My Memere, Philomene, has just turned 100! Born on the November 5th, 1919, on a farm in Brittany, France, she migrated to Wollongong, Australia with her husband Pierre (my Pepere, now deceased) after World War 2 when Europe declined into depression.
She is currently the oldest living French expat in Australia according to the French consulate!
Memere and Pepere both lived through Nazi-occupied Bretagne and have always told lot's of really interesting stories about the time & area plus moving to Australia without knowing a word of English.
My Pepere was a member of the Free French under Charles de Gaulle and was a plane technician during the war (one of his missions across the English Channel was in a book that I’ll dig up the name of soon).
Proof via Twitter: https://mobile.twitter.com/mjrowles/status/1192973841980485632
UPDATE: we’re filming some responses, as you can understand this is more of a conversation so please bare with us 👍🏻
UPDATE 2: I have a lot of footage, we’re trying to reply as quick as possible. Thanks so much to everyone who has asked so far. I’ll come and visit Memere again tomorrow and get some more answers, so keep them coming :)
UPDATE 3: I promise i’ll get around to answering some of the new questions with Memere over the next few days, bare with us :)
Did you ever suspect, or hear suspicions, that Hitler was systematically slaughtering Jews before the gas chambers became common knowledge after the labour camps were liberated...and what have you the suspicion?
Yes we knew, the prisoner of war camps were big, two of my brothers were sent there before they came home and word got around.
There were Jewish families who hid on our farms, my sister even hosted a family in their barn and they survived thankfully.
Can u please explain how did an occupied city worked for it's locals? Did the commerce still work normally? Did police and other emergency services stop working? Were people afraid?
There was a lot of fear. Germany took most of the northern countries in a week and France very quickly too. In saying that, life was mostly normal aside from a few very sad events that affected my town (mentioned in another video) and the odd soldier coming to get food from my family. We just survived, obeyed and got on with life.
Despite from the ideology, do u think there was an objetive difference between Nazi and Allies soldiers? Specially in terms of how do they act towards civilians.
Not really, the German soldiers varied just as the Allied soldiers would have but were generally nice. They were all young men. A lot of the Allied nations, France especially, did not have an army of proper soldiers, whereas Germany did. When they occupied Brittany, some even boarded with French people.
When D-Day happened, they all took off their uniforms to blend in for safety but also because it was finally over.
What are some of the most amazing thing she has seen in her life?
The moon landing! Planes also, nothing has changed the world more than planes. It took us 5 weeks on a big boat to come to Australia, then all of a sudden we could go on holidays every year.
what was your first job and at what age?
In Australia, teaching at a high school! I did cleaning for a few weeks when I first arrived to cover for my cousin who went home. I loved every minute of my teaching years, ‘62-85! I taught French mainly and a bit of Italian. My friend, who recently passed at 101, used to teach me some Italian and vice versa!
Does your Memere consider Mont-Saint-Michel to be in Brittany or Normandy?
Well, it’s between the two. It’s a very special place but also a very dangerous place in years gone because of the tide and waves!
Is there a simple way you can express how you have seen the world change in your lifetime?
This one was a hard one, I’m uploading a few video answers to other questions which might paint a picture! Sorry!
What advice would you offer a young person who will soon be going out into the world?
My Great Grandfather was a WWII vet, and he died when I was young, so I never got to ask him the things I wanted to.
So, I must ask first and foremost, as a survivor, was there a German soldier you thought could’ve been a comrade, even a dear friend under different circumstances?
Grandson: I have a few vids at this comment that give insight into this: https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/dtom4o/bonjour_i_am_a_100yr_old_ww2surviving_bretagne/f6y52qu?utm_source=share&utm_medium=web2x
If you could, which advice would you give ur 20 year old self?
How's the French food in Wollongong?
Not great! I don’t think I’ve had a proper French meal at a restaurant since I’ve come to Australia.
If I may what was it like living through Nazi occupied Europe,
Like what was your day to day.
In your opinion, what do we (Millennials) take for granted the most?
Hi would love to hear of your experiences. What was the process you went through to immigrate from France to Australia? Was there a lot of bureaucracy? Did your husband have a job offer set up before arrival?
Do you speak any Breton?
It’s funny because I could not even speak French until school, but sadly now I do not. Pepere spoke all his life!
Did she grow up speaking French or Breton? What part was she from?
Breton! I could not speak French until I went to school. It was hard to talk to Parisians when we went to sell produce or animals in the capital later on also. Saint-Hernin, Finistere if you know that area
What made you and your husband choose to move to Australia?
Do you miss your hometown? What do you miss the most?
What did you have to do to survive?
When you moved to Australia, what was the general sentiment towards the French post-WWII? How were you and your husband received by the community?
Thanks for sharing your experiences!
Bonjour! Je connais quelques Bretons et leur fierté pour la Bretagne est toujours surprenante à mes yeux! Partagez-vous encore cette passion pour ce drapeau noir et blanc?
I figured a french text would be easier to understand as you are from Britanny. Pardon me if my french has some uncaught mistakes.
Has she returned to France often? Did/does she feel like a stranger when she visits her country?
My pépère was also in the Resistance in Normandy. After the war, he was a diver and disarmed submarine mines.
I never heard anyone else use pépère/mémère before. Really cool.
My opa (other grandpa) was in the German army, spent some time in French prisoner of war camps after the war, loved the French culture, wanted to stay so he proved himself until he was allowed to reside in France. He and my oma didn’t go back to Germany for many decades (until the wall came down I believe).
I am myself an expat in the US. I have been here for more than 10 years about a 1/3 of my life so my questions are related to my own experience and the experience of my grandparents.
Funny how life works out sometimes.
Bonjour de Californie!
Edit: concentration -> prisoner of war
We didn’t! We were meant to go to Canada but they closed immigration. My husbands family made it to Canada just before us.
What is a Memere?
Grandson here: we’re not actually sure it’s a real thing, it sort of translates to Mum Mum, but there was someone else here who uses the same words so maybe it is more common than we thought! It’s just something we grew up calling them, i’ll ask Mum and Dad to find out more.
As a Breton, did you feel like you faced discrimination because of your heritage, either before or during the war?
Yes. Like here a bit when we arrived here [in Australia], tall poppies look after themselves you know. This has changed a lot from what I see in the news. I recall Pepere writing a letter to the president when he was alive [Chirac] complaining about the similarities and he called him to discuss it!
Do you see any Change in pre war and post war era? What're the good and bad changes?
Where are you from in Brittany? Thanks !
Saint-Hernin, Finistere, Quimper, Brittany
Pepere is from Carhaix-plouger