For 75 years, a letter to Michel Bourgeau from his father in New Caledonia languished in the College archives. A chance discovery triggered a search to locate the Joeys Old Boy and deliver him the correspondence. Now Michel is reconnected with the school – and has a cherished memento of a parent’s love.
The letter was filed among the Headmaster’s correspondence for 1945 and for some reason Michel had not received it. Possibly its delay was war related, but although it had been opened by the censors it was still in very good condition. It is most likely that Michel had left the College before the letter had been processed.
The letter, written in French and dated August 1945, was from his dad, Mr M J Bourgeau, Secretaire General, Noumea. Michel had commenced at the College in May 1944, aged 12 years and 7 months, and left at the end of 1945 at the end of World War II.
Beverley Malone, who manages the SJC Archives with Jo Junee, found the letter last year while sorting documents. Written with fatherly love and affection, it revealed Mr Bourgeau’s concern for his son’s wellbeing and sundry other familial and practical matters. Beverley then began the challenging task of finding Michel.
After exploring several avenues, remarkably, she was able to track down Michel’s brother, Jean Paul, and was delighted to discover that Michel was living in Paris and in his 90th year. Jean Paul was able to give her Michel’s contact details.
A life well lived: After finishing school, Mr Bourgeau served in the French navy and worked all around the world as an army civil servant.
“I will never forget the two years when I was in school at St Joseph’s College because I was so happy… but excuse me if I forgot all the English talking and writing I learnt 75 years ago!”
Michel BOURGEAU (1949)
Beverley’s letter to Michel, which was translated into French by Courtney Berriman of the College’s Languages Department, began: “Following recent correspondence through LinkedIn with your brother, Jean Paul, it is with great pleasure that St Joseph’s College is now able to deliver the letter written to you by your parents in August 1945. The letter was found in our Archives, filed amongst the Headmaster’s correspondence for 1945. Thankfully, it is still in excellent condition.”
Beverley advised that there were some family photos enclosed with the letter and noted that Michel’s father had asked for a copy of the 1945 College Annual. “Although it is 75 years on,” she wrote, “we now enclose a copy of an original 1945 College magazine for you and your family, as requested by your father. I trust that this triggers some fond memories for you.”
The letter to Michel was accompanied by a number of items, compliments of the College: the 1945 letter from his father and the enclosed family photos; a copy of a doctor’s report regarding the condition of Michel’s eyes at the time (his father had inquired in his letter as to the outcome of that appointment); an original copy of the 1945 College magazine; and some St Joseph’s College memorabilia, including a College scarf (cerise and blue), Old Boys tie, cufflinks, College prayer, individual and class photos and an issue of the Connect magazine.
Almost lost in the mists of time: The August 1945 letter from Mr Bourgeau’s father in New Caledonia which was found in 2021.
Michel had been in the Preparatory Classes in his two years at SJC. The 1945 Annual finds him in Preparatory Class A, where he is listed as having been first in art and fourth in arithmetic. He was also a member of the College choir. Some of his contemporaries, particularly Jim McTaggart (1948) who has subsequently tried to correspond with Michel, remember him well.
Michel’s first reply to Beverley (written in broken English) was full of joy and surprise. “I was very happy to read the message that you sent…I will never forget the two years when I was in school at St Joseph’s College, because I was so happy in this College. But what a long time it is. And excuse me, if I forget all of the English talking and writing that I learnt 75 years ago.”
He continued, “I am now retired 30 years and never thought that somebody of that nice College would remember and write to me. I worked 35 years after I served five years in the French navy, as a civil servant in the army and all around the world, but never in or near the nice land of Australia.”
After he received the parcel of memorabilia, he replied, “I just received the nice parcel with the nice letter from my father. I am so happy to see this letter 75 years after the dispatchment. And you put in the parcel many very nice objects. THANK YOU VERY MUCH.”
He added, “When I opened this parcel, I was like a little boy in front of a Christmas tree. All wonderful things. The St Joseph’s College magazine, all the nice photos, the tie, the scarf and all beautiful things. I will soon send you a good photo. You will be able to see that the young boy is now a very old man that God gives permission to stay alive.”
Seizing the moment: Even though he was only at Joeys for two years, Mr Bourgeau sang in the College Choir and came first in art and fourth in arithmetic.