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To War With The Bays: 48 - Suzette

...Suzette played the piano, taught me French songs and wrote out the words for me. One I remember well was 'Le Bateau des lies'.

The evenings were spent playing cards, talking, singing, sipping anisette, and added to all this well-being was the excellent cooking of Mme Hugnit. One day, unbelievably, I suddenly realised that I was even thinking in French...

On a holiday break from warfare Jack Merewood stays with a local family and kisses the beautiful Suzette.

To read earlier chapters of Jack's memoirs please click on To War With The Bays in the menu on this page.

Although they didn't know I was coming, M. and Mme Hugnit and Suzette gave me an enthusiastic welcome. Yves was at school. When he came home at noon and saw me, he cried out with delight and was allowed to stay at home the rest of the day.

I was tired, but I couldn't believe I was here. No one could speak English, and I
thought that was great.

In the afternoon Yves and I climbed the hill to see his grandma. There was an aunt of his visiting her, a twinkling-eyed mischievous young lady in her thirties by the name of Nanette. I was fussed over and enjoyed it. After a few minutes of conversation she asked if I was married, and my reply of 'Pas encore' caused some amusement. I liked Nanette.

In the evening Suzette and Yves wanted to know the card games we soldiers played. I could hardly begin to teach them brag, so turned to simpler games like switch and rummy, and they loved it.

10 May: 'Got up at 6.45 a.m. after a good night's sleep, rather early rising, but I didn't mind a bit. After breakfast walked up to school with Yves.'

In the afternoon, with Yves at school, I spent the time with Suzette and her parents. We talked incessantly, then in the evening played cards until ten, when I went to bed in a lovely bedroom with clean white sheets and I felt I must be dreaming. The house itself was modern, nicely furnished, clean and tidy, and had the look of being owned by a prosperous family. The garden was full of beautiful roses.

Next morning M. Hugnit took me up into the town, where we went to a cafe for a drink, and he introduced me to some of his friends. We did this again on other mornings, an experience I enjoyed.

Aumale was a grim-looking place, more like a walled fort than a town, and M. Hugnit explained that over the centuries it had changed hands a number of times, being fought over by Turks, Moors, French and others. The Turkish influence was much in evidence in the architecture. I thought to myself that if I had been looking for a beautiful French girl, Aumale was the last place on earth I would have expected to find one.

I went with M. Hugnit down into his cellar and he showed me his distillery where he was illegally making anisette. Perhaps this explained some of his prosperity, though we didn't go into that.

A friend of Suzette called Paulette came, and both girls teased me about my French. I loved it - but they also wanted me to teach them some English, which they had never learned at school. Now it was my turn to tease them. M. Hugnit much regretted not being able to speak the language and encouraged me to try and teach them more. I did my best, but there was little time.

As for me, I was learning new words every day and to keep me on my toes I had regular prompting from Suzette. The back door of the house led into the farmyard, with some stables, poultry strutting about, and animals in the fields beyond.

"What is the name of that bird - in French?"

Well, I knew the English name for it but how was I to know the French for guinea-fowl? But I learned it - pintade. Did any teacher ever have such a willing pupil?

The weather was gloriously warm and sunny, and the snow-covered bleak mountains we'd known in the winter were completely transformed. Yves and I went climbing the hills. He had a gun and wanted to shoot rabbits, but though we saw plenty of evidence of them, we saw no rabbits to shoot.

Suzette played the piano, taught me French songs and wrote out the words for me. One I remember well was 'Le Bateau des lies'.

The evenings were spent playing cards, talking, singing, sipping anisette, and added to all this well-being was the excellent cooking of Mme Hugnit. One day, unbelievably, I suddenly realised that I was even thinking in French.

Mme Hugnit wanted to know more about 'Shurshille'. As I didn't understand at first what she meant, she repeated it a couple of times and I realised that she was talking about Winston Churchill. I told her that I thought he was a great man, and there was no one better to be leading us in this war. We had total faith in him.

All the time they asked questions which I was pleased to answer when I could. Questions about my family. How did I come to be in the army? What had I been doing in North Africa up to now? ... and on and on.

Nanette and other relatives and friends called. An English soldier with the family was something of a novelty.

I enjoyed these evenings with the family, but when I came back to Aumale it was because of Suzette. I wanted to see her again so much, to be with her all the time - and better still just on our own.

I loved her impish sense of fun, and enjoyed being bossed about by her during the day - in the nicest way. She made me grind coffee, sent me out into the garden to gather radishes (which I then had to clean) and collect eggs from the chicken coops. We laughed, and I would have done anything for her just to be there. We could have known each other all our lives, for from the very beginning we were so much at ease together.

As the days went by she and I grew closer. We loved each other's company, we had the same sense of feeling and the same sense of humour, and we loved it best when we were alone together.

The opportunities for this came in the afternoons when her parents were busy and Yves was at school. We went for walks in the surrounding hills, and I was in a different world. Tanks, guns, and war were a million miles away.

But time was desperately short, the afternoons too few, and on the last one we held hands, kissed, and promised to write to each other. She gave me a photograph to keep in my diary and it is still there.

For months I had wanted to leave Algeria - now I wanted to stay, for nothing mattered except to be with this lovely girl. I had never known such happiness.

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