Written by Minnie Dealy
After Mum died, I felt a strong urge to visit my French relatives, people that I had not been in touch with since the late 1940' s. It was one of the best things I could have done, to re-establish the importance of my French ancestry.
I was very warmly welcomed and thanks to Michel Guerard, (whose aunt was my maternal grandmother and sister of Andre Guerard),I revisited places in Versailles and Nonancourt which were part of my childhood and early teens.
Before I returned to NZ - Michel showed me the family tree which he had compiled, and there I was "nee 1933" - I was asked to fill in details of the NZ family.
Michel then showed me a compilation of extracts from his father's letters, when he was at the front in the 1914-18 war, written to his young wife Helene. These letters
made fascinating reading, as they brought to life a man who had seemed a nonentity besides his wife's forceful personality.
Through reading these memoirs, I came to know and greatly respect Andre Guerard and to appreciate, through his eyes, the futility of war. Michel gave me a copy of these extracts and I was so moved by its contents that I felt I should make a translation into English, so that others could share this personal history.
Written by Michel Guerard
Several of you, on the day of your Grandmother's funeral (Tante Helene - Helene Guerard) asked me to make a collection of documents concerning your grandfather Andre Guerard - Pepere's brother-in-law) so that others would know more about him.
Apart from the genealogical tree, which most of you already possess, I've compiled a brief biography that will allow you to see the family against the background, happenings and people of that era.
I've sorted out a collection of photos, the oldest of which date from last century (about 1880). They come from collections which belonged to the families Guerard, Thibault, Decouflet etc. You will be able to see them at St Gennain (the family holiday home near La Madeleine de Nonancourt, Eure, Nonnandy) or at Chatenay-Malabry, a suburb of Versailles. I have put aside copies of photos to give to anyone who is interested, and can always have more copies made.
All this gives a little insight into the personalities involved, particularly of your grandfather, that is, until I found at St Gennain the complete collection of letters written by Andre to his wife during the 1914-18 War. 1228 letters - nearly one a day.
Your grandmother had spoken to me about them several years ago and insisted - "you will read them, if you wish, after my death, and you will burn them". Not knowing of any letters written by my mother during this period, (they were destroyed -you'll see
why) I found the most wonderful inheritance you could ever dream of.
This description, day by day, of the life of an infantry man from 1914-1919, in the trenches which he hardly ever left, is so realistic that one finds more than in the best accounts, a perfect picture of the personalities and especially of the author, which helps us to understand him so much better. Writing, frequently on the move, the letters were never checked. They are written in a conversational style and sometimes rather confused, the happenings and events of the moment, and what moments! It's like having brief telephone calls.
At first I thought of writing a précis and leaving you with my thoughts, then I realized that I would inevitably alter the account by adding my thoughts and personal memories. So I decided to make a representative selection of letters and reproduce them verbatim, so that everyone could draw their own conclusions.
Perhaps we'll be able to compare reactions to these excerpts at some time.
It occurred to me that I should add, in a different type, some historical and family details. I've also added two letters so that you would be able to see his writing, and several drawings found in a small notebook, which had been made on the spot. I hope, in this way, to have anticipated any of your questions and at the same time to preserve the memory of our elders, without whom the present would not be what it is.
Greetings to you all MICHEL GUERARD,CHATENA Y 21.3.1988
Andre Guerard was born 9.9.1885 at Versailles, probably at 18 rue de la Chancellerie, where his parents lived with two children - Mathilde (II years) and Ernest (9 years).
His father, Francois Louis, 39 years, was typesetter at the Aubert Printing Works, Versailles, where he started as an apprentice in 1862. His mother, Marie Augustine Thibault, 33 years, was a dressmaker.
Francois and Marie were married 13.8. 1872, whilst their brother (Ernest Charles Guerard) and sister (Julie Thibault) were married in 1864.
At that time the three sisters Nathalie, Julie and Marie Thibault lived together at 18 rue de la Chancellerie, all three being dressmakers, whilst the two brothers, Ernest
Charles and Francois Louis Guerard, both typesetters, lived with their parents, Pierre a printer's labourer and Marie in a flat in the same building.
Between the birth of Ernest and that of Andre 10 years passed, marked by the births of a girl and three boys, who died very young. But 3.11.1886 Madeleine was born and 1.11.1888 Marie Louise Suzanne was born.
In 1891, the family lived at 10 avenue de Sceaux. Mathilde (18 yrs) was a dressmaker with her mother. Ernest (16 yrs) was apprenticed to the printer with his father; and the three little ones Andre, Madeleine and Suzanne.
28 December 1894 the father of the family died aged 48 years. The following year his wife was nominated Principal of the Versailles Municipal Creche, impasse Montbauron.
Mathilde was married 8.7.1895 to Jules Benoit, worker at the Aubert printing works. The widowed Marie moved to 10 Rue Montbauron with her four children, Ernest (typesetter), Andre, Madeleine and Suzanne. The three youngest went to school. Andre to the boys school at Rue Edme Fremy, then Rue St Mederic where he received his certificate of studies in 1898.
Madeleine and Suzanne attended the school for girls at l'impasse Montbauron, where they made friends with a younger girl, Helene Duveluz.
In 1896 Ernest did his military service at Bernay (Eure). He became sick and was sent back to his mother at Versailles where he died (probably of tuberculosis)
The photos which we own, show that between 1890 and 1895 the Thibault sisters were very close and that their children, Charles and Alice, Mathilde and Ernest often went out together. It seems also that the eldest daughter never married, and played the role of link between their two brothers Camille and Alexandre.
The first years of the century seemed to pass fairly smoothly. However Mathilde who had one daughter, Marcelle, in 1897 and lived in the St Louis district of Paris, lost her husband 11.1.1907.
Andre was apprenticed with his cousin Charles, architect, 41 Rue de la Paroisse. He went to evening classes at the school for Applied Arts in Paris. He left to do his military service at Caen with the 36th Regiment 8.10.1906. He was made corporal 30.9.1907, and demobilised 30.9.1908. He started work again with Charles and studied at the School for Applied Arts.
After leaving school, the two sisters, Madeleine and Suzanne became shop assistants, the eldest at "La Ville de Paris" (now Le Printemps), Avenue de St Cloud, the youngest with Bonnefoy, Hosier, Rue de la Paroisse, in front of Notre Dame. They became friends with two sisters, one of whom, Marie Teinturier, invited them to her engagement party, Easter 1909.
They took with them their friend Helene Duveluz - 16 years old, who had recently lost her mother (January 1909). Her father Theodore accompanied her. Several months later, at Marie Teinturier's wedding, connections were made which had an important effect on the family.
Madeleine Guerard was to have as her escort, a soldier from the 5th Engineering Corps. As he was ill his friend Adolphe Demolin, a musician from the same regiment, took his place. The following year, Adolphe married Madeleine. The same day Theodore Duveluz met a young widow, Mathilde (36 years old). They were married in 1911.
Finally Andre Guerard met a very young girl, Helene Duveluz (16 yrs), they married four years later. But the connection does not stop there, as Helene learned typing with Alice Guerard, then took a shorthand course at evening classes in Versailles.
In 1912 she worked as a typist with Grasset, a chimney sweeping contractor, whilst Andre started as head clerk with a young architect, Rene Guignard.
During this time the younger of the two girls, Suzanne, started work at the Galeries Lafayette, as salesgirl in the hair accessories counter. She met an employee, Arthur Decouflet, who she married 13.10.1912.
Andre and Helene were married on 13.9.1913 at the Cathedral St Louis, Versailles. Lunch at the Restaurant de la Flotille a Trianon, and afterward boating on the grand canal.
It was the last family celebration before the cataclysm of 1914. They went to live in a 2 room flat at 14 Rue Richaud. And then the war. Andre was drafted for active service at Caen. He was not demobilised until 10.3.1919, that is 55 months later.
During that period he was allowed 9 home leaves of only a few days duration and exchanged 2,500-3,000 letters. The first leave coincided sadly, with the death of
their first child Jack, born 21.9.1914, died 15.8.1915. A little earlier, Suzanne lost her son Roger 21.11.1914, and her husband was killed 2.6.1915.
That period was too full of anguish and tribulation to be easily summed up in a few sentences. You will better appreciate its effect on reading the extracts of correspondence which follow this family history.
Andre was demobilised 10.3.1919 and returned to Versailles. He was invited by his friend Guignard, to go to Vouziers, where he had started an architectural business. In that region, which had badly suffered during the war, there was much reconstruction work to be done.
There they were joined by Maurice Brunot (previously Charles' clerk) who married Marcelle 26.7.1920 at Versailles. Genevieve, Michel, Andre and Robert, and also Anne-Marie and Marie Therese Guignard were born at V ouziers.
At Versailles grandmother Marie, very tired, left the municipal creche, intending to live at St Germain sur Avre where her son had bought a house for her know. But grandmother was in poor health. Her condition worsened, and she died at Versailles 22.9.1921.
So Mathilde and Theodore, who retired from Versailles Town Hall, moved to St Germain. Whilst waiting for the house to be made habitable, they rented a house at Monthule.
It was the Brunots who left V ouziers first, and settled at Nonancourt. There was a strong possibility that Andre would come and work with Maurice again. But in 1927
Charles died at Versailles. His mother Julie and his sister Alice, insisted that Andre would take over the business at Rue de la Paroisse. After several stormy exchanges, understandably, as the future of Helene's family was at stake, Julie and Alice agreed
to retire to Layes, and the family settled at Rue de la Paroisse for more than 30 years.
At the same time, the house at St Germain was finally ready and the grandparents eventually moved there.
At Versailles, the short period preceding World War 11 was mostly notable for professional problems. The slump of 1929 slowed business down and depressed the building trade. But life in the small apartment - 5 rooms, (of which two were used for the office) if it was sometimes noisy, was always welcoming.
From 1930 to 1940, scouting was an important part of our life. Many elderly people remember 41 Rue de la Paroisse as a place for meeting, information and inexhaustible devotion to the cause.
Alas, 20 years later, it was war again. Jean, who had done his military service was conscripted. Michel and Robert left Versailles by bike in June 1940, for several months, to escape the German advance, and the parents stayed on, without news from anyone.
Luckily Suzanne, who had retired from Galeries Lafayette, had moved to a small flat at 41 Rue de la Paroisse, and was there, with her constant good humour. She had an important influence on the morale of the family during that difficult period.
In 1940 and 1942 the grandparents died and St Germain was temporarily deserted.
Let's pass over the 5 year period of the war, it was never traumatic for the family, but it was still difficult to bear, especially for Helene and also for Andre, living as they
did through a time of great stress. .
The weddings and births sweetened life, but work was hard, and it was through the insistence of the children that Andre and Helene decided to think about retirement, even if only part time, at St Germain. In 1955 several improvements were made,
bedrooms on the first floor and the installation of the kitchen. It was during a weekend at St Germain that Andre Guerard, died suddenly 23.3.1956.