In November, French churchyards, normally dour places, are transformed into a riot of colour. 1 November is All Saints Day and friends and family of the dearly departed take pots of vibrant chrysanthemums to place on graves. I always put flowers on the tomb of a young First World War British soldier from London, killed nearby and the only commonwealth soldier buried in our local church.
He is not forgotten.
We’ve never seen any flowers on his grave and think it is likely that he has no one to remember him, so we do.
Armistice day, 11 November, is a serious affair in France as well as a national holiday. At the 11th eleventh hour, in my village, everyone gathers at the cenotaph in front of the church. This happens in villages, towns and cities all over France. The Mayor lays a wreath and stands to attention alongside his deputy, who solemnly intones ‘Mort pour la France’, followed by the reading aloud, one by one, the names of villagers lost to war during and since the First World War. Alan Dundas Stewart, the 21 year old British soldier who died at the Front, is also remembered, his name pronounced with a strong French accent. All is silent, other than cows mooing in the surrounding fields, or perhaps a cat lying close by, watching and mewing for attention, no cars pass. It’s a poignant and sombre event, one that brings the community together and it always makes me cry. Afterwards, everyone meets at the town hall and the mMayor pours a vin d’honneur, a glass of wine, to honour the memories of those lost.