Sunday, September 7, 2014

The forgotten battle.

An expert has been sent by the prefecture to talk about the battle of Bertrix in 1914. A battle in which four of the village boys died. The mayor stands up mutters something inaudible by way of introduction then sits down. His wife whispers something to him. He stands up again. ' Tonights speaker is Monsieur ' - he pauses and looks at his piece of paper - ' Durville. Did I say it right ? '. The expert nods. The mayor is wearing a green plaid shirt and his formal blazer with bronze buttons. He's sockless with open toed sandals. As The Old Farmer has shown up in his voluminous khaki shorts and suede jacket with tassles the mayors sartorial shortcomings can be forgiven.

The expert talks eloquently about how the French were ambushed. Their blue and red uniforms making them easy targets. He reads a letter from a young conscript, the third name on the village war memorial. " Chere Maman. I can't tell you where we are but everything here is so different. Even the cows are different ! I have been on a train ". The excitement of a farm boy on his first, and last, trip away from home. By some quirk of fate the regimental Quartermaster had mislaid the summer uniforms and so off they went into battle in the August heat wearing winter issue red woolen trousers and blue frock coats. They sang 'Ah! Ca ira' as they went. 

This morning there is a Memorial Service in the big market town. The ancient combatants line the bridge with their tricoleurs, people mill around, the beer and absinthe crowd settle down to watch. There's a parade of vintage vehicles. A dignitary makes a speech that invokes the glorious triumph of the Republican spirit over foreign aggression. A choir sings. The beer and absinthe crowd order a second round.

And here's Edith Piaf being revolutionary :


  1. Todays photos are most evocative.
    You've reminded me of one of my Dad's stories from WW2. How he arrived in Ponca City Oklahoma to train to be a pilot in the sweltering heat of early August with only his thick winter woollen RAF uniform.
    Cheers, Gail.

  2. So sad when the 'powers that be' send off young men and women unsuitably supplied.

  3. Wonderful photos of this ceremonial event....of course the one of the dog rolling over and being petted by the little girl caught my eye.
    You're not going to believe this but the photos instantly reminded me of one of my favourite old British comedies "Allo Allo."

  4. Well, this post made me cry :( Nothing sadder than letters from the poor lost boys..

  5. It sounds as though the talk was worth listening to..Your photos are very evocative, but like Virginia I spotted the dog being petted in the background!

  6. Yes, very, very sad. Full of hope and not fully comprehending the horrors and tragedies ahead. All of the pomp and circumstance pales by comparison to one simple letter.