The British Government did not forget the role in assisting the war effort played by civilians in Occupied France. My mother’s memoir continues: “The Intelligence Department would visit all the people who helped RAF men to get away; they were giving them money, food or clothes, medals and certificates. Later Robert Fortier wrote joyfully that he had received 10,000 francs from the British Government and he had bought a car with it, a photograph of which he sent us.” He proudly added the title of ‘chauffeur’ to that of his occupation as ‘boulanger.’ My mother was an inveterate letter writer, and she kept all of her correspondence. I found a letter from Robert Fortier, dated January 8th, 1948, to his chers amis in England. He was then the proprietor of a patisserie near Le Mans. I have not edited his enthusiasm in any way:
“Vous ne pouvez pas vous imagine,” (sic) he wrote, “la grande joie que jai resente en resevant votre lettre ce matin , jai appele mon epouse pour lui apprendre la nouvelle de la lettre, ne craignez rien je vous pardonne tout vos faultes; vous avez ete pour moi une mosaique dans l’histoire jai rempli un devoir envers mon pays: vous souvenez vous de notre separation a perpignan vous Anglais moi Francais: vous et moi ne pouvions se comprendre mais nous etions unis par le meme sentiment pour notre pays; maintenand ne parlon plus de toute nos souffrances sy vous le pouvez cela me ferez un grand Plaisir de vous recevoir chez moi…”(sic).
“You can’t imagine the joy I felt in receiving your letter this morning, I called my wife to tell her all your news, don’t worry about your mistakes, I pardon them, you have been for me a piece of mosaic in the story of my duty to my country; you will remember our parting in perpignan you English and I French: you and I couldn’t understand each other perfectly but we were united by the same patriotism for our countries; now lets not talk of our suffering, for it will be a great pleasure for me to welcome you to my home…”
Sadly, they never met again, although the letter exchange continued. Robert wrote proudly shortly before the family emigrated to Canada in 1953, that he and his wife Therese were the parents of seven children, Jacqueline, Colette, Michele, Anik, Yvette, Yves Pierre, and Claude. In a final letter received just before our family was posted overseas, Robert revealed that he then lived in Mont-Joli in Quebec, where he worked for Iron Ore Canada. He expressed the poignant but forlorn hope that my father could be present for the baptism of his youngest child. If there are any of the seven Fortier children today living in Quebec, they would now be in their eighties or nineties. The bond of friendship forged in the adversity of conflict has long been lost.