25th April 2010. On my way into town to buy a baguette just before 11 o'clock this morning I noticed some activity around the Monument aux Morts (Monument for the Dead) in the centre of Bayonne. This is a massive stone edifice that was built into the old ramparts at the conclusion of the "War to end all Wars". A large slice of a generation of Bayonne's male population was wiped out during the Great War of 1914-18 and the names of all 771 of the fallen (Bayonne's population at that time was 28,000) are incised here in the pale stone. A realist somewhere in the Town Hall had thoughtfully specified that the design of the monument should have space to spare and this has gradually filled up over the years with names from other conflicts - WWII, Indo-China, Algeria and the first Gulf War. There were some tricolours fluttering in the cool breeze and a number of elderly ex-servicemen chatting in their regimental berets and be-medalled blazers, holding their revered standards proudly.
I asked the person who was setting up the sound system what the ceremony was about and he told me it was the 65th anniversary of the end of the Nazi concentration camps and also La Journée Nationale de la Déportation. The deportations of French Jews, résistants, gypsies and political prisoners conducted under the auspices of the infamous Hitlerian Nacht und Nebel decree during the Occupation is still a tragic and sensitive chapter in French history.
As the time approached 11am, various military personnel arrived as did the energetic mayor and a few civic dignatories. The cathedral bells tolled the hour, a small band made a fanfare and everyone took their positions. A lady made a speech that I was able to follow and after the "Marseillaise" was played, the VIPs stepped forward to lay their wreaths and shake the hands of the old soldiers. Everybody stood still while the "Marseillaise" was played again apart from one or two unthinking members of the public who just walked by unconcernedly. And that was it.
This next clip is guaranteed to bring you out in goose pimples - regardless of your nationality!
27th April 2010. I was out on the terrace earlier this afternoon enjoying the sun (25) and I was musing on the randomness of life. Madame's father was a wartime bomber pilot and flew for the Free French in North Africa after the fall of France in June 1940. His squadron re-formed there and was re-equipped with the Martin Marauder B-26. Here's a rare image of a Marauder in Free French markings. And, luckily for him, Madame et moi, he was one of the very few on his squadron to survive the war.