Today we are remembering that 100 years ago the First World War finally came to an end. It is moving to read the stories of those families who lost their loved ones on the battlefields of Northern France. We are relieved to read about the lucky ones who came home.
In our family we are lucky that the men who fought came back. Actually when we talk about the Great War, we feel somewhat confused, sad but also happy, because it was blossoming love during this War that gave us a branch of our family in Germany. Over the years we loved the time we spent with them, and we owe this all to the Great War.
My Great Uncle Jean was born in 1893 in South West France. He had a younger brother, George. His mother died when he was very young and his father remarried and went on to have another 6 children before the war broke out. In 1914 Jean enrolled. We don't know how the story exactly unfolded but he was captured and sent to Munich in Germany to work in a factory. There he met Krista, a young German nurse. Early one morning, when Jean was opening the factory, the factory gate collapsed on him, injuring him very badly. The story goes that Krista was the only person around. She raised the alarm and quite simply saved him. Love blossomed and by August 1918, their first daughter Alice was born. At the end of war Jean stayed in Germany. The whole situation was very difficult for the French family to accept but it got even worse when Jean came back to France a few years later to ask his father for his mother’s inheritance so that he could build a house for his family - which was now 2 daughters - in Germany. His father, who was widowed again and left with a large number of children to raise, felt deeply offended. The other siblings were very angry at the situation and it was only his younger brother, George that came to his support and offered him his own inheritance. It allowed Jean to build his family home, which my parents would visit years later when they became the first of the French family to visit the 'German family’.
Fast forward to 1939 when the second World war was about to start, and the German authorities asked Jean to choose : become German or leave. So he packed his (German) wife and Alice and came to live in Montpellier, prompting a family reconciliation. Erna, his youngest daughter left it too late to leave and spent the war with her grandparents in Germany. At the end of the war, the family returned to Germany. There, Alice met an American soldier stationed in Munich. They fell in love and had a daughter, Jacqueline, born in 1946. When the soldier’s posting came to an end, he was sent back to the United States. There he chose to re-enlist, hoping to be sent back to Germany. Unfortunately he was sent to Korea where he was later reported missing in action. Jacqueline never remembered her father, Alice never married. They never left Germany.
So here we are. 1 family, 2 wars, 2 love stories.
I did not know these stories until very recently when I asked my mother what happened to our family during the Great War. I will cherish those stories and so, today, as we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice and celebrate the ones who came back, I will also celebrate my family - the ones who lived, the ones who stood up for the people they loved even if they were on the other side, the ones whose heart were broken, the ones who grew up not knowing their father. Jean, Krista, Alice, Jacqueline, this is for you!
( The picture is Alice in the early 80's)