His French War Bride: Normandy
Copyright © 2019 Pamela Ferguson
Published by Forget Me Not Romances, a division of Winged Publications
June 22, 1944. Normandy, France.
Who gets married in the middle of a war?
Lieutenant Harry Dean stood just inside the open door of the old wood garage, converted for the day into a wedding chapel. He’d arrived at the tail end of the first French civilian marriage ceremony since D-Day. Just in time to see the groom kiss the bride.
He scanned the rolling Normandy farmland, still smoldering from last night’s shelling. Two weeks since the invasion and the stench of battle had become as familiar to him as the smell of musty books. When he’d told his enlistment recruiters he’d never shot a gun but could describe every weapon used by Caesar’s men during the Gallic campaign, they’d slapped him on the back and said he’d make a perfect Civil Affairs officer.
The sound of laughter drew his gaze to the circle of guests. Simply dressed in the clothing of farm folks, they’d stood conversing with the happy couple. He caught the eye of one of the three GIs mingling in the crowd.
The soldier hurried over. “Corporal Grant, sir.”
Harry returned his salute. “Lieutenant Dean, Civil Affairs, Carentan. Are you the interpreter?”
“That would be Sergeant Nowicki, sir.”
“I need the sergeant to discreetly ask the bride’s parents if they are expecting their friend Mademoiselle Christine Arnette.”
“Christine Arnette?” the corporal asked.
“That’s the name. I’ll wait for the answer.”
He studied the guests smiling faces. Amazing. The nearest church had been destroyed during the battle for Sainte-Mère-Église. Yet the locals had adapted, filling the old garage with flowers and candles. What kind of people took time to celebrate a wedding when their lives were under attack?
With the corporal at his side, the army interpreter approached the bride’s parents. The bride’s father shook his head. His wife appeared confused.
Corporal Grant hurried back over to him. “They’ve never heard of Christine Arnette, sir.”
Harry nodded. He’d hoped for a different answer. “Thank you, corporal. That’s all.” He strode to the jeep idling outside. “Headquarters,” he said as he climbed into the passenger seat, ignoring the driver’s curious glance. What he’d learned could only be shared with Major Prescott.
Harry studied the scarred farmland as the driver maneuvered their jeep around jagged ruts and fallen tree limbs. Despite the recent battles, crops continued to grow, cattle continued to roam the fields. Another amazing sight.
“Arrêtez!” An old man, dressed in the black garb of a priest, stepped into the middle of the dirt road and waved his arms.
“Pull over,” Harry ordered.
The driver jerked the steering wheel to the right, throwing up a cloud of dust as the jeep skidded to a halt.
“How’s your French, Sergeant?” Harry asked.
“Almost as bad as my English, sir.”
Harry swallowed a smile. “May I help you, Father?” he called, hoping the priest would interpret the cordial tone even if he couldn’t understand the English words.
The priest launched a stream of rapid French, gesturing with his gnarled hands towards the field behind him.
Those four weeks of intense French language training back in England were no help here. The priest spat out words faster than a machine gun.
“If I may, sir, the major wants your report from Sainte-Mère-Église PDQ,” the driver said.
“I’m aware of that, Sergeant.” Harry climbed from the jeep. As a Civil Affairs officer, one of his primary jobs was to help the French population with any task local officials could not yet perform due to wartime hardship. Everything from directing army convoy traffic and bulldozing bombed out buildings to locating missing property and digging wells. He’d studied enough history to know that war brought destruction. It was the job of Civil Affairs to help clean it up.
Some problems could be fixed with a simple conversation. Others took days to resolve. Hard to tell what kind of problem this would be.
Sweat streamed from beneath the priest’s wide-brimmed hat. He gestured to the field and motioned for Harry to follow.
Harry shook his head. Unexploded bombs and landmines had already killed too many civilians and soldiers.
The priest gave him a determined glare and marched to the edge of the field.
“Arrêtez!” Harry reached for the priest’s arm and shook his head. “It’s not safe.”
The priest hurled another stream of French at him, jabbing his finger in the air and looking towards the heavens.
Heaven. Harry pulled a pencil and a pad of paper from his pocket. He scribbled a few words.
The priest’s eyes flew wide. He took the pencil Harry offered and wrote.
Harry read the priest’s reply and scrawled a response.
The priest gave a satisfied nod and marched off down the road.
“Need to get a burial detail out here, Sergeant,” Harry said as he climbed into the jeep. “Dead cattle.” Burying livestock carcasses before they could spread disease to humans or other animals was one of Civil Affairs’ top priorities.
“Yes, sir. May I ask what you wrote, sir?”
“Latin.” Harry squinted into the distance. He could just make out the smoking remnants of a barn. Stone houses. Thatched roofs. He felt like he’d stepped back in time when he’d crossed the English Channel. No electricity meant folks cooked over open fires and illuminated their homes with candles. The shortage of gasoline meant farmers used horse-drawn plows instead of tractors. He’d been impressed by the Normans he’d met so far. Hearty and self-reliant despite the years of German occupation. He was pretty sure that promising to bury the rotting carcasses had been the only way to stop the determined priest from getting a shovel and doing it himself.
The winding dirt lane led them to the main road. They fell in behind a convoy of military trucks crawling southeast, the waning sun at their backs. Bedraggled civilians, fleeing destroyed towns, stood in line at the checkpoint, waiting to be transported to Allied-run refugee camps in Franqueville.
Read His French War Bride: Normandy to find out what happens next.