Wednesday, 21 April 2021

World War II French Resistance in the Touraine Loire Valley -- Victor's Story

Recently an American contact of mine mentioned staying at the Chateau de Pray, near Amboise, and it prompted me to mention that I had been contacted by the son of someone who had worked there and had been in the Resistance. He wanted me, and indeed the world, to know his father’s remarkable story, so I am delighted to pass it on. It is, like all these stories, very moving and full of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Victor Maitrejean in 1950, Indre et Loire, France.
Victor Maîtrejean in 1950.


Early in 2010 I was contacted by Pascal Maîtrejean, who told me about his father, Victor. This was in response to a public appeal for information about a Resistance memorial that I had made some months earlier. 

Resistance memorial in the forest, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
A close up of the memorial in the forest near Verneuil. Carved into the bottom part
are the names of all the dead.

Victor Maîtrejean was born in 1921 in Algeria (then a French colony). At 14 years old he lost an arm in an accident on an airfield when he was turning a propeller by hand to start an aeroplane engine. In 1940 he and his mother moved to central France, where he took up an apprentice gardener post at the Chateau de Pray between Amboise and Mosnes. 

Victor Maitrejean's ID card, France.
Victor Maîtrejean's identity card.

The Germans took over the château, and when they left, an SS officer offered Victor a gift of the vehicle that had been used as the officers' transport. Victor, who was young and impressionable, was delighted and moved towards the car. His boss, the head gardener, who had been through the First World War, warned him not to touch it. Sure enough, the door had been booby trapped with a grenade, and had Victor opened the door...  

Resistance memorial in the forest, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The memorial to the maquis Césario, deep in the forest
they used to hide in. The only sound here now is birds calling.

Following this event, he joined the maquis (the Resistance), and didn't return to the place until the end of the War. After the War, anyone who wanted to be recognised as a combattant and receive a military pension needed to make a statement of where they fought and what they did during the War. I have translated his account of some of the action he saw. (FFI stands for Forces Françaises de l'Intérieur.)

Resistance memorial, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The memorial to those men forced to dig their own grave and buried alive.

"On 24 June 1944*, being in the maquis FFI of Loches, commanded by Césario Bretegnier, we took up arms and left at 3 o'clock in a bus to patrol and ambush. At 9:30 after having made around 30 kilometres, we came to an area called le Liege. We hid up and rested until 11:10, when we saw a German truck coming over the brow of a hill. As soon as they passed we attacked. The truck caught fire and we killed 13 German soldiers - a number that must have brought us bad luck, because we didn't know that behind this scout truck there was a company of Germans. The battle raged from 11:10 to 18:05 - 34 against 150 to 200. We killed 21 German soldiers and set two trucks on fire at the beginning, but it was too much and later, field upon field, vine after vine we retreated and lost 7 men killed and 5 others we know were captured and forced to dig their own grave then interred alive. By this time some of us were down to a single cartridge or grenade and we had lost our bus. On the Loches road there is a memorial as you leave le Liege, for those who were buried alive, and another at Verneuil-sur-Indre to my companions who were killed or died after deportation. As a result of my participation in this battle I have been awarded the Order of the Army." *His son thinks this may be a mistake and it should read aôut (August). Victor died in 2009, which was when Pascal found the ID card and some associated paperwork. Vale, Victor. I think we would all like to think that we would have been as brave.

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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

This Was Once a BP Service Station

Le Prosper restaurant, Loches, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Where Le Prosper restaurant is now in Loches was once a BP Energic service station, back in the 1950s and 60s. The statue of the writer Alfred de Vigny acted as a roundabout at the time. 

Aerial view of Place de la Marne, Loches, Indre et Loire, France, 1950s or 60s. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Aerial view of Place de la Marne from the 1950s. Note the Traction parked in front of the house next to the service station.

In the early 20th century it was a branch office of the Chemins de Fer d'Orléans (Orleans Railway), offering private car hire (for town and country), trucks, delivery, and both bus and train transport to businesses and the public, from Loches to Chatillon, Buzançais and Chateauroux.


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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 
 
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UPDATE: RESPONSES TO COMMENTS
Carolyn -- wrong boot (trunk).
Jean -- the current operators of Le Prosper have been there maybe 3-4 years. Not that long anyway. She is Russian, he is French. I think it was them who called it Le Prosper. I can't remember what it was before and never went there. I've eaten there and it was good (try to get a table in the back room, hard up against the Tour Saint Antoine).
 

Monday, 19 April 2021

Brie de Meaux

Non-French readers may be unaware that there are two types of Brie cheese in France. You rarely see Brie de Melun because the production is so small, but Brie de Meaux is readily available. As the name suggests this cheese comes from the area around Meaux, to the east of Paris.

Brie de Meaux. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

It is a raw cow's milk cheese, with a squidgy interior and a velvety white blooming crust. Each cheese weighs on average 2.8 kilograms and is 36-37 centimetres in diametre. Inside the cheese is pale straw yellow, unctuous and cushiony. It will get runny with age, which we quite like, but strictly speaking it is considered at its best just before that point.

It is believed to have originated in the Benedictine Abbey of Notre-Dame de Jouarre, in Seine et Marne, and was described as a cheese 'loved by rich and poor' in the 18th century. Talleyrand declared it the King of Cheeses. Since the 1950s production has tended to move from around Meaux to further east towards Meuse. Seventy percent of production now comes from south of Meuse.

Brie de Meaux. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Like many things in France, it is seasonal, at its best from April to September, after a 8-10 week maturing, when it will be a bit nutty and a bit lactic. The longer it is matured the stronger it gets. It is quite an easy going cheese as far as wine pairings go, and can be served with Burgundies, Côtes de Rhone, champagne or cider (which is what it is often paired with by those who live in the area it is made in).

It takes 25 litres of milk to make a single cheese. The milk is fermented in a trough for 16 hours then put under pressure to form curd which is then cut into small cubes. After that it is gently scooped into a mould, layer by layer. The temperature is raised, then lowered over a number of hours and the cheese is set in its mould onto rushes to drain. The next day it is tipped out of the mould and salted, then left for a couple of days. Then it has a week at cellar temperature (12C). By now it will have started to develop the white crust and it will be put in a colder room (7C) to finish maturing, during which time it will be turned by hand. Brie de Meaux is usually sold at two months old.

Brie de Meaux. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Just over 6000 tonnes a year are produced and production is decreasing year on year. There are 7 maker-maturers, 3 maturers, and 8 factories, taking milk from 443 dairy farms.


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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 
 
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UPDATE: RESPONSE TO COMMENTS
Tim -- Perry would be perfect with brie.
chm -- ours too.
Potty -- supposedly it's past its best if it's runny, but we like it like that too.

Sunday, 18 April 2021

Canberra Fires

Bushfire damage, 2003, ACT, Australia. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
An entirely burnt and ash covered landscape, with the river running through the middle of the scene.

In March 2003 I arrived in Canberra to visit my sister, two months after the worst ever bushfires had swept through 70% of the Australian Capital Territory. Canberra is set in the northern corner of the ACT and surrounded by mountains and National Parks, with some surprisingly isolated wilderness within an hour or so of the Capital.

Bushfire damage, 2003, ACT, Australia. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Weird looking but typical regrowth on burnt Eucalyptus sp trees.

The fires, started by lightning strikes, burned for a week, killing four people, injuring 435 and destroying nearly 500 homes and over 20 government offices and commercial premises, including the internationally important Mount Stromlo Observatory [link]. There was a raging drought, and the weather was hot and windy. I can remember watching the news footage at our home in London, utterly horrified. It was the first time we had ever experienced this sense of watching helpless from afar. I can also remember bursting into tears at work on hearing the news that the Wildlife Research Centre at Tidbinbilla had been destroyed, killing many rare native animals being kept in captivity in the Centre (just typing this required some severe gulping and lip chewing to keep the tears at bay...).

Bushfire damage, 2003, ACT, Australia. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The fire was so intense it burnt the humus in the soil and the roots of trees, which sometimes smouldered unnoticed for weeks.

The first recorded instance of a fire tornado in Australia was documented during these fires. It generated winds of 250 kilometres an hour and rose in the air at 150 kilometres an hour.

Bushfire damage, 2003, ACT, Australia. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
This shed and cattleyards obviously copped it, although not all the nearby trees have been severely burnt.

UPDATE/RESPONSE to COMMENTS: Since I can't reliably respond to comments in the comments section...

chm: And since last year, many more Australians will know how it looks and feels.

Saturday, 17 April 2021

Swan Island in the Seine

 This view is looking down the Seine from the Eiffel Tower.

View down the Seine and Ile des Cygnes from the Eiffel Tower, Paris. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

The curved building is the Australian Embassy. The area on this part of the Left Bank is known as Grenelle, in the 15th arrondissement (district). The bridge at this end of the Ile des Cygnes is the Pont de Bir-Hakeim [link] and the bridge at the far end is the Pont de Grenelle-Cadets de Saumur. At this end of the island is a dramatic equestrian statue of not Joan of Arc [link] and at the far end is the Statue de la Liberté Paris [link].


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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Friday, 16 April 2021

Do You Know What a Door Nail Is?

We've made a new video, a couple of minutes long, about door nails. Check it out, they are more interesting than you might think.


 
To learn more go to our previous post on door nails [link].
 
We've decided to make little videos as a means of feeling like we are working. A friend very kindly lent us two cameras, a microphone and a light. We already had a tripod, and bought a lapel mike and some video editing software. 
 
The process involves writing a script (to prevent me umming and ahring my way through my lines), then filming, often in multiple takes, then recording the voice overs. Simon then puts it all together, with much cursing and swearing, so that it looks and sounds presentable. We want it to be friendly, but not wobble cam. Unfortunately it does mean we lose a certain amount of spontaneity. 

One of the decisions we really struggled with was what I should wear. In the end we decided on bright bold colours and these loose jackets which hide the Zoom microphone underneath, on a belt round my waist, and the lapel mike on my scarf. 

Simon calculates that it is about an hours work for every 10 seconds of finished video.
 
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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos.