Veronique (Vera) was born in 1920 near Douai, France to her English father and French mother. Due to her father being a civil servant, her formative years were spent between England, France, Austria and lndia. By the time she was 16 she was fluent in English, French, German and passable Hindi. By 1936 the family (now with a younger brother Thomas) had settled down and spent their time between the two family homes in London and Douai although Vera always thought of Douai as her home. lt was there that the family ran a brasserie and Vera took an active part in running it.
Dark days were approaching and despite Vera's father wanting to take the family to London her mother refused to leave the family home and business. When war was declared in 1939 Vera's mother was finally persuaded to leave for London but now Vera's father had another problem ... Vera. She was adamant that she would remain in Douai running the brasserie with her grandparents who also adamantly refused to go, so the family left for London without Vera.
The Phoney War followed and life seemed to go on as normal and the family business was doing well. By now it had clientele of a new variety ... young boisterous RAF and French pilots based at the nearby Vitry-en-Artois airfield with amongst others the 607 Squadron. Vera fell in love with one of the French pilots and following a whirlwind romance they got married in March 1940. By the end of May 1940 she was a widow when her husband was shot down in his aircraft and killed. Vera never remarried.
German occupation quickly followed and after a relatively short time life carried on although now it was a very different life. Vera had thrown herself into the business but now the airmen at her brasserie were of a different air force ... the Luftwaffe. Vera was surprised to find them very courteous and friendly and her being fluent in German soon found herself at the centre of attraction. Vera was no collaborator and as the resistance started to grow she passed on valuable information gleaned from the pilots. She also hid arms and radios. This was very dangerous for her because it wasn't the Germans she just had to fear, it was her own fellow citizens ... many of whom were informers. On two occasions during the occupation she was taken in for questioning or rather l should say interrogation by the Gestapo/SS but she did not break. Both times she convinced them she was innocent and to let her go. Vera never went into details about those interrogations and one dreads to think what she suffered at their hands.
ln 1941, a young flamboyant Luftwaffe Oberleutnant was particularly attracted to her and she allowed this to develope. At first it was for an ulterior motive on her part but despite herself the relationship became more than that but she never waivered from her original task. ln 1944 she lost him too, again being shot down in his aircraft and killed.
By the end of the war it had inflicted more grief on her. Both her grandparents had passed away and her younger brother had been killed in the Royal Navy in 1945. Vera left Douai and returned to London to live with her parents. When her father died in 1949, her and her mother moved to Yorkshire and opened a restaurant. She returned on many occasions to France, sometimes visiting her husband's grave in Abbeville, her brother's grave in Bayeaux, her grandparent's graves in Douai and her Oberleutnant's grave in La Cambe.
Vera sold her restaurant long before the smoking ban came in but l'm certain she'd not have given in so easily as many have. You see, Vera smoked as did her mother. Her mother died at the age of 85. Vera was careful with money and one thing she refused to do was pay for tobacco in the UK. She always brought tobacco with her from France, not only for herself but her friends also. She was stopped and searched by Customs and interviewed a number of times over the years. She used to say they were very amateurish and had told them so on more than one occasion. One time a Customs officer was very aggressive towards her and she said she had great delight in telling him about her wartime interrogations and how he reminded her of a particular Nazi whom she had shot through the head. Vera never did say if this was true. She never had anything confiscated and genuinely looked forward to her baccy runs. She used to say it reminded her of the old days.
Vera passed away last year. God bless you Vera ... a true Lionheart!
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