In 1939, I was 29, I had 4 years old twins, and I was living
with my husband, a Headmaster, at Beuvry in the north of
Then almost without warning the phrase "Mobilisation Generale" (General Mobilization) was everywhere. It made us shudder, especially for those who remembered WWI. In only a few days, everything was disorganized. All men left including my husband and my brother of just 21 years. All teachers went and all employees from the local authority, etc... It was an indescribable muddle but eventually we got used to it all.
Before the hostilities started, we had the "drole de guerre" (the 'phony' war) which lasted several months when neither side moved from their frontiers.
The french army seemed a bit asleep, it did not remain vigilant, this was the impression that one felt... Especially in the night of 9 to 10 May when suddenly the German attack struck us like lightning. Breaking all international laws, they crossed neutral countries such as Belgium, Netherlands, Luxemburg, they bypassed the "Maginot" line which was supposed to protect us.
In just a few days the enemy completed their invasion. There was no opposition to them. Our army did not hardly fire a gun. The germans arrived in impeccable order, with shining unused guns and dressed in new and clean uniforms. They took immediately all administrative positions, mayoralties, schools, Post Offices, all mail was stopped. They did not steal or plunder, they had plenty of money and bought what they wanted, but shops rapidly sold out of all the essential goods: coffee, flour, butter, wool to knit etc...
And then the government declared the end of war for us. France was now under the control of Marshal Petain, this man that had been the hero of "Verdun" in WWI... and one heard from England a so called De Gaulle telling us to continue the war, many thought he was a holy fool... "what does he know of our condition?" and gradually France divided into two rival camps, some for Petain, others for De Gaulle and in many families one no longer dared to say what one thought, and there were denounciations to the local German authorities which brought terrible reprisals...
Thereafter, our great fear was from the bombing by English and American planes that aimed especially at railways, but many civilians were killed, by miracle none from our family.
So then we waited until 1945 in order that this World War finally ended and the Germans return to their homeland, sad and confused, having lost the arrogance of their triumphant arrival.
Do not believe that De Gaulle remained a fool for us,
afterwards we understood that he wasn't. We also understood
that Petain delivered France to the Nazis although during
the occupation it was not always possible to know this;
quite soon our resistance movement organized itself.
17th July, 1997
Helene has written other stories about this period :
This story has been translated by her grand-son Alexandre.
You can ask her some question if you click here to write to him.