August 1939-A Memoir
IN AUGUST Of 1939 I am in Brittany, living with a French family and following with difficulty their fluent speech. When the news comes on the 24th of the month of the signing of the signing of the non-aggression pact between Hitler and Stalin, so rapid an exchange of consternation and dismay criss-cross that 17th-century courtyard where we are having an al fresco luncheon, that communication becomes more and more difficult. It is only possible for a beginner to understand that all British nationals should cross the Channel as soon as possible (not easy to do since boats are filled and panicky tourists are already sleeping in the sheds at the Saint-Malo wharves). The word boche resounds; first in the courtyard and then in the great living-room of the villa. Two Swiss cousins, who have been hiking to Breton churches and studying the gray stone calvaires encountered along so many country roads, pack their knapsacks and leave with serious faces. One Parisian, grimly expecting conscription, returns to Paris. Those of us who are English or American set off for coastal ports. It is as if what has been well known but easily forgotten returns now to haunt us, a lesson of liberty, valued, but never before considered to take first place. Uneasily, like reproved children, we crowd at last onto the Channel boat.
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