Sunday, November 11, 2012

Armistice Day . . . In Memory . . .

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Armistice Day on November 11th in France marks the end of the First World War, and for the USA it is Veterans Day, and Remembrance Day for the UK. The other day I was a little over an hour early for a train leaving from la Gare Montparnasse to go out to Brittany, so I took a stroll through parts of Montparnasse Cemetery to see what I could see. Following my feet where they might lead me, by chance I stumbled on some interesting bits of history related to la Grande Guerre, pertinent for posting on Armistice Day.
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This first photo shows the tomb of Marie Joseph Eugene Bridoux, who was the first French General killed in the war in September 1914. His son and a grandson were also officers in the French Army, both of them stayed loyal to the Petain government in Vichy during the Second World War, collaborating with the Germans. The son fled to Spain after the war, and was sentenced to death in absentia by France in 1948. The grandson who served with a unit under the Germans in WWII known as the LVF, or Legion of French Volunteers, died in 1945 in Germany. One can only imagine how General Bridoux, buried in Montparnasse after his heroic death in battle, killed by a German bullet, might have felt about his son and grandson collaborating with the Nazis.
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Not far from General Bridoux is the tomb of Armand Cahen, a second lieutenant in an artillery regiment, who died in 1920 at the age of 22, after being awarded the War Cross (Croix de Guerre) for bravery during a heavy shelling attack in June 1918 where toxic gas shells were used. His memorial was quite elaborate, between the large marble sculpture of him and the stone and stained glass enclosure it stands in. I stayed there for a long moment in reverence, and was pondering his fate when the sun came out from behind some clouds, sending bright rays through the stained glass to bathe the white stone bust in red and green light, transforming him.
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Nearby stands a large structure built over the grave of another artillery officer, Marcel Suss, killed in the very early days of the war.
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I had gotten up fairly close to the glass doors of the monument to see the reflected clouds in the glass, when I realized there was a stained glass portrait of Lieutenant Suss in the back wall of the tomb. In all my years of exploring cemeteries, keeping my eyes open for the unusual, I've never seen anything quite like this colorful work on glass with a fine portrait of the deceased.
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A bit further on was one tomb for two brothers killed in the war, the first at Verdun in 1916, and the younger brother in Belgium in October 1918; just a few weeks before the end of the war.
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This camouflaged, chameleon like crucifixion figure was spotted on a gravestone the day previous to the photos from Montparnasse above, in a village near Amiens. I've never seen a Christ figure like this blending in so perfectly with the background. The spot of lichen on his chest seems to form an inverted heart. A minor miracle there ?
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On another grave in the same cemetery a piece of cast iron which fell from an ornate but deteriorating cross above seemed to form a question mark against the cold wet stone it was lying on. Indeed, so many unanswered questions about war and death, rusting iron and lichen on stone, passing time and passing lives. May your Armistice/Remembrance/Veterans Day be rich in reflections.
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As one of the photos above has a reflection of blue sky, cloud, and tree in a glass door, am linking this to James' Weekend Reflections, where I've been too long absent.
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26 comments:

James said...

I love the way the stained glass seems to bring life to LT. Armand Cahen's statue. Great shots! I walked around this cemetery for a couple of hours and I completely missed this tomb.

French Girl in Seattle said...

Well, I am happy for all the "Poilus" and their families that there are still people like you, Owen, to take the time to visit cemeteries and reflect near their graves. You have captured, once again, some beautiful scenes, and I have enjoyed the stories you told. Merci beaucoup, Monsieur Toad! Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

HansHB said...

A great serie of photos, interesting scenes!

'Tsuki said...

Un bel hommage au 11 novembre...

D'ailleurs il faut que j'aille me préparer : je vais assister à la cérémonie commémorative de ma commune.

Jim said...

Great post.

Laurie said...

Beautifully observed, Owen.

Fripouille said...

Hi, and thanks very much for these photos. My dad was a Lancaster navigator in WWII so any and all commemorations interest me. I actually came here because I saw that we share several interests and I'm very glad I did.

Leslie D. said...

Incredibly compelling images! Yes probably just as well the General wasn't alive to know his descendants betrayed his honor..and the Cahen marble bust seems alive. Thanks so much. Great tribute to the human element often lost in the history books..

Philippa said...

Thank you for a thoughtful and beautifully illustrated post. My great-uncle Raymond died in the trenches. I know very little about him, but I went looking for another Great War story when I found a group of WWI postcards from a French family: http://wp.me/p10xXQ-JH

Owen said...

Hi James, Montparnasse is a large cemetery, it would take days and days to really explore carefully, and there are a wealth of well known people to look for. But the other day it was pure serendipity for me. Well, I guess you are just going to have to come back for another look around...
Great reflection this weekend !

Owen said...

Bonjour Véronique !
J'espère qu'en passant tu as laissé un petit plat du boeuf bougignon, qui avait l'air tellement aguichant, surtout en étant flambé. Et suis plus que content si ces quelques reflexions sur la guerre t'ont plues. Pour finir la journée on a regardé "Un Long Dimanche de Fiancailles"... sacrée Audrey !

Owen said...

Hans, Many thanks for stopping by here... I enjoyed looking at your pages just now, especially the "shipwreck"... beautiful...

Owen said...

Salut 'Tsuki,j'espère que tu as passé une bonne journée d'onze novembre. Je suis allé cet après-midi à une expo organisée par l'Association Patrimoine de la Grande Guerre, basée à Noyon, mais l'expo était à Rethondes. Le long de la route qui passe à coté de la Clairière de l'Armistice il y avait plein de gendarmes, car Mr Ayrault était dans le coin si je comprends bien... Merci...

Owen said...

Hi Jim, many thanks for dropping in... wish we were heading into Summer as you are, instead of into Winter, with days getting shorter and shorter...

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Hey Laurie, hope your conference was a pleasure to attend, glad you enjoyed this... cheers...

Owen said...

Hello Fripouille, always glad to see new names in the comment box, and amazed that people manage to find this place in the relative anarchy of cyberspace, where ever so many voices are all clamoring to be heard. Was just looking through the various phrases I listed as "interests" and am curious to know which were of interest to you... Cheers...

Owen said...

Leslie, many thanks, and you are right about the human part lost or left out of the history books. One has to dig a little to find personal accounts. One book I really enjoyed recently was titled "Carnets de Guerre de Louis Barthas"... the war diaries of Louis Barthas. I'm not sure, but I don't think it has been translated into English. A good read... It appalls me how little we learned in school about this conflict which shaped certain key parts of the world today.

Owen said...

Philippa, Really appreciate your link to the postcards, read all of that with great interest. You are right, the whole scene with the nurses seems a bit improbable. Many thanks for visiting... and leaving a kind word.

Fripouille said...

Hello Owen, and yes, it is surprising that people manage to land on blogs when there are so many to choose from. I started mine early in the year and didn't post much, but since I decided to post more often and post photos there's been a lot more traffic. I didn't do anything to promote it though. 'Go figure' as our friends from over the pond would say.

As to the interests we share, my search for new blogs to read began with 'France' and when I saw yours I also found (from memory, 'drinking beer', 'playing guitar' 'bike riding' and a few others, including the list of your favourite bands and musicians, almost all of whom I like (seen a lot of them live too)with the exception of Maxime le Forestier, who I cordially detest!:) In fact I still play gigs and record today. I hope you and everyone else on the thread has a wonderful day, full of good things.

Peter Olson said...

The glass portrait of Lieutenant Suss is amazing ! But what I have learnt from my visits to cemeteries is that you should always look through the doors of these little chapels; sometimes – not often – there are some amazing discoveries.

Genie said...

I love posting each year in memory of my daddy who was in France in WWI. Your post is wonderful. The stained glass magnificent. I cannot imaging losing two children in that war or any war. Sometimes I feel like our warriors of WWI are forgotten. If it had not been for them, we would not have what we have today. Going to France, Belgium and Ypres will stick in my mind forever. The cemeteries broke my heart. genie

Steve said...

I find the photographs of the two brothers most affecting... all that hope and potential and life...

Amanda said...

these image are exquisite, particularly the Christ figure and the candy colored filtered glass on the bust of Armand Cahen.

Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden said...

Haven't been visiting my blog friends very much lately, but lovely to catch up with your thoughts and photography. As Amanda says the stained glass glowing on Armand is exquisite;dreamlike even, and the portrait glass remarkable. Like Steve I find the two brothers' tomb is very poignant.
Armistice Day is also commemorated in New Zealand.

Stickup Artist said...

Don't you just live for those moments when the light changes in some dramatic way while you are simply standing there at the ready with your camera in hand? I got chills scrolling down, seeing the colored stained glass bathing the white marble bust. And I love the photo and description "This camouflaged, chameleon like crucifixion figure..."

I watched the documentary "Prisoner of Paradise" about the German, Jewish actor/director Kurt Gerron on Veteran's Day. This world can break your heart...

Roxana said...

as it happened with my first seeing of this post, i am struck by the two last photos, how beautiful they are, and how they make so many complicated and intense emotions rise in me...

thank you, dear Owen (and also for the link to the Temporal Rooms, i was aware of their wonderful photography, indeed)...

Virginia said...

Oh Owen, lovely lovely images to remind us.
V