Feeding Paris: Part I


We’re in Thiberville, Normandy in the departement de l’Eure which has just finished celebrating Liberation Day this past week (August 24th). I was lucky to meet Bernadette Mangeant who was here in the little town of Thiberville when the Canadians arrived.

What was it like during the four years of German occupation? Were there food shortages? I asked her.

“It was hard to trust anyone during those days – you didn’t know who your friends were. As for food shortages, it was difficult at the beginning but we always managed. People had chickens and cows or we shot rabbits. In fact, we sent food to friends and family living elsewhere in France including Paris where the shortages were severe. We sent chickens to a friend in Paris who kept them in his basement.

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We found ways of making soap and even used an old bicycle pump in the process. We made our own flour and we’d invite friends over to have crepes – that was our entertainment back then. Life was simpler then. We didn’t have much but we still had a good time. Nowadays people are never satisfied – they always want more. When my husband and I married – we had no furniture to speak of – we used a board for a dining room table and some crates for chairs. My parents gave me my armoire when we moved in to our place.

We were especially glad to see the Canadians when they arrived in Thiberville, because just the day before the Germans had shot a round of machine gun fire in our house. They hadn’t meant to kill us but give us a good scare. There’d been a plot that same week to kill some SS officers – two resistance fighters were caught and shot, one of them in our backyard, The third escaped. He was wearing the same clothes as my husband so at first they thought he was one of them. When the Canadians arrived, a friend and I went to a street corner to see them. We didn’t recognize the uniforms at first and thought they might be English. There was a lot of hugging and kissing in the streets when they came through. A few Germans were still hiding around the outskirts of town but they didn’t put up much of a fight.”

In retrospect, I wonder if many Parisians nowadays remember the little towns like Thiberville that fed them during the war. Thiberville certainly isn’t the typical beach resort Parisians visit when they come to Normandy, but nevertheless Paris relies on such modest towns for the food that keeps its residents alive especially in difficult times.