The war with Germany was declared on September 3rd 1939 but nothing much disturbed the pleasant life I was leading till the Spring of 1940 when things got a bit more hairy with convoys of army lorries and Bren gun carriers roaring past the house and platoons of British, Canadian and Australian soldiers marching down the street on their way to a newly established training camp outside the village.
One evening, my father came home with a tin helmet announcing that he would have to stay at the office two nights a week to fire watch. Within days London was targeted by the Luftwaffe and, shortly after, our peaceful, orderly, riverside house was invaded by eight agitated refugees from the bombs, all of them family friends who originally hailed from the South of France and were in the catering business. One of them was the part owner of Randall & Aubin, a famous delicatessen in Brewer Street, which still carries the same name but is now a fashionable caviare bar, another was the Chef of the Dorchester Hotel, another was the manager of the Café Royal in Regent Street.
During the first week of June, allied troops were evacuated from Dunkirk, ten days later the Germans entered Paris, French delegates accepted terms of an armistice and hostilities ceased in France. The atmosphere in the house became desperate. No one knew what was happening to relatives and friends across the Channel, nor what horrors the future might bring and, to add insult to injury, some ill informed villager painted a swastika on our garden wall believing that we were German collaborators. This was so upsetting that everyone endeavoured to speak only English, an effort which lasted about two days, my sister was henceforth called ‘Reggie’ and myself ‘Andrew’ which was soon shortened to ‘Drew’. One week-end our now resident Chef de Cuisine indulged everyone in an epicurean feast with the help of left-overs from the fridges of the Dorchester and luxury products from the stockroom of my father's factory. Everyone believed it might be our ‘Last Supper’. My sister and I lay the long table in the dining room for the much discussed meal to come, my father uncorked bottles of superlative wines, and in the kitchen eggs were mercilessly beaten, cream whisked, saucepans spat and spluttered, orange and blue flames shot dangerously up to the ceiling from overworked copper pans and the whole house smelt delicious.
Among the dishes served was a massive central bowl of caviare, several terrines of foie gras, lobsters, Turtle Soup, Truite Meuniere, pheasant, Aberdeen Angus roast beef, a variety of English cheeses, Peche Melba laced with Creme Chantilly all served with Krug champagne, Bordeaux and Burgundy wines followed by coffee, Cognac Armagnac and Kummel. Too young to fully appreciate all that was on offer, I was force fed a bit of everything as I was thin and I might never come across anything quite as delectable again. We started eating at 2 pm, finished at 11 pm and the sweet white wine to which I took a liking resulted in me becoming very dewy eyed.
On reflection this little banquet was quite obscene considering most of our neighbours were managing on powdered eggs and toast, the attitude of the adults, however, was not only 'enjoy if you can - endure when you must.' but a way of defying the enemy. When everyone wiped their mouths and suppressed a rude burp at the end of each meal from then on, somebody round the table always stated with great satisfaction 'One more the Germans will not have !'.
Dewy eyed after the banquet.