By Anne Penn (née Sandeman)
I grew up knowing of the existence of my paternal grandmother’s Occupation diary, but it was in 2017 that I first saw the manuscript when my father, Brian Sandeman, gave it to me. Bundles of loose pages tied up by string, handwritten in ink and in an old paper carrier bag.
I was curious to see if there were hidden secrets or heroic acts revealed by my grandmother, Marie Sandeman. However, Marie was French and always spoke in French to her two sons so naturally the diary was in French – not a subject that I excelled at in school!
It was after the death of Fr Brian Sandeman in 2019 that I started translating the work via an online translation site; my aim was for every living descendant of Marie Sandeman to have a copy of this part of their family history.
Marie’s opening line is:
‘Today I am going to start an account of the past three weeks which will go down in the history of the Island.’
As I translated more and more (with help from family and friends) it became apparent that this diary is not only part of my family’s history but also that of Jersey’s. And so the idea of publishing the work came about. The original pages are now in the safekeeping of the Jersey Archive.
‘If These Lines Survive’ is a mother’s personal account for her two absent sons. It is clearly written by a mother who dearly loves her sons and misses them immensely. I came across no secrets or heroic actions, just a unique and absorbing perspective on life under German Occupation. From their family home, 55 Rouge Bouillon, which makes the corner of Rouge Bouillon with Queen’s Road (now the site of the Norfolk Lodge Hotel) Marie had a good view of the goings on at the Officer’s Club in Gloster Terrace just across the road and could see across St Helier to the harbour, the Fort and the bay from the attic rooms.
Early on during the Occupation Marie was very aware of the consequences should her journal be found.‘When I heard that the Germans had searched the Jesuits and Rozel Manor, I feared for my diary.
Not knowing where to hide it I pushed it between the tank (in the attic above the large nursery) and the wall, forcing it a little. This space was closed on both sides by a plank and was extremely narrow, I cannot retrieve my papers anymore and Noël will have to saw off one of the boards. As long as the mice do not eat it . . . . . . . . silly goose Maman!’
Marie’s husband, Victor, was a retired officer of the 17th Lancers. Perhaps this is why Marie had volunteered at the ‘Foyer du Soldat’ before the Occupation and continued to do so throughout. She records in October 1940:
‘The Foyer du Soldat became the Foyer des Pauvres. We continue to work there, and I do my part as much as my busy schedule allows. There is no shortage of work, thank God. It is the best remedy for all our worries.’
My grandmother would enjoy the company of the other ladies who also volunteered there, and they would exchange news. On 15 September, 1942 Marie records:
‘God knows how worried you must be, my poor children, when you hear the terrible news which fell like a bomb today in Jersey. I went to the Foyer, as always on a Tuesday, and I found Mrs Le C alone, doing some translation while waiting for . . . . . the clients! Mrs de L arrives, saying
“Have you read the Evening Post?”
“Because you are going to be appalled. They are going to evacuate English subjects to Germany . . .” We were left open mouthed.
In such troubled times, one can expect anything, and these few lines in the newspaper have overwhelmed Jersey. And very few Englishmen in Jersey will sleep easy tonight.
Your father and I are exempt from this disaster because of our age, or rather Papa’s age, because it is between the ages of 16 and 70 that men and their families are affected.’
In January 1943 after a visit to the Foyer she writes:
‘Yesterday at the Foyer we had a few little ones and they almost all look well, in spite of the little bare feet. Fortunately, we still have something to give them. You should see the mothers’ joy at the sight of a jumper and little woollen trousers or a dress. As for socks and stockings, they look at them with respect and run their hands over them to make sure that they are real. And nobody complains or remonstrates, they are resigned.’
Due to Victor’s age and health the garden was left to Marie, however, she had help from staff and a gardener. They were indeed fortunate to have two greenhouses and a sizeable plot to grow fruit and vegetables, which they put to good use.
‘Fine beans, peas, young carrots, cabbages, strawberries over, raspberries in full flush, blackcurrants very ripe, gooseberries are just beginning, the peaches are colouring up, there is a lack of cherries, apples look promising, numerous pears on the two or three trees that have them, at last the figs are swelling, tomatoes too, and finally the blackberries are in full flower.
For the moment, the grapes are splendid, the shallots are ready, the onions are well on their way, the leeks are beginning to take up space in the sunshine, the beetroots are rounding out, the sugar beet will yield as well and in their trench the celery is doing its best to peep over the edge.
The potatoes are lifted and put away out of the light, the runner beans wave their pretty flowers in the wind and the roses are unfurling or rather shredding their leaves.’
Marie mentions other fruit and vegetables in her journal, including growing Cantaloupe melons, redcurrants, rhubarb and asparagus. She would preserve the fruit and vegetables for the winter months by storing, bottling, making jam and even drying slices of pears and apples for Victor’s compote.
My grandmother always kept the front garden in good order and passers-by would stop and admire the beautiful flowers, particularly the aubretia. The entry for 16 April 1942 records this:
‘The noise of several horsemen passing through Rouge Bouillon woke me up. It was 7 o’clock. I looked through the slats of the shutters, 2 detachments passed by quietly, each having two-gun carriages in their midst.
The officers were gesticulating as they looked out over the garden, where in the cool of the morning the geometric lines of the flowerbeds showed the beauty of their pretty light blue to scarlet violets. Yes, I said to them (in petto) have a good look, it is the last time you will see a pretty English garden . . . . as a victor. Before the young leaves of the trees, which are timidly emerging now, grow, turn brown and fall, you will have left this land, which you have trodden for too long . . . . . . ‘
Hopefully the above passages have given a flavour of Marie’s ability to write. ‘If These Lines Survive’ runs to 436 pages and describes life under the Boches, the heartbreak and hardship of rationing but also tells something of Victor’s family in England with whom their two sons stayed, Philip whilst on leave from the RAF and Brian during the school holidays. Philip left Ampleforth College in July 1940. Marie’s family were all in the South of France and throughout her diary it is evident how worried she is about them. I have put a family tree of each of the families at the back of the book so that the reader knows to whom Marie is referring.
I have also comprehensively indexed the book and so the reader is able to easily refer to people, events, and places. At times Marie would use a person’s full name but often it was shortened, for example, Mme P, Mr B etc.
When one reads If These Lines Survive it becomes very evident just how much those Red Cross messages and her faith meant to Marie and so I have decided that it is right and proper that any sale proceeds from this publication should be shared between the British Red Cross and St Thomas’ Church.
- I have self-published using Kindle Direct Publishing and so it retails on Amazon for £14.95. Should an outlet wish to stock it in Jersey please contact me via firstname.lastname@example.org