Today is 11 November, 2014.
It is Armistice Day and commemorates the signing, after four long years of dreadfulness, of a pact that ended hostilities between the Allied Forces and Germany on the 11 November 1918.
In France, 11th November is a national holiday. Not just a day off, the purpose is to allow people time to remember and to attend memorial services to honour the lives of those lost.
This morning I drove to my friend’s house three villages away. She is away for the day and I had promised to feed her animals – around 200 birds and a couple of goats, dogs and cats. At each village I passed on the way there is a stone memorial with the names of villagers lost during World War I; today flags had been erected ready for the visit of the Mayor and the people who live there.
In towns and villages all over France this scene will be replayed a thousand times.
In my own little village of less than 150 people, at 11.00 precisely, people will gather at the small stone cenotaph in front of the centuries old church. The Mayor will read the names of the French soldiers who lost their lives in not just the Great War but wars after. Because we are British and there is one British soldier buried in the village church Monsieur Le Maire will also read that name out. I haven’t been able to discover much about the soldier, the son of a doctor in London, who was just 19 years old when he perished. Every year I place a poppy at his grave.
This last year I have placed many poppies on my travels. A lady in the UK sent me some knitted poppies and asked if I would put them at memorial sites; I have left them at Ypres at the Menin Gate, at Commonwealth War cemeteries in the Somme and Nord-Pas de Calais and at village churchyards.
This morning at 11.00 we will stand quietly while the Mayor reads out “Morts pour la France” and his deputy reads out the names. It doesn’t take long, just a couple of moments, this is a small village. It is a sombre affair that will be repeated over and over from the south to the north, from the east to the west.
Then we will go to the town hall for a “vin d’honneur” a glass of wine to honour the lost, remember the past and to be grateful.