About the Madeleine Blaess Project
The Madeleine Blaess Project is based at the University of Sheffield and is led by Dr Wendy Michallat from the School of Languages and Cultures.
Madeleine died in 2003 and she bequeathed her books and papers to the University where she had worked as a lecturer in the French Department from 1948. In 2014, Dr Michallat came across the diary along with other fascinating letters and papers from the Phoney War and the immediate post-war in the Special Collections department of the University’s library.
Madeleine Blaess (1918-2003) was born in France and moved to York in England with her parents when she was an infant. She was raised in York and educated at the Bar Convent before going to the University of Leeds to study French. She graduated with a first-class honours degree in French in July 1939 and was awarded a grant to go to the Sorbonne University in Paris to begin doctoral studies in the field of medieval French.
However, in September 1939 after Germany had invaded Poland, Britain and France declared war on Germany. Madeleine hesitated before taking up the offer of her university place but after having received reassurance about her safety, set off for Paris from Folkestone at the end of October 1939. Until May 1940, Madeleine was able to live a relatively normal life, studying for her doctorate and socialising with fellow students she had met at her lodgings and at the Sorbonne.
When the German army overran Belgium in May 1940, her life in Paris began to change. Many of her friends, fearful of impending conflict, left for the ports and from there to Britain as the streets of Paris were flooded with Belgian refugees fleeing the fighting. Madeleine decided that she too should leave and return to Britain, if only for the summer to see her parents, and began to make preparations to do so. She bought a train and boat ticket and organised the necessary visas.
Unfortunately for Madeleine, the German advance was so rapid that it cut off her route to the port and she was stranded in Paris. She joined thousands of other civilians fleeing south and finally returned to Paris in July 1940.