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  • sarajanerowell

Publication day!

Updated: Feb 10, 2023

Five years ago this month (August 2022), I began trying to solve clues about Yvonne Millet’s early life. Yvonne was my friend Jan’s French grandmother, whose childhood was a mystery to her own family. Little did I realise the incredible story I was about to uncover would result in me writing and publishing a book!

It has been an amazing journey, which began when a conversation with Jan turned to our family histories. It was the spring of 2017 and we were in Tuscany at the time, on one of the rare occasions we are able to meet up. Although we’ve been friends since childhood, we’ve lived on opposite sides of the globe for most of our adult lives. Jan wondered whether it might be possible to discover something about her French heritage. Her father had been born in France and she knew the family had come to England in the late 1930s. But there were lots of unanswered questions. What was her grand-mère’s family background? Where had she come from? What was her life like before she married Jan’s British grandfather?

Jan remembered her father saying that during the First World War, Yvonne was ‘a schoolgirl who rolled bandages and visited the wounded’. Beyond that, she had hardly any information. She did have three documents, all written in French: a birth certificate, a marriage certificate and a death certificate. The first was made in Paris in 1901, the second in Abbeville, Somme in 1923 and the third in Boulogne-sur-Mer in 1987. Besides dates and times, there were names and some addresses. These documents provided clear facts about Yvonne Millet, placing her without question in certain places at key moments. But what was her story in between?

During a trip to Paris in August 2017, I began to see if I could find out. The first thing I did was go to the address given for Yvonne’s mother on the birth register. I hardly knew what I expected to find. It was a good start to discover the apartment building still stands, on the corner of rue Berger and rue Saint-Denis, overlooking the Fontaine des Innocents in the historic market area of Les Halles. This was the first step on a trail which took me from the heart of Paris to the towns and villages of the department of the Somme, and finally to Boulogne-sur-Mer. Along the way I went to places I would not otherwise have seen, had conversations with people I would not otherwise have met, made new friends and improved my spoken French.

I delved into archive records, visited museums and walked around cemeteries with my patient husband Steve. As I found each piece of the jigsaw, it spurred me on to dig deeper into the past and the discoveries grew. Jan and I stayed in close contact and she introduced me to her cousin Chris, who was researching his grandfather’s family history. With so much information emerging, I started to capture and order it into a single document . I found old photos of the places where Yvonne had lived and took photos of those same places today. I sought out any books I could find that would help with my research and wove social history into my account, which was by now becoming quite extensive. I joined a writers group and before long I was writing the manuscript that eventually became ‘Yvonne, Child of the Somme’. The project took me three years to complete and it has taken two years more to get published.

Now the day is nearly here. I’m proud to say my first book, ‘Yvonne, Child of the Somme’ will be published by Austin Macauley on Wednesday 31 August 2022. It’s an exciting moment!

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