A French child's view of D-Day - upheaval, bombs and chewing gum

By Elizabeth Pineau

SAINT-LO, France (Reuters) - Marie-Therese Legallois was seven and sitting in school when her teacher suddenly told her class that Allied troops had landed a few miles away on the beaches of Normandy.

"The teacher said, 'You must return home because the landing is happening,'" said Legallois, now 87, using the French term Débarquement for what is now known across the English-speaking world as D-Day.

As veterans and world leaders prepare to gather in Normandy to mark the 80th anniversary of that event, her mind goes back to her and her sister heading back on foot to their home in the village of Conde-sur-Vire and meeting their father half way.

"I can see myself running to him, happy to see him, and I told him: 'There is no more school, because the great upheaval is happening!'"

She remembers being sent away to stay with an aunt as fighting raged after the landings, and returning to find her village in ruins.

On July 18, a bomb fell near her parents' farm, killing seven people but sparing her family.

The city of Saint-Lo, where she now lives, was almost entirely destroyed in bombardments. It took Allied forces about a month to liberate it.

One happier image. She remembers American soldiers "very cheerful, arriving in truck-loads and throwing candy and chewing gum at us". Chewing gum was a novelty to Legallois and her friends.

Now a retired social worker, Legallois follows D-Day news and films closely, and cuts out articles from the newspapers.

Because of her health, she will not be able to go out in Saint-Lo herself on Wednesday and watch President Emmanuel Macron take part in the commemorations. But she plans to follow it all on TV.

And she hopes to join the more modest celebration in Conde-sur-Vire on July 5 to mark the liberation of her childhood home.

"It reminds us that we were occupied for four years and were liberated by the Americans," she says. "But I always have a bit of sadness to see that the war continues, in Ukraine or elsewhere."

(Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Andrew Heavens)