Canon George Burgon reviews Gardens of Stone – My Boyhood in the French Resistance by Stephen Grady and Michael Wright
This is very different way of looking at the reality of war on people’s lives and outlooks.
Stephen Grady was brought up in northern France and his father was a head gardener working for the Imperial War Graves Commission.
This half French and English family were very opposed to the German invasion of France in 1940 and Stephen had no illusions about what was happening to his community.
He describes with great humour and insight what it was like to be brought up in France before the war and how he and his close friend Marcel became caught up in the effects of the German occupation.
They start off their opposition to the invaders with boyish pranks but within a short while they are recruited into the local French resistance forces at the age of 16. They grew up fast!
In this book we are allowed into the fear and frustrations of having a cruel and harsh regime imposed upon people with the subsequent issues of petty class structures, living with collaborators and outwitting local spivs.
The Resistance moved from passive non co-operation to direct opposition and sabotage.
There is a very heart-breaking account of what it meant to the author when he had to kill a German soldier.
As the war reaches its height and the Germans are slowly driven out of France after the D-Day landings we are given a very honest and well-written account of how the structures of society are shaken to its foundations and proud facades hid insecurities and old sins.
Tending the graves of the war dead is a haunting experience as history repeats itself in this young man’s experiences.
This book is a totally unsentimental reflection of what happened to him and his community.
It is history at its best as a first-hand account from someone who was there.
The portraits painted of stiff French ladies, drunken worthies, stray Americans and English soldiers who have to be hidden in barns and lofts, the pompous who would sell their souls for a sou and lots more beside give this book a warmth as well as a deep regard for humanity.
It has little sympathy for the occupiers as they should not have been there in the first place – but they were and Stephen Grady is not going to let us forget that!
He continued his work after the war with the Imperial War Graves Commission until his retirement.
He now lives in Greece.