Jeanne Wiart, and her husband Eugene, pictured on their 25th wedding anniversary. Jeanne was cousin’s with Charles de Gaulle’s wife. (Maple Ridge Museum archives/Special to The News)

Jeanne Wiart, and her husband Eugene, pictured on their 25th wedding anniversary. Jeanne was cousin’s with Charles de Gaulle’s wife. (Maple Ridge Museum archives/Special to The News)

LOOKING BACK: Maple Ridge’s surprising connection to Charles de Gaulle

Family recently shares letters depicting relationship to famous Second World War general

By Melissa Rollit/Special to The News

One might assume that Maple Ridge history is a rather bland topic. However this is rarely the case.

Between pirates, train robbers, Finnish communes, and dinosaur parks, our town’s history is full of interesting surprises.

The latest surprise is Maple Ridge’s connection to Gen. Charles de Gaulle.

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For those who don’t know, the general was an important player during the Second World War.

In 1940, German armed forces captured Paris, forcing the surrender of the France government, but there were those who rejected the new pseudo-government.

The resistance, called Free France and the Free French Forces, was led by de Gaulle.

During the four years of Nazi occupation, Free France worked to undermine Germany’s hold of their country.

It was not until 1944 that the liberation of continental France began in earnest with Operation D-Day and the Battle of Normandy initiated by the Allied Forces.

It also happens to be one of the major operations where Canadian soldiers, airmen, and sailors played a critical role. The startling victory of this battle was a major turning point in the defeat of the Nazis, and a source of great pride for Canada.

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Although the war was waged thousands of miles away from Maple Ridge, these events had a deep impact locally, like most parts of the world.

In Maple Ridge, many men and women volunteered to join the war effort and those at home felt the impacts, as well.

With the death tolls reaching unimaginable numbers, those who stayed behind surely felt an overwhelming fear for their loved ones, especially when considering the trickle of information reaching its way back home.

One Maple Ridge resident who was feeling that fear was Jeanne Wiart, who happened to be the close cousin of Charles de Gaulle.

In 1941, Jeanne gave an interview to a Vancouver newspaper, in which she expressed her deep concern for her cousin and his wife, but also her 22 nephews in the Free French Forces. whom she had not heard from in a long time.

The museum has recently acquired letters between Jeanne and Yvonne, the general’s wife, along with precious family photos and a gorgeous French linen dress.

In these letters, we learned more about the relationship between the two cousins and some insight into life during that time.

One example is that Jeanne, who was herself under rations, would send tea, butter, and other staples to Yvonne who was under much stricter rations during the war.

Once again, these new acquisitions show that there is never a dull moment in Maple Ridge history, and that there is always something new to learn about our little corner of the world.

– Melissa Rollit is curator for the Maple Ridge Museum & Community Archive

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