From Adolf Hitler to Earl Grey

Ron­nie Mcgowan has an his­toric en­counter, and dis­cov­ers a very French love af­fair with tea

French Property News - - Contents -

An ex­pat plays war tour guide be­fore tak­ing tea French-style

Buy­ing a prop­erty in France can bring with it many bonuses and tales of the un­ex­pected, thanks to the coun­try’s in­cred­i­ble and far-rang­ing his­tory. Of­ten these are echoes of war or de­tri­tus of in­va­sions long past, in con­trast to Bri­tain with its ghosts of only two in­vaders, Julius Cae­sar and Wil­liam the Con­queror, the lat­ter re­turn­ing to his beloved Nor­mandy to live there and to even­tu­ally die in Rouen.

Af­ter the pur­chase of our iso­lated farm­house in Pas de Calais, we quickly be­came aware that in the fields and woods around us were some rather odd build­ings. They ap­peared to be a mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tion of some sort, but noth­ing like the shel­ters, block­houses and gun em­place­ments found along the nearby coast­line from what had once been Adolf Hitler’s At­lantic Wall.

My friend Claude en­light­ened me: our area had been a Ger­man World War Two V1 fly­ing bomb launch site, bat­tered and bruised some­what by the Amer­i­can Air Force, but still largely in­tact. My cu­rios­ity aroused, I be­gan to re­search the sub­ject in some depth, and dis­cov­ered an in­sight into a world long gone. In turn, this led to a very pleas­ant in­ter­lude.

Re­lax­ing on the pa­tio and sip­ping wine af­ter a rather good lunch was one of our favourite pas­times. Sud­denly, Colette straight­ened. “Some­one is com­ing,” she said.

A Bri­tish car ap­proached along the lane and stopped at our front gate – a man got out and I went to meet him. He in­tro­duced him­self as a mil­i­tary his­to­rian who was con­tracted to write a book on V1 launch sites. This was the first one he had vis­ited, he said, and he had lots of ques­tions to ask. Maybe I could ac­com­pany him as he ex­plored the sur­round­ing area?

Wow! Sud­denly I was a for­eign tour guide. This stranger had just made my day.

That af­ter­noon as­sumed a dream­like qual­ity as I took the writer back in time, ex­plain­ing as I went the com­plex­i­ties of such an op­er­a­tion for the Ger­mans (too com­plex, as it turned out, as the orig­i­nal plan had to be changed).

I showed him the con­crete launch­ing ramp pre­cisely an­gled to tar­get Lon­don, which was well within the mis­sile’s 150-mile range; the three so-called ‘ski’ build­ings con­structed in­deed like skis on their side, de­signed to of­fer pro­tec­tion against blast; the chief tech­ni­cian’s of­fice pock­marked with shrap­nel; the very spe­cial non-magnetic build­ing where the gy­ro­com­passes were set, and so on. It took well over an hour.

Tour over and job done, my vis­i­tor thanked me pro­fusely and shook my hand rather fiercely in farewell. I re­turned to my chair on the pa­tio and to my wine. Colette teased, “Who’s a happy lit­tle boy then?” I grinned. “Buy­ing this place in France was one of the best things we ever did.” I lay back and closed my eyes, in­deed a happy lit­tle boy.

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