Chateau of Secrets

Last year I had the privilege of visiting Normandy with several girlfriends to research for my next time-slip novel Chateau of Secrets (releases in May). On a snowy March evening, Ann Menke gave us a tour of the medieval Château d’Agneaux set on jagged cliffs above the River Vire.

The chateau had been bombed during World War II so only half of the thousand-year-old structure remained, but it has been beautifully restored with antique furnishings and modern appliances. It was a remarkable place, brimming with history and mystique, but even more remarkable than the house were the stories Ann told us about her mother-in-law who’d lived in the Château d’Agneaux during the war.

Genevieve de Saint Pern Menke was a French noblewoman who grew up at the Château d’Agneaux outside Saint-Lo. Under her family’s home was a tunnel where—according to family legend— her ancestors hid during the French Revolution. When the Nazi Germans occupied Genevieve’s country and ultimately her home, she risked her life to hide downed Allied airmen and members of the French resistance in this tunnel underneath the chateau.

Genevieve joined the Red Cross in her early twenties and drove an ambulance to assist wounded soldiers in France. After the war, she was awarded the French Croix de Guerre medal for carrying soldiers to her ambulance while under fire from automatic weapons and mortars, the Red Cross Medal of Honor for treating soldiers on the battlefront, and a second Croix de Guerre for courageously and successfully negotiating the release of the French villagers in Germolles before they were executed by firing squad. During the hours of negotiation, she told the German officer that “an honorable man would not kill innocent people.”

While we were in France, we biked around the village where Genevieve once lived and spent our nights in the Menke family’s renovated manoir with its old stone tower and elegant paintings of ancestors on the walls. The people of Normandy welcomed us warmly, and we spent an afternoon dining with Serge and Marie Charlotte Letourneur, a beautiful couple who shared their memories of the war with us. Marie Charlotte’s father and mother had both been leaders in the local French resistance, and Serge gave us pieces of nylon from an American parachute that he’d found after D-Day. They honored us because we were Americans, and we were completely humbled by their regard.

Chateau of Secrets is based on the heroic true stories of the French and German people who fought against Hitler and his regime from the inside. Genevieve Menke passed away in 2010, but her legacy of courage and compassion lives on through her five sons, her many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and I hope now as well through these fictional characters inspired by her heroism.

Here are few pics of Genevieve and my adventure with friends in France:

Herman and Genevieve Menke at Manoir. Genevieve Passed Away in 2010. Herman in 2014.

Herman and Genevieve Menke at Manoir. Genevieve Passed Away in 2010. Herman in 2014.

Old Pic of Chateaud'Agneaux

Chateau d’Agneaux before it was bombed during World War II

GenevieveYounger

Genevieve de Saint Pern in the 1940s

Ann and Mary Kay by Lake

Mary Kay Taylor and Ann Menke by the lake below the chateau

Mel on Bomb Divet

Seventy years after the war and bombs still won’t grow where the bombs hit…

Mel with Serge and Marie Charlotte

Afternoon with the delightful Serge and Marie Charlotte

Valley of river Vire

Looking down on the valley and river Vire below the chateau

River Vire

Wish we could have kayaked on the Vire like my characters!

Stairs to Old Tunnel

Stairs down to the old wine cellar (cave) and tunnel

For more pictures about the settings in Chateau of Secrets, please visit my France Research Trip page here.

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Showing 7 comments
  • Ann

    What an honor and privilege to read this beautiful story. Thank you for this treasured gift Melanie.

  • Carrie Turansky

    I’m so looking forward to reading this book! Thanks for a look at the history behind the story!

  • Anonymous

    it sounds like a great story. I would love a copy. wolf2644@hotmail.com

  • Nancy M.

    What an interesting story of a heroic woman! I can’t wait to read her story written by you.

  • Linda Maendel

    Looks like a fascinating read! Would love to win a copy. Thanks for the offer!

  • Anonymous

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  • Eric Owens

    Melanie, what a great experience for you. So happy for you that you were able to do that. What a great story. Now that is my idea of a European stay. Would love a copy of the book. My father served in WW II and my mother was one of the many Rosie the riveters. Keep writing and God bless.

    Eric