It’s a soft winter evening, the sun is going down. I can feel, this prickly January cold wind. I open the door of the typical Briton house. Inside, fire in a hearth creates a warm atmosphere. I can hear the fire crackle skimmed the boiled chestnuts. I can smell orange peel and cinnamon which are slowly cooked in the mulled wine with my grandfather behind the stove. He smiles when he see me and invites me to sit on the cozy sofa with a cup of mulled wine. The dog is lying near the hearth, trying to warm up of this cold winter day, he looks at me few seconds and put back peacefully his head on the wood floor. My grandfather takes some old photo album and books. His blond hair became white since a while but his smile and the joy in his eyes never grow old. He takes his glasses and said, « Now we can start. ».
UNLUCKY OR UNCONCIOUS?
« Start by the beginning, when the germans arrived,» he said showing me old pictures. My grandfather, Henri Denieul was born in 1930 in Evran, a village lost in the heart of Brittany, surrounded by pasturage. When germans arrived in May 1940, he was only 8 and lived the most sadly famous years of 20th Century History.
His first though when he thinks to the invasion was to his father, Joseph Denieul, 41 in 1940. « I remembered that my dad was working in the Arsenal of Rennes as a civil worker when germans arrived… » It’s noon, Joseph and his colleague are going to lunch in a restaurant near the Arsenal. Alphonse is talking proudly of the new tools that he bought. Joseph his making fun of him, It’s just insignificant tools…
It’s almost the end of the break, Joseph and his colleague had to go back to work. The restaurateur alarms them « Germans are coming! » Joseph and his colleagues thank restaurateur. Joseph did 40km by bike to arrived in Evran where my grandfather, his brother, and sister was happy to see him before germans.
Alphonse goes back to Arsenal to pick up his tools first. He tries to find it quickly but it was spread all around the room. Suddenly, he hears a locker noise. He runs until the doors trying to open it. Too late, germans closed it. « Alphonse was imprisoned until 1945 in Czechoslovakia » Conclude Henri laughing.
I’m questioning why is he laugh, it’s not funny? He answered me that these tools don’t matter what happened to him, so it’s as much sad than it’s funny. « Life hang by a thread » He conclude.
WAR IS NOT A GAME FOR KIDS
When germans arrived, some hours after Joseph, in this straightforward village of France, everything was disrupted. One of the main thing that leave its mark on my grandfather was the school. Indeed, when germans arrived the school was requisitioned. Two of three class moved into the church and the last one in an abandoned house. All children get back together for the break around the church. « We were all playing around the church when one of my friends found something that looks like a big ball. Everyone was curious and look to it. Then, the teacher calls us to come back into class. We will play later and my friend throws it away near the church wall. We all jump by surprise when we heard the big ball explode, creating a little hole in the wall. It was a grenade. We were all lucky that didn’t explode in front of us.» He sadly said.
I feel that this story especially touched him when he realized, that war was everywhere even on the playground. My grandfather is probably too shy to show how much it’s affected him. I try to know more about his feeling but he avoids the question, trying to keep good memories on sad events. It looks like he always wants to detach himself of its own story. I ask him: Do you have good memories of war? « We can’t have good memories but we don’t have sad memories too, we just deal with it. »
THE SOUND OF WAR
It could look like an American action movie today but 74 years ago it was everyday life. In 1943, in the land of Dinan, a plane battle broke out between germans and Americano-English. «I remember that I was in the garden of a friend of my father, Leopold, when we heard plane fighting. » Henri said. Above the little Henri, there are Americans with an enormous squadron. Henri tries to recognize Americans plane. Leopold explains to Henry that they took off from the United Kingdom and there are here to free them. Lost in their contemplation, they are wake up by the whistle of bullets around them. « Come back into the house, it’s dangerous » said Leopold. Henri continues to watch the battle by the window scared but with admiration for Americans. Suddenly an American plane is falling and exploded before touching the ground. Henri worried, what happened to them? None of the Americans inside survived the crash, Henri learned some days after.
Damages of theses battles were considerable all around the region, St Malo and Bruz were completely destroyed. Especially in Bruz, my grandfather remembers what his uncles told: « One night, Americans had to bombs a church near Bruz were germans stayed but American used to bomb really high in the sky without precision. They bomb the wrong church where there was a Mass. This mistake destroyed complete families. Even some grave turned over… »
I’m puzzled does people who lived there was angry against Americans? This mistake cost so many lives… « Not at all, they freed us that all what matter for my uncle, he never complained about it. » answer my grandfather peacefully.
« THANK YOU FOR FREEDOM »
When we talk about Americans, he is immediately thinking to the Liberation. I can see that this moment was incredibly important for him and how much he is grateful to Americans and British. « This Wednesday morning Germans made return trip, completely lost, made explode some bridge as the Viaduc of Dinan but that did not stop Americans. We leave everything that we did when we heard that Americans are coming. They paraded with their tanks and give us caramel, chewing gum and chocolate. We were finally free. » I can see so much joy in his deep blue eyes when he tells me that. He concludes by saying in front of the camera with a huge admiration as he was directly talking to General De Gaulle « Thank you for Freedom ».
Just as his side my grandmother have not the same feeling of this strong history moment. Stayed quiet during all the interview she finally talks: « When I’ve seen Americans, I was scared. We though it was germans that came back with their tanks and guns. I did not realize that was the Liberation but I was only 11, so it was confused for me. » They lived at two kilometers from each other and they had a so different view of this event. Memories are really a personal issue.
It’s the end of the interview, my grandfather tidies his paper. I switch off the camera and I feel like I’ve meet a new part of my grandfather. I knew the confident old man but I discover the child. I’ve seen the war in his eyes: innocent, curious. When I leave the house I think again to his relationship with soldiers, some were just little boys like him that wanted to get back home and who finally died in Stalingrad. I suddenly realize that they are no good or bad side in a war, just humans fighting against humans, that life can be hang by a thread of tools or of a big ball. There so many memories that I could not develop in this piece but I kept everything on a video tape.