Category: France

Lest we forget our souvenirs

A few weeks ago I went to visit my big brother in Paris. He is living there with his family in a cute appartment right by the Place de Saint Sulpice, which is what you see on this pic on the left. He will be there for the coming year and I intend to visit him as often as I can, as it is really not so far from where I live in the Netherlands and the drive there is lovely too. I had taken the toll-road on the way there and, since I wasn’t in a hurry, I decided to take the long way up and enjoy the landscape a bit more on my way back.

En route, I kept seeing signs pointing in certain directions saying “Circuit du Souvenir”. And I kept thinking, “How nice, there’s a whole route you can take to buy souvenirs!” I may not have been in a hurry, but I didn’t have much time to stray off my path either, so I told myself I would take this road on my next trip to France and see what kind of nice artifacts and delicious foods they were selling on what I imagined would be a cute road, with lovely panoramic views, passing by traditional cheesemakers, wineries, charcuterie- and pastry shops.

I had decided not to drive back in one go, but spread it out over 2 days, so I had to find a place to spend the night. I stopped in a town called Peronne, where I was told there would be several hotels charging decent prices. I arrived after sundown, but did manage to find a hotel with an available room and even found a place to get a bite to eat before hitting the bed.

PeronneI saw there was a big old fortress in the village that I wanted to check out for a bit in the morning, before driving the last stretch back home. So that’s what I did. I walked over to the fortress in the morning and saw the town was quite a bit more touristy than I had initially thought, and I was especially surprised by the amount of Englilsh and Australian flags, which I thought was odd… But it soon became clear to me (and made me feel quite foolish for not realizing sooner)…

The fortress of Peronne was not just any fortress. It had been renovated in 1992 and now included a new section, which was a Museum of the Great War… and then pieces started to fall into place… I had seen some military graveyards along the way, but for some reason had associated this with the second world war only… Somewhere in the back of my mind I did know this area had played a big role in the First Wold War, but my history was clearly hazy.

So, for your information, here follows a small pinch of history. For more about Peronne and the region’s history, please look here.

For almost the whole of the war, the town of Péronne was occupied by German troops. It was finally liberated on the 2nd September 1918 by Australian troops. Life under German rule deeply affected the inhabitants of Péronne and the town suffered heavily with bombardments, fire and destruction. Between 1914 and 1918, almost 30% of the town’s inhabitants became civilian victims of the war! Everyday, the bells of the Town Hall ring out “La Madelon”, a popular French song from the Great War.

So…… then I finally got my brain going and it suddenly hit me, souvenir means “to remember” in French… so the Circuit de Souvenir wasn’t this awesome route of artsy fartsy food and drinks I had imagined, but was actually a remembrance trail passing war monuments and military burial sites… hence all the British and Australian flags everywhere…. d’oh!

Last Sunday was remembrance Sunday in Great Britain and I suspect some activities must have taken place in Peronne and surroundings as well. In the Netherlands it was an ordinary day, with the only reminder being the poppies pinned on the dresses of British celebrities on TV (which to most will probably have gone unnoticed). We Dutchies played no role in the great war whatsoever, as we had declared ourselves neutral as soon as trouble started brewing. So I guess that is why we don’t commemorate the victims of this war and hardly discuss it in our history classes at all.  :-S

And this year was special too, because it’s a full century after the Great war started, so I did my best to catch up on my lack of knowledge and payed respects in my own way, and do so again by sharing this story with you.

A blog that especially moved me was by a fellow blogger, Dean Richards, who emphasized we should remember, but not glorify war. I leave you with a quote from his blog, to read and chew on for a bit…

We say lest we forget, but we have already forgotten. In fact, we have never known it in the first place. We see only heroes and glory, but forget the death and the destruction, the complete futility of war that takes so many victims for so little reason. War doesn’t solve problems, it never has, yet here we are, not pitying its victims, but glorifying them, as if their victimhood is something to be desired.