My family and I said a final farewell to my Mother-In-Law, Ginette French, last week. The humanist celebrant, Alison Orchard composed a fabulous story about her life which was read out at the service we held to celebrate her life. It would be a shame if only the few people who attended the service got to hear her story so I’ve decided to share it with anyone who might be interested in her life, which included living in German occupied Paris during the second world war. A lot of her stories died with her but this bit can live on, as her legacy to the world.
I can highly recommend Alison if you’re looking for a humanist celebrant as this is the second time I’ve used her and, on both occasions, she really worked hard to get a true understanding of the people she was talking about and did so in a truly warm and compassionate way. You can find her here :- http://www.humanist.org.uk/alisonorchard
Ginette had a longer life than most and, with a little help and support of others, she remained independent and relatively fit until the last few months of her life, doing the splits into her seventies and going shopping on the Tesco bus . She remained able to live in her own home, with the help of her sons , right up until early last year. As a self-sufficient person she would have appreciated that; she eventually moved into the Ashdowne Care Home last July and there the staff provided her with a happy and loving environment to end her days; she remained in good spirits and retained her strong presence until the last few days of her life; and the end, when it came, was calm and peaceful; beautiful even.
The greatest blessing of all is that Ginette had an interesting and fulfilling life; she found love and friendship and, as someone who liked the finer things in life, she enjoyed what the world had to offer her. Hers was a strong character, fools suffered, she liked things to be right and did her best to make them so. She was a woman of substance with a bright and passionate presence and a resolute and determined spirit; you knew when she was in the room! And she lived life to the full, all the while gracing our world with her beauty, elegance and style. In the words of Coco Chanel, that Suzi thought described Ginette so well, “You can be gorgeous at thirty, charming at forty and irresistible for the rest of your life”
There is much to respect and admire; we must celebrate her life today.
Here is her story:-
Ginette Braziér was born in Paris on 18th April, 1927, to Alice and her engraver husband, Robert, known as Mimi and Pipi, Ginette was as sophisticated and lively as the city she grew up in; she was Parisienne through and through. Times were hard when she was a girl, and her parents were strict, but hers was a fortunate upbringing, too; her grandparents were wealthy, they had a beautiful house in the suburbs of the city and were looked after by servants; Ginette loved going to visit them there, whenever she could. She liked the outdoors, learned to swim from an early age and she enjoyed swimming in the River Marne and she was, by all accounts, a good and enthusiastic dancer
But life was to change for young Ginette when in 1940, when she was thirteen, Nazi Germany began their occupation of France during the Second World War. The people were as humiliated as they were frightened, and Paris became quiet and dark.
In his book, ‘When Paris Went Dark’, Ronald C. Rosbottom writes:
“The cacophony of daily urban engagement — passersby, hawkers, street minstrels and performers, construction work, and especially traffic noise — was severely diminished . . . writers of the period … emphasize how quiet Paris became during those years. Sometimes the silence brought benefits, when pleasant sounds — birdsong, music — were able to reach Parisians’ ears. . . . But mostly, the new silence in such a vital capital [was] confusing and intermittently frightening. Police sirens were more menacing, airplane engines meant danger, a shout or scream demanded a more nervous response.”
Ginette often spoke with sadness when she told you how she lost a lot of her Jewish schoolfriends, whom she assumes were killed in concentration camps, certainly she never saw them again once they had been transported away. Ginette’s father took a more pragmatic approach and, always one to value education, he encouraged his daughter to learn German. She wasn’t keen, however, and became instead a proficient English speaker, although no one is quite sure how! Despite his pragmatism over learning the language he certainly wasn’t a supporter or collaborator of the Germans. Indeed his engraving skills were put to good use by the French resistance movement as he helped out producing false identification documents and travel papers wherever he could.
Ginette played part in the French resistance movement, too. By all accounts on one occasion the resistance were planning to attack a German building in her neighbourhood. They enlisted her help to go around an tell all the local residents to stay inside. However her dad was furious when he heard that the French had started firing on the Germans before his daughter had finished, putting her life at risk. Later on, during the mass exodus of parisiens from the city, she was once again forced to take evasive action. To save hers and her family’s lives. This time she ended up diving into ditches alongside the roads as german planes bombed the civilian convoys leaving Paris.
Despite all this, she grew up to be the most stunningly beautiful young woman; slim, poised and classy, with curly hair and natural fitness and elegance; she loved clothes, often embellishing garments she had bought to make them unique and chic. On leaving school Ginette trained as a secretary, learning to touch type in the process, and, when she went to England in her early twenties and found a company with a typewriter which had a French keyboard, she settled to work in London.
It was at a dance that she was to meet her future husband, Reg. ‘I’m French’, she told him. ‘I’m French, too’, he replied. She was puzzled until Reg showed her his identity card and she realised he was called Reg French! They made a handsome pair as you can see on your orders of service. And, so it was that French woman, Ginette, became Mrs French! The newly weds settled in Tottenham.
Theirs was a good marriage; they were different in character, Ginette was sparkly and chatty and Reg was quiet and liked fishing, but he became something of a shed man and they did lots of activities apart with Reg taking care of the garden and Ginette keeping a neat and tidy house; it worked and they each contributed to the other’s happiness!
They were to have two children, Alan and Jean-Pierre, known as John. Ginette had a strong sense of family and responsibility and she was supportive and protective with her sons; no-one short changed anyone in her family! Alan only told his mother once about the problems he was facing at school, he didn’t want Ginette knocking on the door of the headmaster’s office and demanding things change ever again
She enjoyed cooking, although with Reg’s tastes being somewhat traditional, she had to abandon the French cooking she loved, to embrace meat, potatoes and two veg; she made lovely cakes, too.
But she wasn’t a serious mother and Alan remembers her dancing in the living room, donning a gas mask to de-flea the cat and joining a noisy party next door whilst Reg went to sleep in the bath on the quiet side of the house! She warmly welcomed Alan’s friends and she never minded them mimicking her accent!
Ginette returned to work between the births of Alan and John and again when John was older. She worked in an international clothing distribution company, Tibbet and Britten, for a while, a job in which her French came in very handy and she insisted she was given a smoke free office but, when she was made redundant, she rang up Marks and Spencer and she started work there just days later. Hers was an enterprising and confident spirit
They enjoyed some lovely holidays, to places like Spain and Ibiza and especially to Cravante, a tiny village in mid France where Ginette’s grandparents had now moved. Their property was large, with a beautiful garden for the children to play in.
When her father, Pipi, died, though, Ginette and Reg retired a little early and moved to Bournemouth, they were able to bring Ginette’s mother over from France and Ginette cared for her very dedicatedly. Sadly in time Reg, too, became ill, Ginette didn’t want anyone else looking after him – they were sure not to have done a good job – and she nursed him until he died fifteen years ago.
Ginette enjoyed reading romantic books and historical novels; she loved old films, as well some of the soaps and quiz programmes; she liked to sing, especially along to old French songs; she continued to holiday, in America and New Mexico; she embraced computers and learned to email, although she still liked to write letters; and she looked amazing every day of her life! Suzi vividly remembers when they hired a French gite and Ginette was with them; they went for a walk through the forest, Ginette insisted on wearing open toed shoes which inevitably filled up with leaves and stones as tghey went. Once their picnic lunch was finished Ginette decided to put the plastic sandwich bags over her feet to protect her shoes…. and she still looked as classy as ever!
Sadly everything we cherish passes out of our lives. Perhaps it is only when we face this truth as those we love become ill and die that we realize how precious life with them has been.
Ginette did become frail, especially after her fall and her eyesight began to decline, and, after spending some time living with John, she came to Tiverton to live near Alan and Suzi. They were glad that the staff there seemed to like her and made such an effort to make her as comfortable and engaged as possible and they were warmly thanked at Ginette’s funeral. It was here that she died.
Don’t forget to remember Ginette, perhaps when you look through photographs, enjoy a French song or buy some new clothes, as she loved to do. In that way you will strengthen her legacy and she can come with you into your future.
The world is a sadder place without Ginette, but I’m sure you will agree, for you, a far more colourful and stylish place for her having been in it.