Amongst some old, family photographs I came across this one. On the reverse is written ‘Lucille Hollingdale, nee a Belndecques …6 June 1939 a Housplines Nord.’ Behind this damaged photograph lies a story.
Lucille is a French national married to an Englishman who was probably working as a gardener for the War Graves Commission in France and may have been an ex-serviceman. When Germany invaded France the couple helped Allied airmen shot down over enemy territory to escape, it is possible that Douglas Bader was among the airman they assisted. In August 1943 they were arrested by the Germans, her husband was killed under interrogation by the Gestapo and she was interned in a number of different concentration camps including Belsen, Buchenwald and Waldheim; she survived and was released in 1945. . She had served with the French Resistance between 1940-1943 (‘Voix du Nord Group’) when she worked on an escape line in France until her capture. Her prison number was 526. Some archives relating to her are in the Imperial War Museum.
My parents befriended her and visited her in France where she lived alone, in poverty, never remarrying. She had been driven to seek the assistance of The Royal British Legion and the Royal Air Forces Escaping Society in her attempt to obtain a pension from Britain, and Air Chief Marshal Sir Basil Embury had also been involved. As a French national married to a British subject, the issue of her pension was probably never fully resolved. She was awarded a British Empire Medal in 1947 for her courage; she was a Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur. She probably died in 1995. These stories are so easily lost in the fragility of memory, they are often never written down – as family historians we should guard them.