Melanie was looking through some old photos when she had to stop at one in particular. It showed her as a little girl on her first journey to France. She was holding her grandmother’s hand. Her mother had taken the picture. It was some years ago, but she remembered the visit so well as if it were yesterday.
The sun was shining as they stepped onto French soil and the sea gulls were forming their circles above. They had to walk through the main street of the small French port to arrive at their target. Melanie suddenly stopped and was staring at something.
“Come Melanie, we have to go this way” said her mother Pat.
“I don’t like this place mummy, look at the shop over there. They have a sign where they are selling pain. I don’t want to buy any pain, it is bad enough when something hurts. This is a funny country.”
“Don’t worry Melanie” and Annie her grandmother decided to apply some grandmotherly advice. “We are now in France and the people speak and read French. That sign saying “pain” is the French word for bread and the house with the sign is a French bakers.”
“Really, oh I see. I was a bit worried that it would hurt in this place. Why did Grandfather John have to come here to die? He should have come home so that I could have got to know him.”
Annie would have liked to have answered that question, but she was not sure herself why this had to happen. Annie had only been married a few months when John was called up to the army and sent to other countries to fight. Pat was on the way, although John only knew this through a letter he received from Annie while he was serving abroad. Annie and Pat with Melanie now walked further and entered the cemetery which was just outside the town walls. There were rows of white stones each one the same size and form and showing names of the soldiers that had bravely fought for their country and lost their lives in this French town. Annie and Pat both knew where John’s grave was.
Annie often asked herself why this had to happen in the last months of the war, but at least she had a grave that she could visit. In 1945 John had been serving in France. The soldiers realised that slowly this terrible war was coming to an end and their job was to patrol the streets to ensure that everything was running smoothly. Although the enemy had withdrawn from this part of France, there were still skirmishes now and again. John was walking along the main road past the shops. He was just approaching the bakers shop and decided to buy one of those French loaves of bread, known as baguette. He like them very much, the soft white bread and the crust was something you just did not get in England and the owner of the shop, Madame Deveaux, was such a nice young lady. She had a little girl, Monique, and they were always very friendly to the soldiers. Just as he was going to enter the shop an aircraft passed above. There were still some isolated attacks and before he could take cover the baker’s shop was hit. John was lucky as he had not yet entered, but the shop partially collapsed. It was then that he heard cries coming from inside under the rubble. He climbed over the stones and bricks and heard Monique crying. Digging with his bare hands, brick by brick he saw a hand and heard a Madam Deveaux’s voice. It gave him courage to continue. Monique and her mother were soon released from their grave of bricks and stones. Luckily the full blast of the attack had been warded off by a table in the bakers shop and apart from a few cuts and bruises they were both ok. John told them to leave and seek shelter in the crypt of the village church. He knew this building had withstood many raids during the war and they would be safe. John made sure that the two survivors were out of the shop but the plane returned to finish the job. This time there was no luck for John. The plane’s bombs hit the shop once more. John was still inside the building and he had no chance of survival.
When Annie, Pat and Melanie arrived at John’s grave they found a young lady already standing there. She had just placed some roses at the grave. Annie was not really surprised as she always found flowers on her husband’s grave when she arrived on her annual visit to France and thought it was perhaps a token from the village. As Monique walked away from the English soldier’s grave she looked back towards the English people that had just arrived. She wanted to say something to them, but decided it was perhaps better not to. Monique’s mother visited this grave often with flowers when she was still alive and now Monique carried on the tradition. They were both thankful to John for their lives.
Writer's Block - Challenge #57