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Reg and Huguette's first meeting in 1944 lasted minutes – but their second was a day-long celebration
For almost 80 years, Reg Pye had her photograph in his wallet.
Huguette left the picture in Reg's van as thanks for sharing a jam sandwich with her while he waited to advance into France as World War Two raged.
A chance encounter amid the horrors of war near the Normandy beaches and just weeks after D-Day may have been brief, but the memory has lasted a lifetime.
So much so that veteran Reg, 98, wanted to meet again – and they have in an emotional rendezvous 78 years later.
"Here's a jam sandwich," he said with a chuckle as he greeted Huguette at her care home in northern France.
"Nice to see you again after such a long time," Huguette, now 92, replied smiling. "We got older but we're still the same."
This was a chance for Reg, who had travelled from west Wales, to introduce himself properly as their fleeting encounter in the summer of 1944 when he was 20 and Huguette was 14 lasted for all of a few seconds.
The British soldier had landed at Sword Beach with 224 Field Company, Royal Engineers, to assist the Allied invasion of mainland Europe against the German enemy when he stopped for a break.
"A van pulled up driven by a chap called Geordie and he offered us a can of pilchards," military truck driver Reg recalled, taking his mind back to that unknown village in an area known during the war as the Falaise Gap when he came face-to-face with an unknown French teenager.
"There was also a slice of bread. He put margarine on with a paintbrush and we also had a dollop of red jam.
"We walked back to where I had parked my van and I shared the pilchards between me and this other chap.
"Then I looked up and there was a girl standing in front of me. I didn't see her coming.
"She had a, I shouldn't say it, but a shabby white dress on. She didn't want pilchards.
"She was staring at me and I thought what is she staring at. I looked down and it was the bread. So I offered her the bread."
He does not recall her taking the bread, but can remember her "running across the village square and going into the church. I never saw her after that".
The next morning, in his cab was his mess tin and in it, along with his quantity of milk, was a photograph of the girl.
"And that is the photograph I have kept in my wallet for all that time."
It is not just the black and white photograph of Huguette outside a French presbytery that has remained close to Reg all this time, it was the hope of one day tracking down her down.
"In the bleakest of times this bit of humanity interaction made a huge mark on my life," added Reg, who is from Burry Port in Carmarthenshire.
Reg, whose wife of 72 years Meirwen died in 2015, had tried to track Huguette down before with the help of his only son, but they failed.
This time, with the help of veterans charity Taxi, Reg could once again share his jam sandwich with Huguette, now a mum of three.
"I've had this for 78 years," Reg said, handing her the faded old photo.
As well as the bread and jam, cheeky Reg also brought a can of pilchards. And, just like in 1944, Huguette rejected them again with a smile.
But, surrounded by their extended family, they did share champagne as friends helped to translate a conversation in which Huguette said she was "extremely touched" that Reg tried to find her.
"And she's still alive!" said Reg smiling. "Because in my own mind, I thought she's probably passed away by now because they'd had a hard time when they were young.
"She was very prim and proper. We had a good welcome, the best 45 hours of our lives."
At the end they shared a hug and kiss on the cheek, after which Huguette laughed and said they would have to get married now.
Reg agreed as Huguette vowed to "dump" her current boyfriend in the care home.
"That's what they said through the interpreter 'she's going to marry you'," Reg added.
"There we are!"
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World War Two: Soldier reunited with girl he met in France – BBC
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