Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Rosie's War: Rosemary Say and Noel Holland (France)

This is the extraordinary true story of a plucky young woman and her dramatic escape from a German-run internment camp in Occupied France. Written in Rosemary's own words and completed by her daughter and son-in-law after her death, it includes photographs and documents from Rosie's incredible journey. Rosie's story moves from artistic circles in Avignon, through occupied Paris and the privations of prison camp, and across war-ravaged Europe. A tale of remarkable courage: not only of Rosie herself, but also of the many people who helped and harboured her at huge personal risk. Rosie's story sheds light on the little-known story of the thousands of British women trapped in Occupied France. Moving, enthralling, and inspirational, 'Rosie's War' is a book for all to enjoy.

This book tells the true story, as the description above says, of a young English woman trapped in Occupied France, who makes a plucky escape from a POW camp back to her home in England. The book was written by Rosemary herself, and completed by her daughter and son-in-law after her death in 1996. How though did a girl such as this, for when this all began, our heroine was just a girl, end up in war torn France in the first place?

The answer was that she wanted to escape the increasingly dull existence that she felt had been mapped out for her - a dead end job that she did not enjoy and a boyfriend that she did not love, but everyone expected her to marry. In search of adventure and a desire to "see the world", Rosemary applied to work in Germany as an au pair, but having been convinced that this is not a good idea, as war seems about to break out, she instead takes a job in Avignon, France, where she is to help look after three young children.

She soon settles into her new life and learning fluent French, becomes part of her new family. Blissfully unaware of how bad things are across the rest of Europe, and ignoring her families please for her to return home, she chooses to stay until it is almost too late to escape. She is persuaded to flee back to England through Paris on the Eve of the German's triumphal march into that city, and on arrival witnesses the spectacle as they march up the Champs Elysees. In fear of her life, with nowhere to stay and no way of earning money, she is forced to take a series of low or unpaid jobs in exchange for board and lodging, until one fateful day she is arrested and taken to a POW camp.

After several months in the one camp, she is transferred to a somewhat better one, a converted hotel known as Vittel, which we later learnt acted as a staging post for Jews being transferred across Europe for execution. Eventually with the help of her fellow inmate Frida, she hatches a bold plot to escape, this time via the city of Marseilles in the Unoccupied Zone of France. During this time she is forced to rely on the goodwill of those within the French Resistance, going from safe house to safe house while awaiting her 'papers' as a Briton seeking repatriation. After several months, the papers finally come through and she journeys home via Spain and Portugal where she becomes a temporary celebrity.

This is an abbreviated version of what is a much more detailed story, and really just skims over the surface of what was an incredible and very moving book. Although I work with the elderly, and my own parents were of that same generation, meeting later in life, I still know very little about this part of history, as I did not study the subject past the age of 14, so it helped to put the flesh on the bones of many of the stories that I have been told and really brought home to life just how brave those men and women were and are, who fought so that we could have our freedom. This is not your average war time saga, for it is written from a woman's perspective without the blood and the guts and the violence that is so prevalent in other books of this genre. It is though no less real. In many ways it is more so, for what it does detail are the emotions that the young Rosemary experiences. It is those emotions and those feelings that make us what we are, and that colour our future in ways that most do not begin to understand.

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