Last night, April 13th, my sixty-five year-long quest came to an end. In May, 1938, aged only seventeen, I went to Contrexeville in the Vosges to teach English to three young children. Their father was a right-wing member of the Chambre des Deputes, the French Parliament.
By August, it seemed war was imminent - it was the Munich Crisis - and he was called up. I was immediately sent home to avoid being caught in a war zone. Eventually at the end of World War 2, when I returned from service as a WAAF Officer, I thought about those children and wondered what had happened to them. For many years I searched without success to trace them, then through the internet I found their father had joined the Petain government and was labelled a collaborateur. I learned he had escaped to Germany in 1944 and then had managed to leave the country and found sanctuary first in the Argentine and finally in Uraguay where he died in 1968. In France, all his possessions were taken from him and his name blackened. But what happened to the children?
Last night Helene, the youngest of the three, telephoned me from Geneva and told me their amazing story. A French writer friend of mine, Genevieve Moulard, had managed to track her down through the Mayor of Contrexeville. Having been contacted by her, Helene immediately phoned me. She talked for an hour and a half in excellent English relating an amazing tale of escape, of anger, of bitterness and of danger. The life story of that family is food for a novel. Perhaps my next venture!!!