A little about Arlette and how she was created.
Arlette Blaise is a twenty-year-old daughter of a rural farmer in France. Her chores include the care of the family’s chickens, cows, vegetable gardens and also the housework and cooking duties. She also has her own small business of keeping silkworms in a spare bedroom. She feels as if she’s doing her bit towards the war effort by selling cocoons to silk-spinners – the product eventually becoming parachutes for French soldiers. She is single and lives with her father and older brother at the farmhouse. Her mother died in childbirth many years earlier and her father didn’t remarry. During my story, her maternal grandmother comes to stay and helps out at the farm because Arlette’s brother leaves to join the Resistance.
I needed to create an unassuming, essentially ordinary protagonist, who would be faced with extraordinary circumstances. I was going to give her a rough ride in my storyline and she needed room to grow as a character. I placed her in a farm setting because agriculture was the principle economy during the war years in France. The Germans also targeted farms to forcibly requisition crops and livestock to feed the enemy, so I needed her to be in a vulnerable position. Gosh, I’m feeling very guilty about my treatment of poor Arlette, but thankfully, as well as feeling the reverberations of war she also builds friendships, laughs, falls in love, enjoys family life and lives her life positively despite challenges being placed in her way.
Now it's Arlette's turn to speak...
Hello, Arlette. Can you tell me about your life before the war?
“Hello. Thank you for inviting me. Until my mother died I’d lived a blissful childhood. Growing up on a farm was very exciting for my brother, Gilbert, and me. We had a freedom that children in towns and cities weren’t able to enjoy. I’ve known my closest friend, Francine, since we were born because our mothers were neighbours and friends. Francine and I explored woodlands and fields, helped my father with lambing and calving, played in stacks of hay in the barn and climbed trees. But that was before… before my mother died in childbirth along with my baby sister.” (Arlette pauses.) “I had to grow up quickly and do the housework while my father and brother worked on the farm. I’d always watched Mother cook, so I managed to make some simple meals. Gilbert told me I got better at cooking as I grew older, which I think is a polite way of saying I needed to improve! I miss Mum to this day. Yes. It was difficult from then on, but I’m close to my father and brother, and of course I saw Francine most days. Grandma Blaise often came to stay for a few weeks at a time, which was lovely.”
The household changed during the war years. How did you feel about that?
“Yes, it did. Gilbert left home to join an underground cell, part of the local resistance. He lived deep in the woods for almost two years, carrying out sabotage missions on the Germans’ transport and messaging services. Francine missed him as much as I did because they were sweet on each other. Then Grandma Blaise came to live with us because we were short-handed on the farm due to my brother leaving. She helped a lot in the house and I helped my father outside. Then Saul arrived.”
You fell in love. Was it for the first time?
(Arlette smiles shyly) “Yes. I’d had a crush on one of Francine’s brothers, but when Saul walked in to the farmyard that day, I knew it wasn’t just another crush.”
How did you know? What was it about him that made you fall in love?
“Oh, he’s going to get a big head – don’t show him this answer! He looked so young yet he acted so mature. He was a medical student at the time, but because he’s Jewish, the Germans prevented him from continuing his training when they invaded. He had to leave and move south to find work. At the time we were still the free zone. Father was so relieved to have someone to help him with the heavy work.”
You’re skirting around my question. What made you fall in love?
(We both laugh)
“To start with, he was really handsome, and tall and dark. Oh, that sounds like a cliché, doesn’t it? His hair used to flop into his eyes and I loved the way he’d flick it to one side. I was impressed that he knew how to deliver a cow of a breech calf safely. I loved listening to his stories about his family. He made me laugh and I missed him when he was up in the top fields with father for days on end. You know that feeling when someone you think is special walks into a room? You feel instantly happy, excited and safe. I’m serious – you can’t show him this answer!”
(Arlette covers her face while laughing.)
Camille plays a big part in your story. Where did you meet and are you still in touch with her?
“Camille was my mother’s very best friend. She lived in Montverre with her mother before she got married and moved away in her twenties. When Camille’s mother was dying, she returned to care for her during the war. Her marriage had ended by that time. She and my father already knew each but had lost contact when she left the area. By chance I met her at the market and reintroduced her to my father. If you’ve read the book you’ll know what happens.” (Arlette grins) “She’s like my second mother and I love her to bits.”
I know it was a harrowing time for you, but do you think you’re able to tell us a little about what happened at Oradour sur Glane?
(Arlette lowers her head and sighs, before looking up and answering.)
“It was like a living hell. I’d taken Grandma Blaise back to her house in Oradour, on our horse and trap. It was a hot June day. A Saturday. Everything was normal when we arrived. She waved to friends she hadn’t seen from a while and we saw the florist who was preparing the church for local children’s first holy communion the following day. But no sooner had we reached her house, than a German hammered on the door and ordered us onto the village green. When we got there, it seemed as if the entire village was already waiting in the heat. There was a man covered in shaving foam having been ordered out of the barbers. A sick woman was half carried in her nightgown. A lady with her hair in curlers and another with soap in her hair had been ordered out of the hairdresser’s. Hotel guests and the customers of the local cafés were there. Children were crying because it was so hot standing in the sun for so long. There wasn’t any shade and the children didn’t have a drink.” (Arlette pauses) “Then, as I say, it was hell. The men were marched off somewhere. They were taken to different barns, but we didn’t know that at the time. We, the women and children, were taken to the church. It was a relief to get out of the sun. We had no idea what was happening. Grandma Blaise and I thought we were going to be brought water while they searched our houses for hidden weapons. How naïve we were, looking back. I’d rather not talk about what happened next. Angela Barton has recorded it in a book about my war years. It’s called Arlette’s Story. I’ll have to let her tell you the rest.” (Arlette wipes a tear from her cheek.)
I’m sorry. I know that was difficult. What does the future look like to you?
(Arlette smiles again.)
We’re one big crazy, happy family. I’m in a perfect relationship and so are my father and Francine. I won’t say with whom because it will spoil the book, but let’s just say the family is growing and in a month or two, it’ll be even bigger.
Arlette's Story can be purchased or ordered from any good book store, or online. Books can be ordered from my home page.
Thank you for visiting my blog. Ange X