12 November 2010

Armistice Day in Tourrettes

I think it was Tuesday or Wednesday when J said we should go to the remembrance service in Tourrettes. I agreed, it would be nice to see how a small French village celebrated Armistice Day which commemorates the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiegne, France. The day celebrates the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front, which took effect at eleven o'clock in the morning—the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" of 1918.

The Military gather in the village square
We got to the village early and sat in the bar and watched the square slowly come to life. The first indication of something different happening was a couple of military personnel coming into the Bar des Sports. I asked them if a service was actually going to be held and they said it would commence in the village church at 11am. J, who was rather more interested in their uniforms asked what they were, to which the answer was ‘the Foreign Legion’. And very smart they looked too – I mean, who would say otherwise with two hunks from the FL towering over you?

The village memorial
At 11am, we all trooped into church, J, me and Linda. It was a simple catholic service interspersed with quite a few quiet moments to remember the war dead who are commemorated in a small cenotaph situated outside the church.

The old guys from the village, who normally wander around in baggy jeans and torn jumpers were resplendent in their suits, shirts and ties, something never seen in rural France. We spoke to one of these veterans outside the church who wore his medals with pride and showed interest in Linda’s father’s medals which she carries with her every Armistice Day.

Linda with her father's medals
When we left the church, the sun was shining and the remainder of the service was held outside. Children from the school joined the congregation and the mayor presided over the laying of flowers at the war memorial – note, not a wreath but a bouquet of flowers.

It was all very simple, like the poem below which has become probably the most recited verse on Armistice Day.  
In Flanders fields the poppies blow 
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

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