|Laura Chevallier Meine|
No one is left within living memory to remember Laura Chevallier Meine. My grandmother Marguerite never spoke of her mother to me. My mother Elmire was the last to know Laura Chevallier Meine, but then my mother passed on many years ago, and she too, never spoke of her grandmother. The idea of knowing someone within living memory is important, for it means to have seen the color and curl of the hair, the pitch of the voice, the infectious laugh, or somber demeanor, and the peculiar mannerisms that we all are marked by.
No, I am not blessed with gift of having personally known my great grandmother. Both my mother Elmire and her mother Marguerite were reticent when discussing the past, as if there were some dark family secret which should never be revealed.
The precious little that I know of Laura Chevallier Meine comes from the odd artifacts that my grandmother and my mother kept. This consists of a photograph of Laura with her two daughters, Marguerite and Paula, a grainy picture of Laura standing next to her house in Graffigny, and a letter or two written late in Laura's life when she was alone in France and getting on in years.
All our images of our parents and grandparents are imperfect. They lived in another lifetime to which we have little access.
|enlarged image of Laura Chevallier Meine|
Laura was born in Graffigny to Paul Constant Chevallier. He was mayor of Graffigny, and, therefore, presumably well-to-do. But wealth is a relative term, for Graffigny was a rural community, supporting farmers and cattlemen. Along the hillside to the rear of the village there are a few orchards, and one has the feeling that Graffigny, like so many villages of the province of Lorraine, was self-sufficient. In such villages, wealth is measured in land and cattle, and the Chevalliers were fortunate in owning a field behind the village.
Laura married Charles Meine. He was German by birth, coming from the city of Freiburg in Breisgau. Freiburg is near the Rhine in an area known as Alsace-Lorraine. It is an area always disputed by both France and Germany. In 1870, a portion of France was taken by Germany in reparation for the War of 1870, and in 1917, it was returned to France at the conclusion of the First World War.
[In one of the few times my grandmother spoke of her history, she mentioned her bitter memories of the German army coming to France and terrorizing the village of Graffigny. The very silverware that she used to cut meat, and that my mother kept following my grandmother's death, was buried so as to keep it from the clutches of the invading army. When I heard this story, I was in my teens, and upon reflection, I have come to realize that her memory of the War of 1870, was perhaps a story better told by her mother who actually lived through that time.]
When, how, and where Laura Chevallier met Charles Meine is unknown. He was obviously well-to-do, as they traveled to Hanover on business, as well as Italy on vacation. Charles and Laura would build a house in Graffigny. It is a house out of place, in that the architecture is unlike the ordinary homes in Graffingy. That the house sits across from the town church on the main square where the city well is also attests to their wealth. The house is surrounded by a wall, enclosing a private garden and carriage house.
|Home in Grafiigny-Chemin and Laura Chevallier Meine|
The First World War would change all that. During the war, the family money was invested in German war bonds, so the story goes. It was during the war that my grandfather, Madison Pearson arrived in France as a Second Lieutenant. His unit was bivouaced (the word bivouac is French, by way of German, meaning to encamp) in Graffigny, fought in many of the battles on the Western Front [Western Front to the Germans who were battling the Russians to the east.] My grandfather was wounded, nursed to health in Graffigny, and attended to by my grandmother. They fell in love, married and returned to the USA after the war.
For Laura, after the war, the money was gone, and times were leaner. But then, times were lean for all of France and Germany, and everyone struggled to make ends meet. For Laura, one of her daughters, my grandmother Marguerite had married an American soldier. Her other daughter, Paula, had married a German officer. It seemed a good start at European detente.
The Second World War arrived in 1939, and France was quickly defeated. German occupation forces came to the area, and life took an even more difficult turn. Laura managed the house in Graffigny as best she could. On what income she survived, I do not know. I suspect that she raised much of what she ate in the garden next to the house. She also owned a field in the nearby hills and with the rent from this she managed to eke out an existence.
On July 23, 1944 a British Royal Air Force Stirling aircraft, lost in the fog, crashed into the hills behind Graffigny-Chemin. There were three survivors. The villagers of Graffigny and Chemin rushed to the downed aircraft and spirited the survivors into hiding.
The aircraft's navigator - Canadian Flying Officer Joseph Vinet - was cared for at Ferme Des Noyers by a Madame Phillips who lived in the nearby village of Brainville with her three children. Madame Phillips was married to an Englishman serving in the RAF but was stranded in Brainville following the fall of France in 1940. The SAS survivor Englishman Private Rex Boreham was cared for by Madame Dauvoin and her daughter Bernadette in Graffigny. After being examined by the Bourmont doctor - Dr Boin - Boreham and Vinet were given up to the authorities later that day because of the severity of their wounds. They spent six weeks in a military hospital in Chaumont before being sent to Germany where they were imprisoned for the remainder of the war.
The third survivor, Canadian Flight Sergeant Paul Bell,the aircraft's rear gunner, was slightly wounded and spent the next ten days in the nearby village of Soulacourt recovering from his wounds.From Graffigny-Chemin, Wikipedia.
The French villagers had removed the money and supplies intended for the French resistance from the aircraft as well as four machine guns from the aircraft's rear turret.
When the German authorities learned of this, they took hostages from the village and threatened to burn it and deport the inhabitants. Living in the village was the French widow of a German Colonel who died in 1911 - a Madame Meine. One of Madame Meine's daughters had married an American army officer in 1918 when the Meine's family house was commandeered by the US army. Her other daughter had married a Nazi diplomat. Madame Meine interceded with the authorities and obtained the release of the hostages and cancellation of the order to burn the village. She was rewarded for that by a hand grenade attack on her house during the period known as "l'epuration" immediately after the Liberation of France - presumably because of her German connections.From the same account.
I had never heard this story during my lifetime. I presume it to be true for, when I visited Graffigny-Chemin in 2009, a Dutch couple living in Laura's house had heard the tale. And, later, I heard from an Englishman living in nearby Bourmont, of the same. It is his account of the crash and the aftermath which retold in Wikipedia.