Saturday, November 11, 2006

Remembrance solemnity and japes.

Remembrance Day in the UK is marked by the sale of poppies. In France, different organisations sell stickers depicting the cornflower : le bleuet. I have seen no one selling these stickers except on November 11 at the Remembrance ceremony so I suppose the symbol is not so widely known as the poppy in the UK where you'd have to be pretty blind not to notice it in the buttonholes of Everyman and his dad.

I always try and go to the Remembrance Day ceremony, with the boys, especially now they are old enough to understand. When we went last year, children from the local primary school all stood near the war memorial as a group, as they did this year too, except that this time, my eldest was standing with them.

He had not been keen to go, despite a note in his class liaison book asking as many children to attend as possible. Needless to say, he hadn't shown me the note until after I had made my unilateral declaration that we were going, no arguments. He perked up when he discovered a friend down the road was also going.

The ceremony was all of 15 minutes long. Hardly enough to warrant an all-out fit of the sulks which, he realised afterwards, was somewhat excessive.

Why do we go? Well, the boys are always playing war games, rushing about with their pistols, plastic grenades, swords and other armoury. Once a year, they are taken to a place which reminds them of the consequences of war, and the reason why they can live and play in freedom.

The Maire thanked the parents for bringing their children to continue to recognise the importance of remembrance. He read out the official message and three of the kids laid a wreath. More moving than the words, however, was the tape of a lone trumpet which manages to conjure up so much of the dignity and tragedy of being a soldier.

The occasion was solemn without being stuffy, and was followed by an invitation to join the Maire and War Veterans at an aperitif up the road. We went, of course although I was rather disappointed that there was only whiskey or pastis on offer, or fruit juice. No muscat, my preferred drink at these occasions.

I chatted to some of the (elderly) men - it was mostly men, and in fact, got chatted up by one who wanted to introduce me to his 44-yr old son who wasn't there (thank goodness!). He told me he'd been an air steward before retiring, and that he'd been happily married for 45yrs to his wife, although he'd had certain 'adventures' - with his job, this was not surprising. I was not overly impressed at this TMI (too much information), but apparently this is a very French way of behaving - both the doing and telling complete strangers (female).

When the RA and I were standing together talking to this guy, he was greeted with enthusiasm by a group of 3 other elderly men as a lucky sod to be in such attractive company! It was a merry event... The Scotch was obviously going down extremely well.

Anyway, I will now have the pleasure of being greeted by this gentleman in the village when he sees me, and am known as a good sort because I was female but happy to chat, as opposed to being French, stuck-up and not chatting. He also remarked that I looked very youthful, in contrast to nut-brown French ladies who overdid the sun and closely resembled walnuts as a result.

They don't like it, these guys. But no one takes much notice of them. French women behave to please themselves first.

I enjoyed myself - I liked the gratifying attention, liked talking to some of the veterans, and appreciated their pleasure that I brought the boys.

It's good to remember.


  1. thats a very intelligent and sensitive thing to do for the kids, I hope they learn something from the experience as they grow.

  2. Thanks, Zak. I was watching the highlights of the ceremony in Whitehall this evening and found it very moving, as ever. In fact, the older I get, the more moving I find it, and the sadder I feel at the loss of human life. Ah well.

  3. "Why do we go? Well, the boys are always playing war games, rushing about with their pistols, plastic grenades, swords and other armoury. Once a year, they are taken to a place which reminds them of the consequences of war, and the reason why they can live and play in freedom.
    --So excellently put! I too find that the older I get the more moving I find remembrance. Unfortunately here in the States I couldn't find any shitehall coverage of course, and really today (Remembrance Sunday and for that matter, Veteran's Day)are pretty much all but forgotten. It is very sad. Still, I took the time to atleast write about it so I had my own tribute in my own way.

    I didn't know about 'le bleuet' so good to know.

    I love how you explain the nuances of Frech life, French women's attention to the older gents, etc. Fascinating.

    Thank you very much.

    Take care,


  4. Should have come with you - obviously that's where you go to feel less solitude!!!!

    But of course - it's France - and havwever presentable I am, being over 40 would mean that even if I'm loving to chat and enjoy life - I have attainted the french age limit of what can be considered as a woman!!!! I'm now just female gender!!!


  5. Duncan: thank you for your encouraging words. It's the minutae of life that changes one's perspective on culture, I think. I am shocked that there was no Remembrance Ceremony in Washington. They make such a big thing of veterans, I would have expected something akin to the Whitehall ceremony which is so terribly moving.

    NG: yes, you should. These old boys were so pleased that we were there and interested in their experiences. RDV next year!

  6. Funny, that's exactly what I said to myself this year I'll go with ED and the children, and even tell them all the fantastique anecdotes about that period of French history (ooooups - they are then going to find me as boring as my children found me.......)

  7. Well there probably was in D.C and littel affairs in my State but really not the same by any means. It's just not part of the social consciousness like in the U.K.


Comments are bienvenue.