- Wartime Rupture and Reconfiguration in French Family Life:Experience and Legacy
That's it. A rupture like that, you think about it all your life. You don't think about it every day, you're not saying to yourself, 'Oh, yes, in those days …', all of that, but all your life you think about it. You never forget. Memories aren't rubbed out. They stay, they remain engraved, your key memories.1Jacques (born October 1938), recorded 16 June 2017 in Yvelines.
After the dust had settled, how had the Second World War changed lives? For those children not directly affected by aggression, combat or persecution, what was the impact of the Second World War on life trajectories? In this article the examination of a number of subjective memory stories of former French child evacuees and refugees brings into view the consequences of various kinds of family rupture and reconfiguration. These intensely personal stories show first that the meanings attached to the past can exist entirely outside the structures of 'collective memory', and second, that war was the catalyst for change here, not the Vichy government. Military combat and state collaboration are present in the background; but as most people's lives are played out primarily on the smaller domestic stage, these stories reflect clearly the pressing preoccupations of daily, lived realities as families struggled to manage the practical and psychological changes which war projected into their homes from afar.
War creates massive social upheaval in various ways: through major population displacement, food and supply problems, and through 'voluntary' and 'involuntary' family separation. It unpicks familiar and established patterns of social relations, and restitches them differently. This article deals with the separation of families through the evacuation of urban children to the French countryside because of air-raid danger and food shortage. It argues that the experience of the Second World War was profound, even among those who did not experience persecution or aggression directly. Furthermore, it seeks to complicate understandings of family separation [End Page 134] as a wholly negative experience for children in war, without compromising sensitivity to the nuances of individual difference. Finally, it will show that the legacy of war experience is evident in unusual and meaningful commemorative actions situated well below national and communal levels, which go largely unacknowledged.
Listening to voices hitherto omitted from the historical record sheds light on the wider social impact of war, and also helps to account for some of the tensions which exist in national and collective memory in France.2 For those who were never bombed, terrorized, persecuted or bereaved, the period 1940–44 has a very different set of meanings. The commemoration and revisiting of such traumatic events is necessary. But for those lucky enough to have avoided these horrors, yet whose lives were altered by war in other, less evident ways, such commemorations might seem to belong to another war, another country, another people, another era. My research seeks to include more and different kinds of stories to build a picture of war and its aftermath which outlines not just what is clear, terrible and clearly terrible, but what is more ambiguous both in impact and meaning.
Family separation is one of the most widespread consequences of war, particularly war which targets civilian populations. There is some historical scholarship about it, but in limited forms; such research is bolstered by larger bodies of work in psychology, and indeed, other disciplines beyond.3 Scholars have typically looked at two varieties of family breakup in war. The first is the impact of absent men, whether as service personnel, as prisoners-of-war or as returning husbands and fathers at the end of conflict.4 The second is the evacuation of children away from biological families. This measure to protect vulnerable parts of the civilian population developed with the advent of air war, and is most commonly associated with the Second World War.5 Across the world, governments instigated schemes to move children away from danger, protecting both young lives and future human resources. The national contexts appearing most commonly in Anglophone writing are the British evacuation of 1939 and during the Blitz, and the Finnish...