Ok, the gap between two and three is all you need to know about coping with online teaching and toddler management during lockdown! Better late than never. This one is inspired by the rather brilliant Simone Segouin (codename Nicole Minet. I wish I had a codename) who joined the French resistance at 17. She received an International Award from the British charity Soldiering On in 2017, to honour her part in the war. She still lives in an old people’s home in Chartres.
Why Give Me a Medal?
They gave me a medal today. A big ceremony, like those glitzy Hollywood awards with everyone all dressed up. Not that I was there, of course. A man called Dennis came to the home and handed it to me. A gold statue, like an Oscar, only holding up the British flag. Good to know there’s still a sense of us working together after all this time. The way people talk you’d think us French were enemies with the Brits during the war. Memories fade too quickly. One minute we were desperate to reach each other, the next we’re spitting insults across the channel.
I don’t like the word ‘hero.’ It’s an English word anyway, one they dole out too easily. Especially in the USA. All that bravado and overblown sentiment resting on some chiseled jaw. Not what I call patriotism. Ours was a different kind of flag-waving.
It wouldn’t be the word for me anyway. I get things like ‘icon’ or ‘symbol,’ as if that picture of me is just that – a painted image. It wasn’t just me, that’s what I kept saying when they gave me that silly medal. Anyone would think I was the only female fighting back against the Germans. I just happened to be near a camera.
And wearing shorts, of course. Any idiot could tell it was far easier to go unnoticed by the enemy if I looked like a normal girl. Wasn’t anything to do with getting tarted up. Trousers aren’t any good against a bullet and a dress was far too impractical for running away. Still, it gave them something to look at.
They hated it a little, I think. A delicate female body tensed for battle. The dark metal of the gun in my hands. An MP 40 too, not the tiny useless things they allow women to carry in films. Something unsettling about feminine flesh turned violent. As if it’s only allowed for men.
I thought it would be different, when they printed stories about me in the papers again seventy years later. This vile paper in the UK called me a ‘pin-up,’ said I was ‘spirited.’ Even worse than the first time round. Some pretty little thing with grand ideas.
Tell that to the twenty-five soldiers who surrendered to me outside Chartres. Tell that to De Gaulle himself. We walked into Paris together. The scathing comments to begin with when all I did was take a bicycle and slash some tires. The shift in their faces when I shot one off a bicycle and kept silent watch while they blew a bridge up.
They can call it brave, but there weren’t many appealing options. Working with a needle and thread, cowed down by the enemy. Probably used by them. Flaunting my body, only to have my head shaved when the country was liberated. Walking that awkward line between flirting and being respectable. Better to take a gun and fight.
It does make your heart thud. Lying in wait, knowing you’ll have to kill them before they see you. Standing in front of people who want to murder you. The feeling of fury when men walk into your streets and say their feet have more right to the stones than yours. Hearing about our resistance fighters who were taken into fields and shot. Or worse. Making your feet move forward when your mind is fighting at every turn. Wondering what it feels like when a bullet bites.
But it wasn’t just me. Never is, of course. Take one picture of someone with a pretty look and there’ll be hundreds of shadows behind them. Those who weren’t considered pleasing enough or those who didn’t make it to a doddering age like me, warm in my slippers. Tell that to your shiny medal.