In Canada, Remembrance Day is reserved for the 116,000 men who served and died in the five major conflicts the country has participated in – the Boer War, the First World War, the Second World War, the Korean War and the Afganistan War – as well as the thousands more who served and have since passed.
But we often forget that soldiers aren’t the only casualties of war. During the Second World War, 390,000 civilians, many of them children, died in France alone. That’s more than five times the number of civilian casualties in Great Britain.
When the Germans first launched their offensive into the northern and eastern parts of France in May, 1940, it sparked a mass exodus of refugees fleeing the advancing forces. An estimated 8-10 million refugees fled their homes in an effort to escape the Nazi invasion – almost a quarter of the French population at the time.
Among the millions of refugees was former Orléans resident Miza Davie.
Born Mireille Bosc, Miza was just six years old when the Germans invaded France. As the advancing army approached Paris, Miza escaped to Marseilles with her mother Paule and younger siblings Robert and Françoise who were four and two respectively.
It didn’t take long for the Germans to takeover the entire country. For the next two years Miza and her siblings were raised by their grandparents – first in Nimes in the south of France and then in Générac near Bordeaux – while their mother returned to work in Paris. Later in the war, they were reunited with their mother in Paris before fleeing to an uncle’s place in the north to escape the bombing in the French capital.
Miza lived during extra-ordinary times and experienced joy, grief, sorrow and horror. After she retired from nursing in 1994, she began writing a collection of short stories about her life as young girl growing up during the war. Prior to her passing in 2005, those stories were assembled in a self-published book entitled “A Child’s Memory of the Second World War”.
Here is just one of those stories about taking cover in a bomb shelter in Paris prior to the liberation of the City of Lights.
Down in the Cellar
Sometimes my brother Robert, the youngest of the children, would fall asleep as Mummy would sing us a song. Other people were also occupying the “War Abri” shelter. No one would say much as we were all very scared. Then suddenly a loud scream would echo in the room. A big gray rat had just scurried among our feet and disappeared through a hole in the wall.
To pass the time, we would make shadow puppets on the all with our fingers, but most of the time we had to remain very quiet. We could even go to the washroom facilities because there weren’t any. We were in limbo, waiting for an unknown verdict. Then suddenly, out of the deepest silence, came the sound of an alarm telling us the bombing was over.
One by one, we would climb up the narrow staircase in silence. As we were getting nearer to the exit, a narrow ray of daylight shone through the crack in the door, bringing some hope again that we were alive.
Often, as we regained contact with the outside world, the picture was devastating: people lay dead and dying, homes were demolished, piles of smoldering rubble filled the air with acrid smoke and human lives were destroyed.
It was so difficult to forget these trips to the “war shelter”, as we had to go frequently, during the occupation. I still remember the heavy breathing of scared people, and the horrid smell of humid earth. What had gone wrong that people were killing each other and children were crying bitter tears not knowing why their dads had gone and moms had lost their smiles.
All these years later I still wonder why adults create wars, while children in the world only want peace and tranquility.
story was made possible thanks to the generous support of
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