late June 1940, Chalet School in Guernsey………
‘I told you we should have started evacuating sooner,’ Madge said to Jem as the bus containing all the Juniors left for the harbour. ‘We’ll be lucky if we get the rest of the girls and ourselves off Guernsey before the Germans arrive.’
‘My dear girl,’ said Jem, who was invariably patronising when he was in the wrong. ‘No-one imagined that the Germans would look twice at the Channel Islands. It’s only because they’re British Crown dependencies and so near France that he would think of occupying them. I still think it’s all scaremongering. There’s no chance of the Germans coming here.’
‘Most of the local children have been evacuated,’ Joey pointed out. ‘The only ones still here are those whose parents didn’t want to part with them.’
‘It’s nearly the end of term,’ Jem said. ‘As you women are fussing so, we’ll make arrangements to get the Middles and the Seniors out of here in the next couple of days. The Government is laying on plenty of ships.’
They turned and walked back into the school, heading to the staff room for coffee and cakes. Madge was just about to ring for one of the servants when a young woman, little more than a girl, appeared through the low window which had been standing open. Madge, Joey and Jem gaped in astonishment.
‘Good afternoon, old chaps,’ said the girl who was clearly from the French Resistance. Despite the warmth of the afternoon, she was dressed in a raincoat and beret and wore white ankle socks and flat shoes.
‘We all speak French fluently,’ Jem told her. ‘Why are you here? Shouldn’t you be resisting the Nazis in France?’
‘Leesten vairy cairfully, I shall say zees only wance,’ said the girl. ‘I am Michelle of the Rey-zees-tance.’
‘We can tell where you’re from,’ Jem said. ‘You don’t need to talk to us like English people who can’t speak French. I’ve told you, we’re all fluent. What are you doing here? There’s nothing to resist. The Germans aren’t occupying Guernsey.’
‘They are on their way,’ Michelle told him. ‘I have been sent here to prepare to resist. My family was from Guernsey and I speak the local patois. I also have some associates with me and they are settling into the village.’
‘My dear girl….’ Jem started but was cut off.
‘I am Michelle of the French Resistance. You cannot talk to me like you speak to your womenfolk. If you do, I will shoot you with my gun.’ She produced a gun from her raincoat pocket and pointed it at Jem.
‘That’s going a bit far,’ Joey burst out. ‘I know he could patronise for Britain but there’s no need to shoot him.’
‘There is no time for small talk,’ Michelle said, moving the gun to point at Joey. ‘I am in charge here and your safety depends on me. You will not get off the island now so we have to make plans.’
Madge paled. ‘Can we really not get off the island? If we go now….’
‘Too late,’ Michelle told her. ‘We will get the little children you have just sent off on to the ship but then no more. And in any case I need your help.’
Joey was about to tell Michelle where she could stick her need for help when she remembered the gun. ‘What do you want from us?’
‘Well first, I need you to hide two British airmen in your school.’
‘This is a girl’s school,’ Madge said, scandalised. ‘We can’t have young men here!’
‘This is wartime,’ said Michelle. ‘You have to co-operate. And the Germans must think this is a French school. If they know you are British they will shoot you.’
‘They’ll certainly shoot us if they find us harbouring British airmen,’ Joey pointed out, Jem having been struck dumb at the sight of the gun.
Michelle shrugged in Gallic fashion. ‘Take your choice. If you don’t help, I will shoot you.’
‘What else do you want?’ Madge asked, resigned to being shot one way or another. ‘May as well be shot for a sheep as a lamb.’
‘You all speak German. We need one of your girls to work in the new café to eavesdrop and tell us what the Germans are saying.’
‘It’s too dangerous for the young girls,’ Joey said. ‘I’ll do it.’
‘You are not pretty enough,’ Michelle said contemptuously. ‘You would not fit into Café René at all.’
Offended, Joey relapsed into silence. With both of the others in the huff, Madge was left to sort everything out herself.
‘What do we do now, Michelle?’
‘Those of you who live in big posh houses need to move into the school,’ Michelle said. ‘There will be plenty of room with the younger children gone. And gather all the children and the staff in the Hall. They need instructions.’
‘Jem, go home and pack up our things,’ Madge instructed.
‘Jem, I know you’re far too important a doctor to ever do a hand’s turn in the house,’ Madge told him with feeling. ‘But this is an emergency. The servants will help you. And don’t forget to bring them with you. And don’t forget the children!’
‘Servants, children, clothes, food,’ Jem muttered as he went out.
‘God help us,’ Madge said, tucking her arm through Michelle’s and leading her towards the Hall. ‘Where did you get that raincoat, it’s so stylish….’
With apologies to any readers from Guernsey - this isn't intended to trivialise the occupation! It seemed a more likely scenario that the school didn't get out of Guernsey in time than that it was based in Nouvion and the Austria years didn't happen.
How it all began...