Will you make me some magic with your own two hands?
Will you build an emerald city with these grains of sand?
Can you give me something I can take home? (Jim Steinbeck)
Sometimes I think ‘love’ is a bit of an illusion, a chimera, something that many search for and indeed sometimes seem to find, only to discover that the emerald city is only a figment of our imagination.
Then along comes a story that sets me right. Twice.
Jersey girl Nan Le Ruez lived through the first World War, though she will have known little enough about that conflict. By the time WW2 broke out she was a young woman of 25, engaged to be married. As the Germans marched across Europe towards Britain it became clear that the Channel Islands would not be defended in the event of an invasion.
Many people had an agonising decision to make. Leave or stay. Nan’s fiancé Alfred du Feu, a Methodist minister, decided to go to England to continue his work. No matter – he and Nan would soon be reunited. Wouldn’t they?
Nan was a member of a well-known farming family in St Peter, Jersey. From the early days of the Occupation she kept a daily diary in a series of exercise books logging events as they happened. Many are the accounts of the Occupation, very few are contemporaneous, simply because of the eventual lack of writing materials. Nan tells us of daily life, how life on the farm and in the Island generally changed for the worse.
Nan was a lay preacher, still in training, and throughout her writing her faith shines through quite beautifully. But as month follows month, year follows year, she agonises over Alfred. She misses him desperately. Communications in those years were limited to short Red Cross letters and she hears little or nothing from him. Does he still love her? Will he wait for her? Sometimes she is in the depths of despair and only her faith keeps her believing.
Nan’s diaries were only unearthed in recent years when she was persuaded they might be of interest. With only a light edit, and still with her sister Joyce’s original illustrations they were eventually published. Knowing that the words are as written, without hindsight, makes them all the more poignant.
Jersey was eventually liberated five long years later in May 1945 and the diary ends. Leaving the big question which every reader must ask out loud. Were Nan and Alfred reunited? Did it work out for them?
OK I’ll tell you. Yes. They were married, lived happily in Cornwall and had four sons. What a happy ending – to Part 1.