Armistice Day

The 11th of November is still celebrated as a bank holiday in France with ceremonies in every town in front of the “monument aux morts” and, even though the last “poilu” of World War I passed away in 2008, there still is a ceremony conducted by the President under the Arc de Triomphe… This year, it reminded me rather obviously of both my maternal grand-parents as they were children of this terrible war. I have already described in an earlier post how I retraced my grandfather’s lineage from the World War I memorial in his native village. My great-grand-father had served as a horse-carer in the cavalry and gotten a fatal disease from the horses that took him away before the end of the war, which meant my grand-father became a “pupille de la Nation”, a soldier’s child officially adopted by the whole Nation and thus entitled to some (very limited) support. My grand-mother, who peacefully passed away a few weeks ago, did not benefit from this support as she was the daughter of a single mother, her father being most likely a soldier who never came back from the war. (Hence potentially listed on the memorial of the tiny village of Hudimesnil among the numerous local soldiers who never came back…) On the opposite, being born outside wedlock in 1916 was a severe stigma in rural societies and my great-grand-mother struggled to raise her daughter, although she was helped by her parents. A few years after the war, my great-grand-mother married a local farmer who showed little consideration for this “bastard” child and eventually tried to abuse her. My grand-mother then left her mother’s place to stay with a couple of school teachers as a very young maid. She later became an itinerant seamstress travelling from farm to farm to sew clothes and (ironically!) wedding trousseaux. This harsh childhood turned her into a formidable person, very independent, proud and outspoken, while being a wonderful and loving grand-mother. Along with my grandfather, she managed to recover from the complete destruction of their belongings in St-Lô, June 1944, turning growing and selling flowers into a profitable business. As a kid, I remember being quite proud of her wearing trousers and driving a car, which was clearly unusual in the countryside in the 1950’s and early 1960’s… (She is also responsible for buying me my first blue jeans, against my parents’ interdiction, inaugurating a clothing trend that is still running today!)

7 Responses to “Armistice Day”

  1. […] Interestingly (for me!), the most important items of furniture we brought back were the bedroom parts from the 1930′s that had survived the June 1944 bombing of my grand-parents’ house. And the following days of pillaging by German troops and neighbours alike. Along with tiny bits my grandfather has salvaged from my great-grandmother’s house which had been completely destroyed. Like this upper piece of (all that was left of) a clock. My mother also found in the barn a collection of notary documents dating back several generations that she intends to study in order to reconstruct this branch of the family tree… […]

  2. […] november, when my grand-mother passed away, I brought her fuschia back home, as I had childhood memories of a huge fuschia growing […]

  3. Amazing story!
    Were it not for your grandmother and the conferences you attend, you’d probably be going around very scarcely dressed.

  4. Nice story ! Now, as far as the clothing trend goes: which conference offered you your first t-shirt ?

    • Sorry, can’t remember! My best guess would be Valencia 1991 (but I think the item of “clothing” was a beach towel with Bayes’ formula, the perfect starter for engaging into a conversation with your beach neighbour, whether or not you wish to…) or 1995 (“Bayesian have more fun!”). Unless you count race-happening-at-a-statistical-conference tee-shirts as valid, in which case it was in 1989 at JSM, Washington D.C. for the first Gertrude Cox 5K race…

  5. […] the previous post on my grand-mother’s unknown soldier father, I came across an article in Libération that […]

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