the assyrien reliefs in the British Museum. This flood kept up most of the night. An exactly similar attack seized me a week later, accompanied this time by a splitting headache. Many others had similar attacks which the doctors attributed to something in the bread. I have kept the best birthday present for the last, the most unexpected and thrilling surprise I ever had. Georgia presented us with ONE KILO of beautiful normandy butter! Black market of course and probably an unheard of price, as well as immoral to encourage this trafic - nevertheless we were SO GLAD that she was not deterred by these arguments from acquiring it! Marie is busy salting it and so it will last us for at least a month. I had been getting a little through my "filleul de guere", but its more and more difficult as the farmers have to take all their butter to the "Kommandantur" and cant always hide it. I have now arranged with Marie's sister to send me eggs whenever she can, and we send a box with a compartment for each egg back and forth, so that every 2 or 3 weeks I may get 30 eggs which helps a great deal, as the fragment of meat we are entitled to reminds me of a story I heard of a client in a restaurant who had steak, when asked by the waiter how he had "found" the steak (meaning was it cooked to his taste) he answered "oh, quite by accident, a fried potatoe." I am now a very busy gardener, as the front lawn has been divided among us and I have a strip right acroos the middle part. I dug it all up myself, Marie planted beans, a few potatoes (we coul'nt get more to sow), peas, tomatoes, cabages, radishes and salad. Three afternoons had to be spent stringing a network across the nicely sprouting peas to protect them from the pigeons, but it proved useless, as they just wriggled underneath the strings! Henceforth we can only sow beans.
November 9th, 1942 - Since last I wrote almost five months have gone by - five months composed of days and weeks of hope always deferred, hope of hearing some thrilling news of an english landing somewhere, that meant we would soon be delivered. We all counted absolutely on this during the summer and people began to get discouraged and to think that probably they would be dead before relief came! Some way or another we manage to get enough to eat to keep alive and now at last we have the wonderful news of the magnificent english victory in Egypt and then on top of that the news of the successful landing of "des forces americaines enormes" in Algeria and Morocco! Everyone is wearing a beaming smile, so what does it matter if there is nothing to eat, we are used to that and can now hold out until the end! So I feel moved to continue my letter, for perhaps SOON I'LL BE ABLE TO SEND IT!
I have had really splendid success with the two strips of earth I was given to cultivate. I LOVE gardening and now its a real passion! We had fine butterbeans during the summer, beets, salad, tomatoes, radishes and now carrots, cabages and Brussel's sprouts - also three kilos of dried beans put away for winter. I do ALL the gardening myself. One of the ways the lack of food makes itself felt is in the loss of memory. This has happened to Georgia and as she is entirely alone, I look after her, have taken over what money she had to draw out of her bank account, Americans not being allowed to have one, and I being French could, so I put her money on mine and give it to her a little at a time as she needs it. We all have to sell some of our furniture or linen from time to time to get money to eat. There was a round up of Americans not long ago and all under 65 years of age were sent to a concentration camp. About 500 women have been sent to Vittel where they are in a large Hotel, not too badly off as they get packages from the U.S. I believe the utter lack of privacy is rather appalling and having nothing whatever to do and as they are treated as prisoners, they are locked in and only allowed to write an occasional postcard with an answer attached.
December 10th - 1942 - Same as usual except for the thrill of listening each day to the radio and hearing some good news FOR US instead of just encouragement to wait and see! Cecile, mother and daughter are back in Paris, having finally been turned out of their lovely little home at home at Port-Navalo. It was taken over by the Germans who have torn up her whole rose-garden, mined the place in fear of an english landing, as they have done to the entire french coast way down to Spain, all places along the coast are transformed into fortresses. When the Americans landed in Africa, the G.'s expected them to land also in Toulon, and posthaste two armored trains bristling with canon and soldiers were dispatched to the Cote D'Azur. One headed for Toulon and one for Lyon. Ten kilometres out of Paris, the first train was halted by a danger signal. The officer in charge jumped out in a rage to ask what was the matter. The engine driver pointed to the red signal and refused to go on without further instructions, as this being a special train and not on the schedule the road probably was'nt clear. There was telephoning back and forth between stations and in this way half an hour elapsed before the necessary orders arrived to have the train continue. It flew ahead with all speed until it was again stopped by another red signal, the same farce being re-enacted every hour or so, until they reached Toulon in 36 hours instead of 20! The second train was stopped by a little red flag at the entrance of the first tunnel. Excitement, fury, threats etc. on the part of the Germans, impassibility on the part of the driver who explained that he could'nt undertake to drive this unusual train through the tunnel without first having it measured to see if it would pass, for if it stuck in the tunnel all traffic on that line would be held up. So the train was backed up to the nearest station and careful measurements were taken before it was allowed to proceed, this was repeated at every tunnel they came to, so they arrived in Lyon with 16 hours retard!
One of our friends came to call yesterday. He had been fighting since the war began, one and a half years ago; then taken prisoner, he was for a year in a camp where he got frozen feet, cutting wood. Upon arriving at the camp in East Prussia, the overseer made a little speech telling the french prisoners that the french did'nt know how to work and that their polish comrades who were good workers would show them HOW! And our friend added "they DID"! In fact they took much pleasure in showing their french comrades just how while cutting down trees, as they were ordered to, they could, unobserved, at the same time make a small wound in the barck near the roots of all the other trees left standing, which wound would have the effect of killing these trees slowly but surely, and by beheading all the young sprouts, so that no new trees could replace the old, these forests that the prisoners were made to work on will have ceased to exist in a year. "We all worked hard and well for the Germans, just the way the Poles were doing."
Among the german females in uniform here there is a category in very smart clothes, with hair cut and waved like french girl's, wearing a jaunty little cap on one side of these curls as much like the members of the RAF as they can achieve and people often wondered just what they were used for. A friend threw light on this subject as his sister, living in Reims had one of her rooms requisitioned for one of these damsels. After a couple of weeks, she failed to return for 10 days and this lady said, "Mademoiselle, when you are going to be away, please let me know, as a relative of mine was here for a couple of days in your absence and I had to pay for a room in an Hotel for her." The damsel then explained that she could'nt let her know as they were not allowed to write to french people and that she had been away "coupling". As the lady looked puzzled, she explained that when officers came on leave, they were summoned to meet them and each one chose a man to go off with for the time of his leave and "couple" - then when they were successfully "with child" they were sent back to Germany to be delivered the child was then taken from them and they were sent back to begin again! This in view of producing soldiers for the next war!
Here is quite a typical picture of Paris life during the occupation. I went to pay a call in the rue de Passy and beheld to my delight and surprise a large camion full of cabages in front of a shop where already a long tail had formed ready to pass by and each get one when they were unloaded. I was quite smartly dressed for the call, but I had my folding filet in my bag, I joined the line and when my turn came I had two fine large cabages pressed into my arm. They would'nt go into my filet, so I sat down on the curb in the street to pull off the largest outside leaves, throwing them into the gutter, a little reluctantly, as it seemed wasteful. I need not have worried, however, as hardly had I begun this operation when a concierge came running from the house opposite to pick up all the leaves I was throwing away, having as she said rabbits which would be more than glad to get them!
May 3rd 1943 - Five more months have faded into the past and we are still in the same state of expectancy of a landing to deliver us, though some people are beginning to doubt that it will EVER happen and this is the story they circulate. The scene is laid in 1953 and two women meet coming from the market. Says one "I was very lucky, I got a potatoe!" -"Did you? How much did you have to pay for it?" - "Of course it was pretty expensive, it cost me ten thousand francs". "THAT 's not bad, I got a quarter of a pound of peanuts and paid the same price" - Thereupon arrives a third women, saying "I havent been to market, but I saved up my electricity for several months and so was able to listen to my radio for ten minutes and just think what I heard!!! THE ENGLISH HAVE LANDED!"
Just here I WISH I had a cigarette - I could make this letter MUCH more interesting and entertaining if I could now and then have a smoke! Well, well - perhaps someday!
We got through the winter much better than last year for this reason. The black market is better organised, so in spite of the close supervision and the heavy penalty attached to hiding anything, things DO get hidden and find their tortuous way to our tables! The price is of course high, but I have been able to get butter and extra breadtickets from someone who prefers money to bread, so we are much better nourished. This is how it came about. There is a small "Hotel particulier" on the Avenue Bugeaud, the propretors of which prefer to remain on their place in the country and a caretaker remains in the house alone. I go past every day and she is usually on her doorstep and knows everybody in the neighborhood. Her name is Madame Martin. I see her so often as I gallop up and down the Ave. on my errands, that I say good morning to her as I pass and we exchange news and I soon saw that she would be able to help me in obtaining butter! Said she: "You understand, Madame, my teinturiere knows the maid of the Princesse de F.-L. who lives on her property in the country and wished to be able to kill one of her pigs, but she had no salt to salt the ham with. She asked the teinturiere if she knew of any place where she could get some and of course she asked me and I was able to get her 12 pounds, so in-exchange the princesse lets me have butter!" Said I: Oh, if she has killed a pig she probably also has bacon and ham, could'nt I have some of that too?" Madame Martin said she would see if she could manage it - the Countess of M. was always coming to her for things, but "elle n'est pas interessante!" Which I Interpreted as meaning that my tips were higher than hers, so I had 1st choice of everything and in such wise I acquired powdered milk, dried beans, butter, breadtickets and some wonderful HAM! Of course it all cost a lot of money and we havent much, but its a question of that or wasting away entirely, so long as I can borrow money, I go on buying wherever I can. We are both in very good health, though of course pretty thin. Albert has had to have all his clothes made over and as one cant get ANY collars, he cant hide his turkey neck - otherwise we look quite rexpectable! We now have tickets for getting shoes repaired and are allowed to get one pair mended a year! The "ersatz" used to repair is so bad, the soles or heels that have been fixed with it last at most a month, so we must go barefoot for the other eleven months or wear the heavy wooden shoes we have had to come to. They make them LOOK quite smart, as of course they would, but they DO hurt your feet. Each time I get to the last of something hithertoo considered indispensable, I hope for the landing - which does'nt come - but somehow, someway I contrive to get one more scrap of soap, or darning cotton, or a toothbrush.
July 8th 1944- Another year has gone - a year of hopes deferred until finally one gave up believing things would EVER change! This is the reason why when A. announced the glad tidings that the English and Americans had landed in Normandy, I did'nt believe him and just thought he was being facetious! This last year has gone by much the same as the others, except that my garden has been giving me fine results and made me feel amply repaid for the hours of digging, planting, watering, weeding etc. I have spent on it! I made my two strips look like a fine Aubusson carpet, seen from our front windows on the second floor. I used the quantities of stones I picked out first to make a narrow walk around the centre which was entirely devoted to beans, the border around the walk had fine cabbages and flowers on the outer edge and a strip along the side had tomatoes, salad, greens. I used to gaze at it from above and gloat over it - not only for the food I watched growing, but because it really was beautiful! Never did I realize for instance that cabbages were so varied and looked so much like bronze and were so sculpteral!
Starvation time has returned again now that all trains are cut off from Paris, so its much as it was in '40-41. Marie having been ill and in the hospital, I had to do all the cooking as well as the rest and with my mother-in-laws' cookbook, I really became very expert! When I obtained half a mutton through the black market, I carried it home, cut it up, using a woodsaw, we had shoulder of mutton for a couple pf days, then a roast first hot then cold for a whole week and finally fine mutton broth with the carcass. As I have always hated the sight and smell of raw meat, I think this achievement worth being recorded! Suddenly the germans decided to fortifie Paris by digging foundations for anti-tank defence and we got our share. An underground passage was made to connect the two pavillions on either side of the entrance gate with each other and the sewers and houses around the Rond-Point, a telephone was installed in the little fort they built against the Concierge's loge and a mitrailleuse peering through a small slit menaced anyone coming along the walk to the house, an underground petrol tank in the garden behind us, a platform with a canon on the roof of the house just opposite our bedroom window and barbed wire ready to be put into place in the adjoining streets is ornamenting the centre and side walks in our garden, besides stacks of rails to be put in place for anti-tank defenses. While all this work was going on, we were notified that if the allies entered Paris by this way, we would have to get out of the Fondation on 24 hours notice, leaving everything behind.
August 24th - 1944 - What a strange week it has been - different from anything the last four years have lead us to expect - when we seemed justified in believing that even if the end of the war found us both still alive, it was at least highly improbable that we would still possess our home intact - and yet here we are IN our home with our lives and health, with food growing in the garden and our pretty home quite peaceful! Our arrondissement is apparently the only one that has escaped street fighting so far. The radio said last night that Paris was liberated, but having heard firing all day about us, we could'nt quite believe that we were really free. Today however its quiet, with only occasional shots by a passing tank - a Tiger with an 88 centimeteres canon - which makes it more prudent to stay at home, as we have been doing for the last week. Other quarters are not so lucky! I telephoned to Cecile? last night and she said that the whole afternoon had been hell - she lives just off the Place Clichy - there were Tiger tanks on the Place, the Boulevard des Batignolles, rue de Rome and rue Levis, firing the whole afternoon. Betty in her quarter - near the Bon March - also had fighting going on all around her street and Josette who lives on the Boulevard Haussman had tanks firing on people in the streets in the front and back of her apartment. It seems a miracle that we have come through this hurricane untouched personally and reminds me of somebody who lived through the French Revolution, when asked afterwards what he did during that time, answered simply "I lived"-! This week began by a visit to my dentist, as I had a bad toothache for which not much could be done as we were without electricity. He lives just off the Place des Etats-Unis - a charming square that has been minus a name for 21/2 years now, the name plates having been removed when America entered the war. This square is surrounded by luxurious small "Hotels particuliers" - of course at present occupied by the Germans, and on this morning presented the most curious spectacle I had ever seen. The large grass plots in the centre were litterally covered by soldiers, lying in every conceivable position extreme fatigue could suggest - some with the hot sun pouring down on their sleeping upturned faces - many with their lunch rations untouched beside them, covered with dust, their uniformes all faded and torn, TOO tired and sleepy even to eat. All about them there was frantic coming and going of camions so camouflaged with branches of trees that they looked like moving forests. So this is what a defeated, retreating army looks like! The next day A. and I saw a repetition of this spectacle on Ave. Foch and a man sitting beside us on the bench, said, as he looked at them. "I detest them, all those soldiers, for all the harm they have done, I have fought through two wars against them, they wounded me and killed my brother, but when I see them like this, Sir, I cant help feeling anything but pity for them!"
On Saturday afternoon I was awakened from a nap by hearing a loud voice proclaim in the name of the "Provisional Government of Liberation" that all was over for Paris, an arrangement having been made with the Germans by which they were to evacuate the capital. The Public were told to "remain calm and not to loiter in the streets singly or in groups." I rushed to the window to listen to those words we had been so LONGING to hear for the last four years, and instead of shouting for joy and dancing around the room as I expected, they had the opposiet effect and I burst into sobs and cried and cried and found A. doing the same! When tears had relieved the pressure on my heart, I put on the skirt I had made out of an old white couch cover, a very full skirt around the hem of which I had cross stiched blue squares with a red "croix de Lorraine" in the middle of each - de Gaulle's emblem - I made a belt out of some bits of red and blue felt, a white croix de Lorraine embroidered on each of the hanging ends and wound a red, white and blue veil like a turban around my head and issued forth to mingle with the excited and joyous crowds in the street! We all talked to each other and a group of men across the street applauded me : "Bravo, Madame! Il est bien reussi votre costume!"
September 15th - We have been living in a whirl - days when we did'nt know just what was happening, sometimes we seemed free, then fighting in the streets seemed to prove the contrary. At last on the 25th the Division Leclerc actually poured into Paris and we spent several hours on the Place Victor-Hugo cheering and applauding them. The whole atmosphere was suddenly changed and everybody seemed so gay -a great weight had fallen from our shoulders and the air was like champagne! Then suddenly this universal joy was interrupted by firing coming from the roofs of the surrounding houses. We took refuve in the wide entrance of the nearest house, while the tanks of the Division Leclere got into action and fired back, while the F.F.I.'s rushed up the stairs or climbed to the roofs on the houses to catch the firers. Some were taken prisoners, others got away across the roofs or through the many underground passages they had been preparing everywhere. Unhappily a young Commandant of Leclercs Division was killed. Later when 50 germans surrendered a new volley of shots poured down as they were being disarmed, this was TOO much for the soldiers who had fought their way all through Africa to Paris and they gave no quarter - All the prisoners were killed then and there. By this time we had gone home as the excitement, emotion and fatigue had made me feel violently sea-sick, so I went straight to bed and when in the evening the Rond-Point Bugeaud was the scene of more fighting - eight shots came through the window of A.s study - and there was a great deal of noise, I paid no attention at all, too busy unswallowing. Next day I was up and able to enjoy talking to Leclerc's soldiers, as their tanks lined the Ave. Bugeaud and the Ave. Foch people gathering around to offer them champagne which they had been hiding in their cellars in anticipation of this event!
So we are free again at last!! It HAS seemed long and yet each day has gone by quickly there has been so much to do! Each year we hoped it would be the last and five times it had to begin all over again as winter came - the prospect of NEVER being warm for months and always hungry! We will forget it all now and just rejoice to be able to breath freely, to say what we think as loud as we like, to read the papers and no longer see THEM! So ends this long letter, which it will take a lot of time and patience for you both to read, my darlings, but I know that you WILL read it and live over with me in spirit these long years of silence.