the best day in her life – a story for the armistice

by Sharon Santoni

young french girl

When war broke out in 1914, Aurélie was just 15 years old.  A pretty young girl, living on her parents’ farm in a green valley in Normandy.

Pleasures were simple at the beginning of the century, the occasional family dinner, a village party, a harvest supper. Her father’s farm lay on the edge of the small unremarkable village.  She had received a succinct education from Mademoiselle Turpin, who taught the local  children how to read and write, with some rudimentary mathematics for those who were able.

This was the farm where her father was born and raised, and his father before him. There were good years and bad years; a small herd of milk cows, wheat, flax, rotating crops. Aurélie had grown up seeing her parents peaceful, hard working, the rhythm of their lives dictated by the seasons on the farm.

normandy farm in early 1900's

She was close friends with a girl of the same age called Hélène.  Hélène lived in the big house beside the church, her father was the local doctor and her mother helped with the parish. Hélène had a brother called Fernand – he was tall with blue eyes and tousled hair.  He dreamed of becoming an engineer and building high bridges.

Fernand was two years older than Aurélie and they had an understanding.  Once, at the harvest supper on the village square, he had squeezed her hand, and the next day he turned up at the farm unannounced.

On the pretext of returning Aurélie’s mother’s shawl, forgotten at the supper, Fernand managed to find himself alone with Aurélie, who was hanging laundry out to dry in the garden.  There was an earnest, gentle look in his eyes as he told her that he loved her, that although she did not know it yet,  one day they would be married.  He lifted her small hand to his lips, kissed her fingers gently, then pulled his cap back on to his head, smiled to see her blush and left her standing by the washing line, her head reeling, and stars in her eyes.

Two weeks later, in the height of the summer of 1914,  the Great War was declared and the awful truth began to sink in.  France was going to lose many, many young boys: loving husbands, adored brothers and precious sons.

Over the next few months, the newspapers started reporting the losses on the battlefield, and the day the news arrived  that the village blacksmith had been killed in a muddy trench near the Belgian border, the whole community reeled in shock.

Shortly after Christmas 1915,  Fernand was called up to fight and Aurélie thought that she would stop breathing. The evening before he left, they took a walk together along the edge of the forest.  He brought his dog along, and she was glad of the distraction of throwing a stick and patting the dog’s back …. anything was better than thinking this may the last time she would see Fernand.

For the next three years, Aurélie thought about Fernand every single day.  She received the occasional letter, and she wrote to him every week but had no way of knowing if he received her notes.

women and cow in a field

The village was strangely empty, nearly all the men were gone. Food was scarce, rationing was in place and the women worked day and night to tend the land, care for children and home, and make a little go as far as possible. Outside the church, the priest had put up a board onto which he pinned official notices and news from the front. Anxious mothers would pass by the church and read the lists, trembling to find a familiar name. Casualties and losses were massive; there were tales of young men returning home without a leg, without an arm, without a face, without a memory.

Aurélie longed to be useful. Besides worrying for Fernand, she was also without news of her father and her uncle, who had joined the same infantry regiment as Fernand.  Her mother put on a brave face and repeated every day, “I dreamt of your papa last night, he is well, I just know that he is well”.

regiment of french WWI soldiers

In November 1917,  at the age of eighteen, Aurélie and Hélène were issued with nurse’s uniforms and informed by letter that they should report for duty in Paris, from where they would be taken by train to the front.  They had no training, no experience as a nurse … they would learn fast.

It was a dreadful shock to see the field hospitals, and each time new wounded arrived, she would hold her breath, dreading to find Fernand or her Papa on a stretcher.  Her work was exhausting, relentless suffering and sadness took their toll on them all.  Field hospitals moved around, sleep was limited, living conditions appalling.

nurses and soldiers world war 1

In early November 1918 doctors and soldiers began to talk of the end of the war coming soon, surely this torture had to end. On the 11th of the month, Aurélie was wrapping bandages when Hélène came rushing into the hospital tent, “Aurélie, Aurélie, come quick …. come now …… he’s here! …. oh merci, mon Dieu!    Fernand is alive, he is here, come now, come now!”

Aurélie dropped the bandages at her feet and ran after her friend across the muddy field to the furthest tent.  Sitting on the ground was a line of exhausted men; some had bandages on their faces, others had their arms in slings, two were on stretchers.  They were all so muddy that it was difficult to distinguish their features.

The two girls arrived panting, tears coming down their faces, “Il est où?  Where is he?  Which one is Fernand?” Aurélie stopped in front of the men, her eyes darting from one to the next, “Fernand, is it you?” … then more loudly, “Fernand!!  Where are you?!”

There was a moment’s silence, then from a stretcher at the end of the line, a hand went up, and a rasping voice was heard,  “Aurélie …. mon amour …. Aurélie!”

She rushed over to the young man, and with her nurse’s apron wiped the mud from his face, revealing those features that had been in her dreams day and night for the past three years.

“Oh Fernand, mon Fernand, you will never leave me again!”

french newspaper declaring the signature of the 1918 armistice

Later that morning, the news was official. The Armistice was signed, the war was over. Aurélie changed the dressing on Fernand’s leg, and was relieved to discover that he was otherwise unscathed.  They talked little, stunned and relieved to be together, not sure it was really happening. As she held his hand and stroked his hair, she whispered, “For as long as I shall live, this moment, Fernand, this moment when I have found you again and the war is over, this shall always be the best day in my life.”


I hope you enjoy this fictional piece. Today, of course, is Armistice Day, and all across France, flowers are being laid at the war memorials in every town and village.   Lest we forget.

all images thanks to Google


Taste of France November 11, 2016 - 10:13 am

Great story and wonderful photos! What research you must have done to get these.
Let’s hope war doesn’t happen again.

Sandra Evans November 12, 2016 - 5:41 am

A beautiful love story.

Bunny November 11, 2018 - 10:43 pm

Your story was heartwarming !!!! I so appreciate the sacrifice of the young men and women who bravely make a way for us to live in peace !!!! My uncle died On D-Day in Normandy !!! I am the only one in my family to visit his grave in Normandy !!!! It was a Holy moment when I did…… I feel a very close relationship to your area and to France….. my maiden name is Callais!! One day, I hope to explore the Normandy area…..Bunny

claudiag November 11, 2016 - 10:49 am

A very beautiful story and pictures. I hope we can consider war a faraway thing now and forever…claudiag

Our French oasis November 11, 2016 - 1:49 pm

A beautiful story, today and everyday I think of all the men and women who keep us safe and who have given so much.

carol November 11, 2016 - 2:15 pm

I loved it, beautiful…..

Judy November 11, 2016 - 2:21 pm

You have the ability to pull me into your story, your words transport me to another time and place. I always look forward to reading your lovely words.
Thank you, Sharon!

Stephanie November 11, 2016 - 2:27 pm

Thank you for the wonderful story…this is so touching.❤️

Ardith November 11, 2016 - 2:33 pm

Superb storytelling, Sharon, it touched my heart. Like Taste of France, I pray this never happens again.

Anne November 11, 2016 - 2:35 pm

I loved reading this beautiful story–thank you!

Alice November 11, 2016 - 2:37 pm

Cried. Thai you!

Mary B Irby November 12, 2016 - 3:44 am

A very uplifting story with all the really sad stories being told today. Thanks

Jeanne Visser November 11, 2016 - 2:51 pm

What a beautiful and moving story….I believed it was true until the end! It could have been. May we not lose our men like that ever again. Sadly though, it still happens in some parts of the world

Heather Smith November 11, 2016 - 3:11 pm

A really lovely story of love and hope particularly poignant in the world today. Those brave men did not fight for peace and compassion to be destroyed or held in contempt. Stunning photographs too. Merci beaucoup.

Eva Murdock November 11, 2016 - 3:18 pm

Lovely words.You transported me to another time and place. Thank-you, Eva

Vicky from Athens November 11, 2016 - 3:18 pm

Thank you Sharon, for a beautiful story on this Veteran’s Day here in the US. We all have so many men and women to thank for their service to our countries.

Cathy C November 11, 2016 - 3:52 pm

Lovely writing, comme toujours. In the photo of the soldiers and nurses, the soldier on the far left looks alarmingly like my maternal grand-père who served for France in WWI…but he was a cook and while he served on the front, he was never injured, thankfully. The resemblance is absolutely uncanny. Thank you for taking the time to remember.

Valorie November 11, 2016 - 4:10 pm

So beautiful! If only wars would end/could end for ever. Thank you for the gift of this lovely story. You are an amazing writer, I love your little stories and get excited when I see one in my in-box! Have a beautiful weekend. Happy Armistice Day! Happy Veterans Day! x

Pat November 11, 2016 - 4:11 pm

Thanks for this lovely story of the past when times might not have seemed easy but life was simpler, love sweeter.

Vicki November 11, 2016 - 4:36 pm

Sharon, your story is so wonderful. You are an excellent writer drawing in your reader right onto that farm and battlefield. If only all of our young people could understand who gives, how, and why our freedoms are so very precious. Please consider writing a series of stories of the subject matter and those individuals who have given so much into at least one large volume of your works. You are truly blessed and gifted.

Suzanne Atkin November 11, 2016 - 4:59 pm

As for us here in the US we are having Veterans Day. We will fly our flags and visit our fallen. There will be parades and family dinners and many correspondences with loved ones still living who have given us their hearts and minds for the cause of peace on Earth.
Unfortunatly, our world is still not free from the ones who would mean to oppress others. I’m sure we all can find someone in our family who has served.
Sharon, your poinient story of love and war and loss and triumph is ingrained in all of us. So we pray that one day it will only be a memory, as this story reminds us to be thankful for the brave ones and and the one who learned to be brave. To carry on the work of healing and teaching love, tolerance and to listen to one another. I reach my hand across the sea to honor your men and women who stood for their families and villages and nations in the name of peace and prosparity. May we never forget the toll it takes on us all. We thank them for the service they provided to the world.
Love to you all, from myself and from one of the MANY great countries of the world, the United States of America. For ever true. Our hearts to yours.

Fran Gospodarek November 11, 2016 - 6:24 pm

Your command of language and words is truly amazing. Thank you for sharing this story with your devoted readers.

Susan November 11, 2016 - 6:38 pm

Beautiful historical story, I hope you write a book someday.
xo Susan

Deborah November 11, 2016 - 7:53 pm

Beautiful storytelling…thank you!!

Irene Peterson November 11, 2016 - 8:53 pm

Your tale was a bright spot in my day!

Jane Nash November 11, 2016 - 10:46 pm

Thank you, such a touching story. Even now all these years later we can still feel the pain x

Marian from England November 11, 2016 - 11:41 pm

A moving story and although fictional, somewhere, for someone, it was true. We remember.

Joanna November 12, 2016 - 12:15 am

You write so well Sharon. What a beautiful story. I shed a few tears whilst reading this.

Brenda Chambers November 12, 2016 - 1:52 am

Oh, what a beautiful story, today is Veteran’s Day in the US and everyday I think of all the men and women who keep us safe and who have given so much. My hubby served in Vietnam.

Debra Sams November 12, 2016 - 2:28 am

I so much enjoyed this story. My thanks goes out to all the men and women who have served their countries and put their lives on the line in honor. May we never forget the price of being free. In the USA, today is Veterans Day. Thank you to all who serve and have served.

Kathryn Gauc November 12, 2016 - 4:57 am

Wonderful. Emotional and poignant.I have shared it with my writer friends.

Linda November 12, 2016 - 6:30 am

A beautiful story. So sad, yet so joyous as the war ended.

Carmen Vidal November 12, 2016 - 8:56 am

Beautiful story for this special day, thank you.

Kerrie November 12, 2016 - 1:01 pm

I love your little stories, Sharon. Please keep them coming.

Virginia November 12, 2016 - 3:43 pm

A beautiful story that brings to mind the history of my family. Before the US entered the war, two medical schools in Chicago — Northwestern and the University of Chicago — joined forces to provide much needed doctors in the UK and France. My grandfather served in Scotland and in France. Two great uncles served in France, and toward the end of the war, one was thought to be lost. Eventually, he was found in a French field hospital, much like the hospital described in the story. The three men survived the war and returned to Chicago to practice medicine.

Jamie from Kentucky November 12, 2016 - 3:44 pm

Thank you…may God’s peace be with all who serve and have served, with all who have returned and for all who did not.

Michelle November 12, 2016 - 10:06 pm

Sharon and Virginia..My grandfather also knew that doctors would be needed, and left his small town practice in Louisiana to join with some Anzac troops in France. The letters he wrote home were published in the local newspaper and told the terrible conditions in France… mustard gas, trench warfare and mud everywhere. We could never get him to tell us about his war experiences. He only said that the New Zealand and Australian troops were the best guys he ever knew. Amazingly, his great-granddaughter now lives in New Zealand. I wish I had any pictures from that time.

Marilyn November 13, 2016 - 5:41 pm

You are a beautiful story teller. Just so touching to the heart.

Paula November 14, 2016 - 1:12 pm

Fabulous–thank you, Sharon!!

JENNY Ledermann November 15, 2016 - 3:57 am

Life is HARD to find true LOVE is such a BLESSINGS!
Thank you for a BEAUTIFUL STORY from a very
Hard time!

Jill Radcliffe November 15, 2016 - 1:35 pm

Just lovely. Thank you.

remembrance sunday - MY FRENCH COUNTRY HOME November 11, 2018 - 9:50 am

[…] And if you’d like to read a short love story that takes place during the first World Warn then click here […]

Susan Krsnich November 11, 2018 - 10:04 am

Kansas City has the only WWI memorial in our country. I see it every Tuesday on my way to tutoring at a school. I will think of this beautiful story every week now. Thank you!

Sharon martin November 11, 2018 - 10:41 am

Armistice day in Sydney today…lest we forget. ..we will remember them..lost great uncles in France and Kakoda trail..only 20 years of age….⚘

Valarie November 11, 2018 - 3:43 pm

Thank you for such a moving story on this world weekend of remembrance. Wars are begun for many reasons but they are fought mostly by the young and affect us all. It’s so important to remember all who served in any way and those who serve in conflicts around the world today.

robert November 11, 2018 - 7:19 pm

Just as beautiful and poignant… the first reading in 2016.
Remind me of the John McCrae poem “In Flanders Field” If my memory of middle school memorizing hold true
Second verse:
“We are the dead…..Short days ago..we lived…..Felt sunset’s glow….And now we lie in Flander’s Field”

Deborah November 11, 2018 - 7:19 pm

Lest we forget, how true! Beautiful story, thank you.

Antonietta November 11, 2018 - 8:11 pm

Oh Sharon! Such a touching, tear-filled story that may be fictional for these 2 lovers, but perhaps true for someone during that time; we will never know. Our thoughts and our prayers and our thanksgiving to all those who have served and sacrificed for peace and goodness. Merci!

Jan Bell November 11, 2018 - 8:20 pm

Happy Armistice and Veterans’ Day. Beautiful story that I am sure could be true given that so men served and women did nursing while others kept the home fires burning!

Alice Genzlinger November 11, 2018 - 8:38 pm

I pray that France and the USA will always have each other’s back. Thanks for the story, probably a lot of truth to find in it.

Mary Wikert November 12, 2018 - 8:57 am

Tears came to my eyes when I read your story. I was a war bride and my fiance served in Vietnam as a military policeman…he had the dangerous job of patrolling the villages and surrounding countryside for Vietcong snipers and dissidents. Bullets frequently passed in front of his jeep narrowly missing him by inches and he had numerous dangerous encounters. We wrote to each other everyday and when a letter did not arrive on time, I was a nervous wreck. At Christmas, he was able to come home on a special leave to marry me and then had to return to Vietnam to finish his tour of duty. Watching his plane take off to a war zone for the second time was the most heart wrenching experience of my life since I knew that he would be in danger every single day. Thankfully, he came back to me by the grace of God and we will be celebrating our 48th anniversary together on December 22nd! Although my story is of a different war with a different country in a different time, the theme and the heartache of Aurilie’s story was the same as mine!

Mary Beth Beth Borchardt November 13, 2018 - 6:00 pm

All the more beautiful, because your story is true. God bless your husband and God bless you….may you always love each other that much….

Patricia November 12, 2018 - 2:59 pm

Thank you once again for your poignant story. I so look forward to your writings.

AFN November 12, 2018 - 3:54 pm

Thank you and a reminder for us all. There are so many special war stories. We thank all our Vets.

Mary Stawarz November 12, 2018 - 6:15 pm

Never Forget.

Dottie Monta November 14, 2018 - 3:29 am

Such a beautiful story, Sharon. It captured the feelings of the time and was especially meaningful to me and my husband, whose father fought in the Battle of Chateau Thierry. We have visited your adopted country many times; the most recent trip included several days in Normandy. Our youngest family member (eleven at the time) expressed our feelings best when, after seeing me kiss the cross of a young, fallen fellow Pennsylvanian, said, “Well, there is only one thing I can do.” And he turned, raised his arm, and saluted. I will never forget it.

Solar May 24, 2024 - 2:37 pm

I appreciate the insights in this blog post. Thank you! Solar


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