Celestine Guegan


Of all our family, we have by far the most information about Celestine, through the legacy of a small collection of diaries and papers. Based on scraps of information gleaned from these, I have attempted to create a narrative of her life, using her diary entries where possible. These can give only a hint of her character and personality, bearing in mind that she writes mostly at the end of her lifetime. I have been told that while she was a real worrier, and often looked sad, she also was very sociable and had a great sense of humour. As a young woman she has been described to me as tall (5ft 6, which was the average height of a man at the turn of the century) with luxurious, long auburn hair and grey eyes.)

Early years

Born Julie Celestine Marie Yvonne Guegan in Morlaix, Brittany [see on map] on 11 April 1888, 3rd child of Yves Marie Guegan, and Marie Yvonne Laurence. She had two older siblings, Augustin Jacques Marie and Marie Francoise Rosalie. She describes her childhood as being “happy and joyful” and they were a close family, perhaps due to the fact that as Yves work as a stationmaster for the railways meant they moved around Brittany quite a bit. Auguste was born in St Laurent, Marie in La Gouesniere (Cancale), and Celestine in Morlaix.

Celestine's parents

Celestine’s parents – Marie Yvonne and Yves Guegan


Her diaries provide a few early memories.

“I am reminded of my childhood and that I coughed every winter. My parents made me take cod liver oil, which I detested. At the age of 5 I became seriously ill with pleurisy, caused by the dampness of the railway station at Huelgoat-LocMaria . The cellar was always full of water, and that winter was harsh. The birds could not find enough to eat and would venture close to the kitchen door in the hope of finding some scraps. I remember having seen foxes hovering about the base of the courtyard.[ S: Diary, 11/4/76 ]

[ Original: “”Je me souviens de mon enfance et que je toussais tous les hivers. Mes parents m’ont oblige a prendre de l’huile de foi de maree, que je detestais. A l’age de 5 ans je fut gravement malade d’une pleurise, causee par l’humidite de la gare de Huelgoat-LocMaria. Le cave etait rempli d’eau et l’hiver cette annee la fut rigoureux. Les oisseaux ne trouvait pas a manger et venaient du pres de la port de la cuisine dans l’espoir de trouver des restants de nouriture. Je me souviens avoir vu des renards [ ] autour de la basse coeur” [S: diary, 11/4/76)]

“I remember quite well … the railway station when we lived there from 1891-1896. When we came to live in a new house, rue de la Trinite, near the cemetery. Then we moved to route de Trequin, opposite the Marquis de Beauvoir Residence, called St Leonard. I remember the old small chapel that stood high on the hill” [ S: Diary 20/7/1971 ]

The railway station at LocMaria / Huelgoat. Click to view large size

The railway station at Huelgoat-Locmaria. This is almost certainly a photo of Yves, Marie Yvonne and little Celestine.

In 1898 the family migrated to Guernsey [ S:Diary ]. Family legend has it that this was because Yves went deaf and could no longer work as a stationmaster (Chef de Gare). He was only 41. Why did they choose Guernsey? Did they know families there? It was common for Breton people to find work in the Channel Islands, though mostly in Jersey. Her father ended up with work as a gardener [The census record only indicates “laboureur” but when I visited Guernsey Uncle Robert pointed out the gardens of a fancy home where he said he worked. Does anyone know the name of these gardens?]

She remembers her early years in Guernsey with great fondness and it is at this time the family forms a friendship with the Goasdoué’s.

“I would go there [Grand Moulin] at the age of 10 to see our friends the Goasdoué family and join up with Renee, Yves and Baptiste. It was charming in summer, during the August holidays. I spent many happy hours of games and companionship, because I did not have playmates and it was always a special occasion for me to go to see our friends”

[Orig: ‘y allais a l’age de dix ans voir nos amis, la famille Goasdoué et join avec Renee, Yves et Baptiste. C’etait charmante en ete, pendant les vacances de mois d’aout. J’y ai passe de bonnes heures de [joux] et de compagnie, car je n’avais pas de compagnons de jeu et c’etait fete pour moi que d’aller chez nos amis.” [S:Diary 21/3/76]

Also, after mentioning a stroll taken along the Route de l’eglise, Catel, Celestine wrote “I know this route well, as I passed by there two times a day, six days out of seven. I was 10 and had strong legs and was full of dreams and imagination…sometimes during summer, on Sundays, Yves, Renee and the young Baptiste joined our little group, for a change and to learn other paths for returning to St Saviors…happy and joyful memories”

[Orig: “je connais bien cette route ou je passais par la, 2 fois par jour pendant 6 jours sur sept. J’avais 10 ans et de bonne jambes et beaucoup de reves et d’imagination….Parfois pendants les dimanches d’ete, Yves, Renee et le jeune Baptiste se joignaient de notre petite bande, pour changer de route et connaitre d’autre chemins pour rentrer a St Saveur en passant par les Grand Moulins. Heureux et joyeux souvenirs.” [S:Diary 26/3/76]

“On New Years, our family went to the Goasdoue’s to spend the day: eating and drinking, and in the evening dancing with Yves and Baptiste, to the sound of August’s accordian. Our mothers chatted in front of a blazing fire, and our fathers drank beer while discussing politics. A happy day.”

[Orig: Au temps du premier jour de l’an, nous allions en famille y passe la journee: diner et souper, et soir on dansaient avec Yves et Baptiste. Nos meres causaient de leurs affaires d’apres d’un bon feu, et nos peres tout en buvant bieres fortifiant parlaient politique. Heureux jour. “[S:21/3/76]

Celestine completed her education at 16, attaining her “6th” in 1904. Paul says she was always top of her class in both French and English (which is evident when you read her diaries, the way she alternates easily between the two languages.)

“I remember quite well coming to live in the Guernsey country-side but coming in to school at St Peter Port. How different things were, and the people much more friendly and neighbourly, poorer, hard-living conditions but not unbearable, more sociable more helpful and if you were decent people, they had respect and esteem for you no matter what nationality you were. Guernsey is a cosmopolitan island. People come here from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, France especially ” [ S: Diary 18/9/1970 ]

We think she became a nanny or governess, a common occupation for working class single women at this time. There is a letter dated 1908 addressed to Celestine. at “5 Brook Terrace, the Grange”. As this area is where the rich of Guernsey lived, the assumption is that she was working there (she was 20 by then).

Back to France

In 1909, aged 21, Celestine returned to France. Possibly this was at the same time as her parents, as we know they returned to St Laurent towards the end of their lives. Auguste must have stayed in Guernsey, as his daughter was born there in 1914. As to her work, again we think she continued as a nanny – we have a reference from a parish priest H [Morrhais] written in 1912, attesting that Celestine. spent “three years at the Chateau de Champagnette (Mayenne) with the excellent Montpazat family [ trans .]”.

The house belonging to the Montpezat family.

The house belonging to the Montpezat family. Identified from text written on the back

Her diary from 1909 contains references to places like the Chateau de Mousseau, Le Lou and a “trip with Mme la Victomtesse de Morlais and her young son Bertrand Gabriel de la Morlais” [ S: D 1909 ]” This type of travel and location fits in with the nanny theory. In 1912 she went to Paris where she was employed by “the family of Paul and Jeanne Rottembourg, who had a double apartment on the second floor of 142 rue du Faubourg, St Denis, near the Bvde Starsbourg and between the Gare du Nord and Gare de l’Est” [ trans. S: D: 14/2/1971 ].  Paul Rottembourg was a lawyer.

It seems she became engaged to Louis Rolland around this time. From a diary entry ( 12/6/70 ) we can deduce that Louis must have first asked her to marry him around 1912, when he was in Greenwood, British Columbia. We have a few of his postcards to her.


The horrible war

1914 bought “the horrible war that deprived us of our dreams” [ S: Diary 11/11/75 ]. Her brother Auguste was killed in action in the trenches of Arras in May 1915, leaving behind his young wife, Marguerite and little Yvonne only 1 year old. In June of that year, we have a letter from Louis written from the front lines, which appears to be in reply to a request from Celestine to visit him, but he discourages her.

I understand your desire to come and see me at Moiremont. Me, my darling, I couldn’t ask for better, but can you see the difficulty, serious and dangerous, and further it’s impossible for a woman to come to a place like [this]

Just one month later he was killed in action in Champagne.

Through this period, until February 1917, she continued to work with the Rottembourgs. We find her next at the small town of LaMotte-Beuvron , working in the Hospital (Sanitorium Jeanne D’Arc) – she works there until July 1918. [ S: reference from director ]. She was in Tours when the Armistice was signed in November [ S: diary entry regarding 66 years in G .] working with the American Expeditionary Forces, perhaps as a translator? [ S: Reference from AEF ]

Sanitorium Jeanne D'arc, where Celestine worked as a nurse during the first world war

Sanitorium Jeanne D’arc, where Celestine worked as a nurse’s aid during the first world war

By this time, her mother and father were back in France, at their farm called Ker Idre, near St Laurent. Her niece, Yvonne Guegan, spent her early childhood (during World War 1) with them on this farm, as the death of her father Auguste had left her and her mother homeless.

Celestine’s sister, Marie married Auguste Pean on 24 May 1919 at La Madeleine Church, Paris. Marie lived in Paris the rest of her life, and had two children, Augustin and Renee (born in Paris 11 December 1921). Renee married Georges Delahais after the second world war, and had a daughter Annie who lives in Paris to this day. [Source: CG Diary 5/3/1960]

New beginnings

Celestine married her childhood friend Yves Marie Goasdoué at the only French catholic church in Guernsey (and where she had gone to school), Notre Dame du Rosaire on 28 January 1920. The marriage certificate lists their occupations as “fille garde malade” (nurses aid) and Yves as “cultivateur” (farmer). In October of that year they took a lease on the farm “Les Prevosts” and their first child, Bertrand, arrived the following year, in February 1921. This must have been a busy time for C. as we have two letters chiding her for falling out of contact with friends in France. A friend, Lea Cohen, asks for “signs of life” but is pleased to hear that she is “happy and a mother” [ S: Letter ]”.

Two more children Raymond (1922) and Georges Alexander Yves (1924) are born in quick succession. We have a sweet letter from Yves to C. written during these early years of their marriage. It appears that C is in France and Yves writes “I fret when you are not here …. the little ones are very well. It’s a pleasure their health is very good” and finishes with “a big kiss from afar, while waiting to do so up close. Yves, who does not forget you” (It’s much prettier in French, so excuse my clumsy translation: “je termine en t’embrassant bien fort de loin en attendant de le faire de pre. Yves qui te n’oublie pas.”

Her “good and dear” Mother died in 1924 [ Source:diary entry. We think possibly of breast cancer]. In a lovely letter , her father Yves Guegan broke the news: “it’s over. I have lost the best of wives and you the most affectionate mother”. Celestine wrote in her diary “death of my excellent and brave mother in 1924…had a long and painful illness, patiently born. The whole town [attended].. the funeral”.

The dairy prospers, Paul remembers they had a car and a telephone. Family legend reckons that Yves also imported the first motorbike into Guernsey, a Red Indian. The Goasdoué family continues to expand, with the birth of two girls, Denise in 1925 and Renee in 1927. Yves’ mother comes to live in the family in 1926, staying there until her death in 1938 [ S: 1915 registration card ]

In [June] 1927, her beloved father Yves Guegan died. More children are born – Henri in 1928. C. remembers that he was “born at Les Prevosts farm on a Saturday morning, Yves.. was getting ready to take the butter to market. He was pleased it was a son as we already had two daughters before him. The grandmother also was happy as she preferred boys to girls, in looks he was already on his father’s side of the family and of course that pleased the old lady. In fact she had a strong liking for Henri.” [ S: Red exercise book ]

In 1930 comes another loss – that of her only sister, Marie, who she “had the unhappiness to lose, in Paris 10 June [Source: Diary 2/2/1958]….3 years after the death of my darling father.” “I am thus the sole surviving member of our family. I would like to say a mass in memory of this dear family so cruelly tested by the Great War and by illness.”

“La date me fait penser a mon unique soeur que j’ai eu le malheur de perdre a Paris le 10 Juin 1930. Trois annees apres mon cher Pere fin de Nov 1927. Je reste donc seule survivante de notre famille – j’aimerais faire dire une messe a la memoire de cette cher famille si cruellement eprouve par la grande guerre at par la maladie”. [S: D 2 Mars 1971]

Another two more children complete Celestine’s “nombreux famille”, Robert in 1930 and Paul in 1932. After Paul’s birth Celestine suffered a deep depression and Paul was looked after by neighbour and friend May Talbourdet for a month. (I met May in 1981 and she called Paul her “golden haired boy” and showed me the chest of drawers he slept in. May and her husband Alex were childless and it has been said that she desperately wanted to keep the baby. Imagine, Celestine had 8 children in the 9 years between 1921 and 1932! Lulu remembers C. telling her that she when she found out she was pregnant again (with Paul), in despair she asked Pere Toublanc the local priest “what will we do?” and he replied simply “God will provide”. Paul remembers that his early years were spent with his paternal grandmother, as his father Yves succumbed to TB (tuberculosis). He was bedridden in the front room of Les Prevosts, with the burden of the running the farm falling on Celestine and the older boys Bertrand, Raymond and George. C. told Paul that she deliberately kept him isolated from Yves, for fear of transmitting the disease.

Yves eventually died, on 15 March 1937, aged 50 “mon cher Yves, mort a 5h de l’apres-midi apres une longue maladie” [ S: Diary 15/3/68 Trans: my dear Yves, died at 5 in the afternoon after a long illness] .

The Occupation – World War 2

“30 years have flowed by since this time of sighs and tears”.

“30 annees sont ecoulees depuis ce temps de larmes et soupirs” [S:Diary]

C. mentions very little about her experiences during the second world war. We know that life was tough for those who had opted to stay in occupied Guernsey. Les Prevosts, like many other farms and large houses, had to billet German soldiers.

“I found myself alone and widowed during the war 1939-45. Our family of mother, sons and daughters divided and cut in two. I stayed at the farm Les Prevosts with Bertrand 19, Raymond 17 and Georges 16. My 2 daughters in the North of England. Denise, with her young brother Henri, aged 11. My daughter Renee fled with St Joseph’s girls school” …. Robert (10 years old) and Paul (the youngest of the family) was exactly 8 when the evacuation took place.

“Je me suis trouve seule et veuve pendant la guerre 1939-1945. Notre famille de mere, fils et filles divisee et coupee en 2, je restee a la ferme Les Prevosts avec Bertrand, 19 ans, Raymond 17 ans et Georges 16 ans. Mes 2 filles partis dans le nord de l’Angleterre.
Renee left early in the morning for “White Rock” to board the Steamer “Viking” bound for Weymouth,” ending up eventually in Alderly Edge, near Manchester. Denise and Henry ended up in the village of [Harnforth] 7 miles from Leeds. They camped for several nights in the village hall, waiting to be chosen by an English family. But all the families wanted only a single child, and Denise was adamant that her mother had told them to stay together during the evacuation period. In the end she was forced to give in, as the hall emptied, leaving only Denise and Henri. In the end it wasn’t a totally bad solution. Denise went to stay with a Mrs Shire, married but childless, who took Denise for company…..Henri was put with a family in the house next door and the two of them, brother and sister, saw each other every day….The families were practicing catholics.”

“As for Robert and Paul they were in very good hands, with their school, the good sisters of La Chaumiere and their friends. Well housed, clothed, fed and treated will with kindness and intelligence. The lived in a charming place in a beautiful house, with tennis court and garden. Mosely Hall, Cheshire.” [ S: Diary on loose pages, 1971 ]

Separated from half of her children, her home occupied by the enemy, it was during this terrible time, that a tragedy happened – her son George died in 1944, aged only 16, of a epileptic fit. Apparently he suffered from “petit-mal”, a condition so easily managed by drugs today. She was also separated from her son, Raymond, who had been sent to Alderney where there was a slave labour camp. [Not sure why?]


1946 (date?) ” I remember finding myself in town and hearing the bells of St Peter Port Church, ring out our deliverance. My emotion was high and my feelings complicated. I was going to have the great joy of seeing my 5 children evacuated since the end of June 1940 and exiled in the North of England. I would find them changed no doubt, 5 years among strangers at the age when their characters were forming. Certain natures are impressionable, certain people are easily influenced. How would the re-establish themselves? The conditions of our existence at Les Prevosts were hard.” [ S: 8 May 1971 ]

” Il y a donc 29 years [S: Exc book 8 Mai 74] depuis ce grand jour. Je me souviens, me trouvant en ville et entendre les cloches de l’eglise de St Pierre Port sonner la deliverance. Mon emotion etait grande et sentiments compliques. J’allais avoir la grande joie, sous peu de revioir mes 5 enfants evacuees depuis fin de juin 1940 et exiles dans le nord de l’Angleterre: 2 dans le Yorkshire, 3 dans le Cheshire. J’allais les trouves charges sans aucun dout, cinq annes parmi des etrangers a l’age de la formation des caracteres. Certains natures sont tres impressionable, certaines personnes sont facilement influences. Comment etaient-ils reagir. Les conditions de notre existence aux Prevosts etaient dures.
The children all returned, but they were no longer a “family”. 5 years is a long time away from each other.

In 1947, another blow to the family, the terrible death of Bertrand, her first-born son, from TB like his father. We have a tiny diary he kept in his last year. Celestine recorded later in many diary entries, the “painful anniversary of Bertrand Francois Auguste, at 7 o’clock in the evening”.

After the war

After the death of Bertrand in 1947, they decide to stop running Les Prevosts as a working farm  “.. we sold the farm machinery and tools. Henri looked for work on a farm. …The following February, our Raymond went to seek his fortune in Canada, he had wished for a long time to see the new world.”

“Enfin voila encore une fois le quinze mars passe. Triste jour anniversaire (death of Yves). Je m’en souviens comme de cette annee la, mars 1947. Ensuite ce fut la vente des machines et outils de fermage. Henri cherch du travail sur une ferme. [ ] jusqu’au 10 october, jours de la vente. de [ ] et des accessoires. Plusieures vaches furent vendus avant le jour de la ventre. L’enterrement de notre importune Bertrand eut lieu le 19 Sept 1947. Au mois de fevrier, notre Raymond s’en fut chercher fortune au Canada, il souhaitait depuis longtemps voir des pays nouveaus.”

Illness in the form of TB continued to dog the family “after these days of departure and separation …I had the chagrin of seeing Denise fall ill from TB and be forced to go to hospital in London…I was desolate and could not accompany her. She stayed until August 1948.”

“en ces jours de departs et separation pour plusieurs annee j’eu le chagrin de voir Denise tomber malade de la tuberculose et qu’il fallait qu’elle se rende a Londres pour entrer a l’hopital (University College?) j’etais desolee at ne put l’accompagne. Elle y resta jusqu’au mois d’aout 1948.” [S: Blue ex book]

The end of an era – leaving Les Prevost


Celestine, with Mme Tardivet and a young Michel (son of Paul and Lulu Tardivet)

From what I can gather in the diaries, C. gave notice about leaving Les Prevosts in March 1960 “went to give warning to Maureen Simon about leaving Les prevosts” [ S: Diary 15/3/60 ]. but didn’t actually leave until 1961 “at last brought the furniture from Les Prevosts here” [ S: Diary 15/6/61 ]. She left to live with her daughter Denise and family, at their small cottage “Mon Plaisir” Is it a coincidence that in the diary for 1960 she wrote “a man’s a son until he takes him a wife, a daughter’s a daughter the whole of her life”. In [ year?] she moved to La Maison Maritaine.

The final chapter – retirement home

” At last, all of a sudden, after many tests and struggles, I have finally found a refuge where I can finish my existence”

“Enfin tout a une fois, apres bien des epreuves et combats j’ai enfin trouve un refuge ou terminer mon existence.” [ S: 8 May 1974 ]

From her diaries C seems to have been quite happy at La Maison Maritaine. Her later years passed quietly, full of family visits, letter writing, reading and knitting (mon cher tricot). The 3 exercise books date from this period. In the diary from 1975, she explains her decision ” I will continue in French, because I see myself losing the habit of speaking in this language, if I write a little every day this will be to my advantage, and at the same time it will be a distraction, serving to pass the time which sometimes seems to go so slowly”

“je continue en Francais..car je m’apercois que je perds l’habitude de parler en cette langue, si j’ecris un peu tous les jours cela sera bien a mon avantage et en meme temps,ce sera une distraction, cela servera a passer le temps qui parfois me semble si long”.

More and more her thoughts turn to the past. These diaries have more reminiscences than the others.

” 11 November 1975: Sad day for many of us. Fifty three years have passed but the heartache is not over. I often think of what might have been.” The bouts of depression that dogged her throughout her life remain with her “I feel much better than I did since the end of July, .[..] and the month of August have been rotten months, so unhappy with depression, everything seemed to be gloomy and hopeless” [ S: Diary 11.11.75 ]

But mostly, her diary entries cover the everyday experiences of an elderly woman. The weather, trips to town, shopping, the goings on at La Maison Maritaine, good programmes on TV. She often mentions seeing Denise, Henri or Robert and seems to have seen somebody pretty much every day, she writes about the youthful adventures of Yvette and Anne, and of little Denise and Joelle. She worries about their health and happiness (especially of her daughter Denise). While she mentions some physical discomfort of her own, such as badly burnt hands, leg pains, blindness in one eye, or chronic insomnia, she never really complains about it in the diaries.

She longs and waits for letters from Raymond, Paul and Renee, her children living overseas. ” I must make myself a task – to write to each of my children at least once per month, without waiting for their letters, because I have much more time than them. I believe this will give them pleasure and we will become more intimate and less strangers to each other” [ S: 25.1.74 ]

A keen letter writer, her list of correspondents includes Maxine (Raymond’s wife) in Canada, Renee (daughter), Yvonne Le Corre (niece, Auguste’s daughter) and her son Paul, Georges Delahais (great nephew, her sisters grandson), Mme Tardivet (Paul’s mother in law), Jean-Marie Goualan (cousin) and Marie-Renee Sherer (her sister-in-law).

Always an avid reader, her diary entries are littered with the titles of books she is reading (or re-reading!). Paul remembers: “a woman at Guile Alles library told me she must have read almost every book. Most nights she would read by candle light until the early hours of the morning” She compiled this list of her favourite authors.

“Happily I have my letters, my reading, my knitting, these little occupations to which I can turn once I return to my room, knowing I will disturb no-one. I can give myself peacefully to my thoughts, my memories of the past, the friendships of yesteryear, the tender love of parents, the travel, the holidays, the reunions after a year of separation, the dreams of happy reunions and the happiness of being finally together:

“Heuresment que j’ai mes lettres, ma lectrice, mon tricot, ses petites occupations et la [ ] de mon retour dans ma chambre avec l’idee que je ne gene personne. Je puis me livrer en paix, a mes pensees, mes souvenirs du passe, les amities d’autrefois, les tendresses des parents, les voyages, les vacances, ces revoir apres une annee de separation, les reves d’heureuse reunion et le bonheur d’etre enfin ensemble” [S: Aout 1971]

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