As the West remembers D-Day today on its 65th anniversary, my mind goes back to many earlier years along the Normandy and Brittany beaches and cliffs. As a young woman, I spent many hours in those impressive and eloquent cemeteries that spoke of such sacrifice.
It is heartwarming, however, to see reminders that even today, there is spontaneous gratitude in France, not just on 6th June. When I was in Brittany last October as Artist in Residence with Les Amis de la Grande Vigne in Dinan, I was drawing at the dramatic headland facing the English Channel called Pointe du Grouin.
It is north of Dinan and round the corner, going west, from lovely Cancale, home of such succulent oysters. While I was drawing in the biting wind, my husband was exploring the concrete fortifications and bunkers that remains from the German occupation. Inside, there was scrawled on the wall, "6 juin 44, merci" - "6th June, 1944, thank you". Simple, but telling.
While I was drawing, an elderly, distinguished-looking French lady came up to talk to me. After a long and delightful conversation (despite my watching the light disappear from what I drawing with dismay!!), her husband joined us. He told me of his work with the SAS for the British, remaining in France after 1940, because the British deemed him of more help in France than outside. Both Churchill and General De Gaulle decorated him for his valour after the war. Yet, as I stood up to bid him and his charming wife goodbye, it was he, the wartime hero, who thanked me formally and in most moving terms, for what the British - and Americans - did to save France.