EPILOGUE

Then came the end of everything that for close on half a century had meant the very breath of life to me, and all I felt that I could do was to trail my spirit along like a bit of drift-wood tossed about by the torrent of existing circumstances.

The war went on. Men, women, even children suffered as much as I did. I know that . . . and I was sorry--oh! ever so sorry for them . . . for nothing, not even sorrow seemed real to me during those weeks, those months, those years that I supposed went on as before . . . for time does not stand still.

Only two events during the next two years reached my consciousness. I mean that I knew that they happened. One was the arrest of my devoted English maid, Julia Purkis, my constant companion who knew and who understood everything. In spite of the many mealy-mouthed assurances that I had received from the Italian Commando then in occupation, she was sent to Barcelonette in the Basses Alpes, a twenty-four hours' journey from Monte Carlo. And then began my weekly pilgrimage up to Castelleretto, the G.H.Q. of the Italian Army of Occupation on the heights above Monte Carlo, in order to beg almost on my knees for the release of the one companion in my loneliness. Let me admit at once that the Colonel Commanding and all his officers were always full of kindness and consideration for me. They knew me well by reputation, knew and loved my books, would feel happy they said, if I presented each of them with an autographed copy of La Primula Rossa. They assured me that they were doing their utmost to obtain the release of Miss Julia Purkis, for Captain Matteotti had himself journeyed expressly to Rome for this purpose, for permission had to come from Rome, and so on. So kind, so friendly always, and already then so entirely pro-British.

Of Mussolini and the Fascist party, never a word, and already one felt that Italy was learning her lesson, and was ready to make amends for her adherence to the Axis Party, the enemies of civilization and of liberty.

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The second event which reached my consciousness--it could not very well fail to do so--was the bombardment of Monte Carlo. The bubble of the status of Monaco as a neutral state had soon burst as soap bubbles are apt to do and the Germans occupied the little Principality, turning every available locality into armament works or ammunition dumps and forcing the population to work for them both with their hands and with their brains in the way of propaganda for a friendly entente with the army of occupation.

The young women--heaven forgive them--were only too ready to bring about this friendly entente with the German soldiers as they had been with the Italians and learned to say Guten Tag with as broad a smile as they had said Bon Giorno before, and a large portion of the male population worked in the local factory (once a brewery, now armament works). But there were those valiant Frenchmen who braved arrest, possible torture, and death and joined the maquis, the clandestine army, ready to fight to the last for the liberation of their country from those abominable Nazis. Well! subsequent events culminating in the triumph of the Allied Forces proved the might and valour of this nucleus of the might French Army, led by that great patriot General de Gaulle. But in the meanwhile the Germans had ousted the Italians from their comfortable quarters in Monte Carlo and took their place in the occupation of the Principality, and our R.A.F. were untiring in their efforts to make that occupation untenable. The systematic bombing of Monaco went on throughout the summer of 1944. The damage caused was incalculable. Those of my readers who know Monte Carlo will remember the Post Office and the Etablissement Thermal and also the huge establishment "Aux Dames de France" with the big garage in the rear and the shops in the Rue Grimaldi. The Post Office and the Etablissement Thermal, the latter with its marble staircases and bathing amenities, were pounded into fragments of stone and marble chips and a welter of twisted iron girders and derelict motor-cars, whilst in the whole avenue and the Rue Grimaldi not a pane of glass remained in shop or café window.

A small flotilla of German ships was in occupation of the port. One of these when making for shelter in Monaco harbour was torpedoed by one of our submarines. Its fragments were projected a hundred feet in the air behind and above the Hermitage Hotel, and finally deposited themselves in my garden. The damage in the garden was devastating, but I did not realize that one piece had fallen on my room until the middle of the night when a shower of rain came through on to my bed. Temporary and inadequate repair was hastily effected, but the bombardment of Monte Carlo went on day and night after that. My small staff was wonderfully brave, and if they felt 'panicky' at all they tried not to show it.

At midnight on August 14th ­ 15th, a couple of bombs from our R.A.F. once again damaged my roof. Both my English maid and I slept on the top floor immediately below the corner where a bomb exploded. We escaped death by a miracle, to the astonishment of the architect who was sent by the Government to assess the damage done to my house. As a matter of fact the villa, built some ninety years ago, stood firm and solid--its walls are of stone, even the inside ones are two feet thick, but they still bear the honourable scars of that midnight attack.

It is rather amusing to put it on record that the morning after, the commanding German Officer rang my bell and enquired whether "the Baroness had not been too frightened by the bombardment, and was well." As the Americans would say: "Can you beat it?"

 

©Blakeney Manor, 2001