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War Heroine Olivia, 102, Shares Her Tales of Combat That Won Her a Croix de Guerre

Published on: 2 Mar, 2021
Updated on: 2 Mar, 2021

Olivia in her chauffeuse uniform, the Croix de Guerre medal ribbon just visible.

Echoes of war have been swirling along the corridors and rooms of Cedar Court care home in Cranleigh since decorated heroine Olivia Jordan moved in last year.

British-born Olivia, who celebrated her 102nd birthday in January, loves to reminisce about the Second World War when she became official driver to General Charles de Gaulle, leader of the Free French Army in exile in Britain.

But her tales of front-line combat started in early 1940 after she volunteered, as a fluent French-speaker, to drive a military ambulance in a desperately mobilising France as the grim threat of Nazi invasion rumbled over the country.

Olivia was on duty at the much-vaunted Maginot Line of border fortifications, that turned out to be useless, when the Germans faked diversionary artillery and infantry attacks there while their main armies bypassed the Line to the north, through Belgium and Luxembourg, to launch their fatal massive blitzkrieg into the heart of France.

The day Paris fell, Olivia was still on duty at the Line where her exhausting work tending the wounded from Nazi bombardments, earned her the Croix de Guerre, awarded by French Army commander General Maxime Weygand.

The Maginot Line – Image Wikipedia

Her chief told her: “This is too dangerous for a Brit to stay.” So, in her ambulance, she joined the flood of refugees and defeated troops heading south-west for the coast, constantly strafed by dive-bombers and machine-gunning fighters. .

She managed to reach the British Consulate in Bordeaux, where she found a sailor sweeping up. Olivia remembers their conversation exactly. “Pity you weren’t here yesterday,” he said. “Mr Churchill was here with a bloke called de Gaulle, I think he said.

“Oh, and de Gaulle left these papers behind. If you’re going back to London could you take them with you?”

After a tricky Channel crossing on a minesweeper, Olivia found her way to the newly established Free French headquarters in London to deliver the papers. There she was offered the job of chauffeuse to Brigadier General Charles de Gaulle, who was setting up the Free French forces who had escaped mainly through Dunkirk.

But they had no car so Olivia drove the general in her father’s, until Prime Minister Winston Churchill issued him an official one. Olivia worked in the Free French office until 1943, when she got married.

Charles Grace, Olivia’s nephew, said: “Aunt Olivia has the most amazing stories which she loves to recount when we visit her. Her eyes light up whenever she reminisces about the times gone by and the extraordinary adventures she has had.

“For her courage under fire while treating the wounded on both sides she was awarded the Croix de Guerre by General Weygand. Such an award to a foreigner [in those days] was quite unusual.”

Olivia often talks about her memories with her carers and others in the home. Although she suffers dementia, she finds older memories much easier to recollect than short-term ones.

Olivia Jordan celebrating her 102nd birthday.

Home manager Petra Ionescu said: “Olivia is such a wonderful person to have with us. The conversations she has with the team and others in the home make a real difference.

“One of the best things about working in care is the stories you hear from people, and we’re not short of good stories. Everyone in the home has lived a fulfilling life and relish sharing their tales.”

For more information about Cedar Court, visit: https://www.mmcgcarehomes.co.uk/care-homes/cedar-court

 

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