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
I was disappointed our village didn't collect letters and photos. However, the ceremony was bigger than usual, including a march from the mairie to the war monument. A canon was blast at 8:30, rattling the house. Another salute at 11. The church bells rang le tocsin, which I didn't know before, and which I wonder why they didn't wring it three weeks ago when we had deadly floods. Probably because the bells now are controlled by a computer, not a human.
For the great day the electronic bell control system was turned off and the ringing delegated to a farmer who plays on the 'back row' in the local team.
Thank you for this account of your village Armistice commemoration, written with such care and respect. Over half the young men dead, all undoubtedly scarred in some way for life, along with their families. I did not attend a formal armistice event yesterday, but on Saturday night held a very agreeable farewell dinner for our German neighbours in Torridon, a wonderful seventy year old couple who have campaigned all their lives for peaceful causes. The sad truth is that their decision to sell their house here is at least in part prompted by Brexit...
True Remembrance... YAM xx
We are surprisingly touched by your little villages ceremony. What a nice way to remember the men who gave so much, and the families who I am sure suffered so much in the war. We say on the news tonight the UKs oldest woman, who at 112 remembers Armistace Day 100 years ago - amazing!!
Our village of 1000 people organised a series of moving ceremonies and events. A local man has been researching the names on the memorial and seven new names were added after having been inexplicably left off any memorial anywhere in France. An exhibition of memorabilia including annotated newspapers of the significant days and trench art jewellery, postcards and diaries. The mass was packed and the priest gave a great sermon. Lots of flowers (a bouquet for each name) at the memorial, and the British allies were acknowledged with a short speech and God Save the Queen played after at one point in the ceremony. Also theatre and cinema with WWI themes in the week leading up. All very well done.
Your post touched me deeply, thank you. It was a pleasure to see the villagers commemorate, respect and honor their war dead. I spent the weekend in anger because of the actions of our buffoon in chief. This post let me react in ways he will never experience.
Thank you so much for the video. I'd not heard anything at all about the sand portraits. Seeing them being washed away by the tide is as you say 'achingly beautiful'. Laura and Ashley in Portland.
We saw the face etched into the sand and wondered how it was done. Thanks. Didn't know about all the soldier silhouettes.
It seems to me that the real action on Sunday was in your village, and many many others, not in the formal dinners of the big city. Certainly not in the obnoxious and embarrassing behavior of self-centered politicans. Thank you for such a moving account of remembrance for so many.
The faces in the sea made me cry.
Thank you for sharing with us how your Village honoured the brave young men who served their Country, by proudly representing their Village. It was a personal, thoughtful, and respectful remembrance.
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