62 out of 67 villagers show up for the Armistice Day commemoration. It's due to start at eleven but we're on Gascon time which is twelve minutes behind. The mayor reads a speech at the war memorial. He drops the sheets of paper which blow away in the wind. An eight year old is sent to retrieve them. The mayor has his back to the crowd, and he mutters, but I catch the word ''fratricide". This year an innovation - the names of the French troops killed in Mali over the last 12 months are read out. Then it's the turn of each name on the war memorial followed by the words 'Mort pour la France'. The little lady with the purple hat sings the Marseillaise . The local farmers belt out the words '' Aux armes citoyens ". The bell that was hidden and escaped being melted down by the occupiers in 'the late unpleasantness' is rung madly and joyously. It was the same bell that called the boys to the colours in 1914 and again 25 years later.
Then the crowd wanders across the village green to the churchyard. In front of each grave of a family that lost a son the standard bearer halts and dips the flag three times. The old soldiers salute. As there are seventeen families who lost sons this takes some time. No one is in a rush which is just as well as the churchyard is very crowded. As the villagers file by they touch each grave and say 'merci'.
At the last grave the mayor informs us that the village had a population of 329 on the eve of the war. 30 of these were young men between the age of 18 and 25. Of the 30, 17 were killed, 8 wounded and 2 were taken prisoner . 'Le village ait perdu sa vie lors de ce conflit mondial'. The village lost its life in this world war. Madame Bay and her friend Renee dab their eyes.
Then it's into the village hall where a wall of photos has been set up with a picture and the details of each poilus regimental history. The army archive in Paris has been a great help. Where photos have been lost pre-war pictures from the small village primary school have been used. No one is entirely forgotten.
Some village families have framed medals and death certificates that are on loan for the day.
The mayors grandfather ( the first name on the war memorials list of dead ) went off to war on a cart horse blowing a bugle. His bugle and water bottle are on proud display.
Not a grand day but a day that was quiet and dignified and personal and kind. A day quite unlike anything we've ever been to. Only in France. This afternoon 'The Font' will drop off a letter thanking the mayor for arranging such a dignified tribute. Mayors rarely get thanked but without them nothing would ever happen. We have the feeling that this was his ''swan song''. He looked happy but very tired.
The highland beaches in this video are achingly beautiful. Wasn't sure about this ahead of time but the sea and sky and the impermanence of the portraits in the sand and the reading of the poem at the same time up and down the land were really quite poignant. The St.Andrews nurse who died on her first day back in Scotland is visible v.briefly at the 2:34 mark. I wonder what the Texans in the 'wee house' hought of it all ? : https://youtu.be/jG9VaJGQUF4
The things you learn on Twitter : https://twitter.com/joncstone/status/1061619708556988416