On November 11, Armistice Day, we, like thousands of others across France stand solemnly in front of the War Memorial in our village. We listen to the comments of the mayor and other dignitaries as well as a representative of youth as they retell the dates of battles, of invasions and of the loss of youth during the two World Wars. At this ceremony, one of the British attendees reads the immortalized 1915 poem, ” In Flanders Field” written by the Canadian physician, Major John McCrae, 2nd in command 1st Brigade Canadian Field Artillery. We recognize the words of the poem as they are read:
“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row…….
Here, when the national anthems are played, the music starts with the British National Anthem, God Save the Queen and ends with the French National Anthem, the Marseillaise. Sadly, no-one sings the words now but I am sure many do so internally. I sing under my breath, feel a rush of emotion and a sudden clearing of the throat. Both British and French war veterans, les anciens/ennes combatants/tes, dignified with their medals, stand apart from the rest of us as an honoured group.
Everyone in attendance wears either the red poppy of the British Red Cross or the cornflower; Le Bleuet – since 1920 the official French symbol which recognizes those who died for France. Some people wear both. These two floral symbols originate from the First World War when the red poppies and blue cornflowers continued to grow on the northern French battlefields in land devastated by shell bombardments.
This year it was a cool, blue sky day and the national and regimental flags fluttered in the breeze. After about 40 minutes, the secular ceremony was over and the mayor invited all present to enjoy a Vin D’Honneur in the Salle Des Fetes – the social events room for the village.
This practice of a Vin D’Honneur always seems so civilized. We enter the Salle des Fêtes and see the mayor and councillors serving wine to the village community. It’s a good opportunity for everyone to get together and also talk to the mayor and councillors informally if they wish.
Wine and soft drinks are poured and this day the white wine is a 2011 Bergerac Sec Fleur de Cuvée Blanche from Chateau Les Plaguettes where Serge Gazziola, a well known wine maker in the area, is the proprietor. This is an award winning Sauvignon Blanc, pale yellow in colour, aromatic and very refreshing.
Wine is such a flexible beverage. It’s present at most events where people gather together whether to celebrate or commemorate, as on this occasion of Remembrance Day.
Les Bleuets de France: http://www.Bleuet de France
In Flanders Field: www.greatwar.co.uk
Poppy Appeal: www.britishlegion.com
Chateau Plaguettes: www. vignobles-gazziola.com