Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Eleventh Day Of The Eleventh Month - November 11th, 2010

L’Onze Novembre

When I lived in France I made a point of always attending the ceremonies to honour the fallen of the First World War in my village, Michery.

The moment is poignant. The area surrounding the grey Monument aux Morts is filled with gravel and the sound of it underfoot is like destiny’s signature: deaf and heavy, somber and final. November in the north of France is as grey as the Monument itself. You know that at home, back in the old stone farmhouse, you will have a warm fireplace and a pot au feu, and that makes the memory of those dead even more difficult to sustain.

The names of those from the village who died are read out by the Mayor, after which his deputy intones, “Mort pour la France!” You look around at the trees, the low clouds, the fallen leaves.

Nine million young men lost their lives fighting in that stupid, wasteful conflict. Civilian casualties were high and then came the influenza. When the dust settled a few empires had disappeared. A long a deep scar covered the world.

Millions of lives were snuffed out in their prime. When they died, their hopes, dreams and poetry died with them. When they died, the world lost youth and ambition, sweetness and folly.

“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.”

- John McCrae

The commemoration for the 11th of November here in Vientiane took place in the French Military Cemetery, which is situated at Kilometer 8 on Luang Prabang Road. Despite its name there is also a civilian area for French nationals who wish to be buried here.

The cemetery is an education in French History. One third of the graves are Muslim, marked by a crescent lying on its back, one third are Christian and the final third are Buddhist, as represented by a diamond shape. Sometimes a soldier with a name like Mohammed Ben Said will have a diamond and others named Yoo Ming Phat will have a crescent, but the intention is there.

The cemetery also contains remains from the French cemeteries that were decommissioned in other parts of the country: Luang Prabang, Savanakhet and Paksé.

The ceremony was presided over by the French Ambassador and his military attachés. Present were also the ambassadors from the United States and, thankfully, Germany.

I think I was the only Canadian there, grateful to represent a Nation that gave so much.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic post monsieur.
    You might want to read, as I should too, Radiguet's "Le diable au corps" about the war. Incidentally I believe that civilian casualties have been relatively greater in more recent conflicts because of the new weaponry and tactic used.