Search This Blog

17 Nov 2009

Remembrance day(s)

As it happens, this was the first year that I was in Normandy on the 11 November. In the UK, although the main Armistice ceremony, with the Queen and government at the Cenotaph in London, takes place on the preceding Sunday, many other ceremonies happen on the 11th itself. Of course there is the two minute silence at eleven minutes past the eleventh hour, which seems to be more respected recently than a few years ago.

It seemed a good idea to go to one of the local commemorations in Normandy. That proved very difficult. Last year, I was driving through Anglesey on the day, and most of the villages I passed through were getting ready for a small ceremony by their war memorials, and eventually, we stopped and joined one of them at eleven o'oclock.

But here, I could find little information in advance about what was planned, mainly perhaps because I could not get the Manche Libre local weekly paper, for various reasons, the week before. I have no idea why, but it is extremely difficult to find out much information about any events in the future, whether arts and entertainment, celebrations, or activities, locally. Presumably because everyone knows what happens, and news is passed by word of mouth in what are very sociable communities, there is no need. Certainly, when we do get to hear of an event in time to attend, it is usually a sell out.

Anyway, I found out about a ceremeony on the preceding Sunday, in Avranches, but that was all. On the 11th, we went to the nearest town, but absolutely nothing happened. No ceremony, no silence. Nothing. There were official wreaths and flowers on the War memorial, so something had happened at some time; the previous Sunday, it turns out. None of the villages we passed througn showed any signs of an event either. Very odd.

On Monday 16 I bought - belatedly, as it is published on Thursdays - the current Manche Libre. There I read about ceremonies everywhere, though virtually all of them were on the Sunday preceding or the Sunday after the 11th, so we missed them all.

Gratifying to see that many things were happening, and that here in France where the effects of the two world wars were most pronounced, they do still remember those who died.

Even more important was that many of the ceremonies involved those few people who experienced the last war, as combatants, and civilians.  Many villages especially commemorated those soldiers who had died locally, whether British, American, or French. For example, at Muneville-sur-Mer, a special ceremony at the graves of three English airman killed in July 1944 when their plane crashed to the ground.

Another special commemoration was of eight Moroccan soldiers, members of General Leclerc's Free French army, killed in August 1944 in the battle of the Percee d'Avranches, at the cemetary in Montjoie-Saint-Martin. It was not until 1999 that the soldiers were identified as from Morocco, and islamic gravestones erected. Outrageously, the headstones were defaced by some racist morons in October, an act condemned by Pesident Sarkosy and everyone else. I am sure that was a factor in organising a prominent ceremony, (link is video in French) local politicians, the Moroccan consul, and indeed, the sons of General Leclerc.

I hope next year to be better informed in advance.

No comments: