In memoriam

Oh my goodness. Today was hot. It wasn’t just hot (I don’t know what the temperature actually got to), but it was humid as well. I felt so bad for all the men and women in uniform. It was a small group that gathered in Beauwelz and Momignies, but among them were some of my fellow countrymen.

Let me start at the beginning. When I went with my family to the Neptune Cave I met this women (Christel) who live in Momignies and has taken over – from her father – the organizing of a couple of ceremonies to remember soldiers from the 2 World Wars. I realize that I have not actually written about the cave! I can’t believe I forgot about that. So that’s another thing I need to write about :S.

It’s about 1h 36m to Momignies from Wasseiges and the drive would have been quite wonderful but for a few things. The temperature for one. Having no air conditioning in the car I had the windows down a bit which makes it really noisy. Also, at one point I got stuck behind an old man. We were climbing a hill with extremely sharp turns so I understand you want to slow down for those. And maybe you don’t want to have to wear out your car by speeding up then slowing back down, etc, etc, etc. I get it. According to the GPS the speed limit was 90km/h. Ok, so maybe that’s a little fast to go around those curves. I’m fine with going slower, but 30-36km/h? Ridiculous.  I’m talking the whole way up. And then once we’re up there it goes to 70 and he still does under 50. Finally he turned so I was saved from blowing up. I have road rage issues, I know. I’m working on them and except for that incident I was super calm the rest of the trip and on the way home even when I got stuck behind people drive 10-20km under the speed limit. Enough about that.

So I arrived at Christel’s house and I’m greeted by her oldest daughter Pauline (who is 7). I won’t even try to spell the names of the other two girls…their names are beautiful,but I had never heard them before and I don’t remember them exactly. I’m horrible with names (more on that in a bit). We sat around and chatted for a bit before we had to leave for the first ceremony. Pauline is a fan of Justin Bieber. I mentioned that I’d seen him once and so she thought that I know him. It took a little while to explain that I don’t know him, I just know of  him, like her. We also talked about maple syrup, maple trees, and my necklace (it has my name in Hebrew – my Mom got it when she was in Israel). Then Christel and I were off.

The first ceremony took place in the village of Beauwelz. So, I’m now going to try to talk about things I don’t remember and know almost nothing about. Here we go. The first military person I met today was an American officer whose name and station I have no recollection of. I know I looked at his name on his uniform, and I know I heard it said, but when it’s said with a French accent it’s harder to remember. He was really nice. And more fortunate than his fellows because his uniform consisted of white pants and white short sleeve shirt (with all the decorations). The two Canadians I met (one was a Colonel, the other I don’t know, but I think her name was Kate) were also really nice and fun to talk to. It’s neat when you meet someone over here that you’ve never met before but you understand each other (to a point) because you come from the same country. They bemoaned the fact that they were in heavy wool (?) uniforms of green, with jackets. I did not envy them, but was grateful for the bit of rain we got because at least the clouds hid the sun and maybe the rain cooled them off a bit.

I’m not sure where the Colonel is originally from, but Kate is from Paris, Ontario! That’s only half an hour from where I live. How small of a world do we live in? It was funny because when they asked me where I was from I about an hour and a half from Toronto, and then I said Kitchener-Waterloo. Then she said she was from Paris so I said ‘Oh, New Dundee’. Then she said I lied, but I just laughed and explained that it’s easier to start with bigger places because people will have actually heard of them. Or something like that. Maybe I didn’t say that but I was thinking it. She’s here for another 4 years (I think 9 in total). She also explained to me that instead of just a remembrance day, they have a remembrance week and there are different ceremonies at a bunch of different memorials and that if I wanted to go to Vimy Ridge for a ceremony to go the Sunday before the 11th. I’ll have to check it out, but now I’m a little more aware.

This first ceremony the American gave a speech because they were honouring the French soldiers who had come through the town in WWI and the Americans in WWII. There was an explanation (in French and English), then the laying of the wreaths, followed by a moment of silence and 4 national anthems; American, Canadian, French, and Belgian. Then it was on to Momignies.

In Momignies we went to the memorial that was established in 2001. The ceremonies themselves have been going on long before that, but 2001 was when the current memorial was built. It was built to honour the memory of the Canadian soldiers who were taken prisoner by the Germans in Dieppe in 1942 after the landing there. They were brought by train through Belgium on their way to concentration camps (in Germany or Poland, I can’t remember). The train stopped in Momignies. There were about 65 men stuffed into train cars with no food or water, no aid for the injured, and no bathroom facilities of any kind. At first when the residents of Momignies tried to give the soldiers water and bread the Nazi’s forbade it. I believe they eventually allowed it then. Two survivors who went through Momignies on this train came back for the inauguration of the memorial in 2001 and their picture is in the wagon car behind the memorial.

Considering how small both of these towns are, it’s amazing that they still carry on the tradition of these ceremonies. Like I said before, they (or at least the one in Momignies) were started and organized by Christel’s father. Now her and her sister organize them with the help of the local administration. There’s a Belgian-American foundation that helps in a monetary way with the ceremonies. They had a wreath to be placed at the Momignies memorial and I was among the group who accompanied it. It was an honour to be included in the ceremony. I’m sure people were wondering why, but that’s ok. I think it was just because I was there and I’m Canadian? I never really asked Christel.

After the 2nd ceremony I talked more with the two Canadians and then got a picture with them in front of the memorial. I saw them briefly at the reception, but I spent more time taking with the American officer. We were talking about different locations where there are war memorials/monuments for Canadians and Americans as well as differences in rules of the road and things like that. He also started saying something about how he was amazed and then he mentioned that the Canadians were involved in WWI much more than the Americans and then I don’t know where he was going with that because we were sort of interrupted.

While we were in the train car, I explained to Christel that we learn about the World Wars and others in history class and we watch movies, but we really have no idea what those soldiers (and civilians) went through. Even being here where it all took place I still can’t even begin to imagine the pain and suffering both sides were going through. The idea of 65 men in that little car? I know they were squished, but I really can’t grasp what it would have been like. I mean, I was having a hard time visualizing 65 men in there…I’m not really good with that sort of thing. She said that in 1942 it was a hot August day (much like today), but the sun was out more and so it seemed even hotter. I know how uncomfortable I was and I was in shorts and short sleeves. To be in uniform and squished in like sardines? I can’t imagine.

Momignies Canadian War Memorial

It was nice to hear the Canadian National Anthem twice today, it’s been a while since I’ve heard it. Ok, I guess I listened to it on Canada Day, but that was just on You Tube. This was the first time in a while that I’ve heard it in any kind of formal setting and it was nice.  It was a little odd being at ceremonies like this in August, but it just helps prove a point; November 11 (for those of us in North America at least) is not the only day we can remember those who gave their lives and their time for their country. So thank you, to all members of the Canadian Armed Forces for helping make it so us regular citizens never had/have to know first hand the harsh realities of war. Well, excepting the war of 1812 I suppose…

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  1. Holly, how thrilling! You are an au pair! If I had not sunk myself waist-high in music right out of school, I was planning to travel to Europe. But a different muse called..

    I’ll be checking in on you and your adventures. You have a nice, conversational tone to your writing. It’s as if you’re on a tape recorder and rewriting it verbatim, very nice reading. Will be back soon… even if I don’t speak French (some of the entry titles freaked me out!!!). Love, Amy

    • I actually studied music (of the classical stream ;)) in university. Thanks for your comments. I’ve actually been told quite a lot that some people read my posts (like my one Aunt) they feel like they are in the room talking with me. I look at my blog as a way to write how I want, so how it comes out is…well, how it comes out, lol. I hated writing academic papers in university and I think this is sort of a ‘stick it to the papers’ thing. I try not to put too many titles in French because most of my readers won’t be able to translate them, but sometimes I can’t help it. And sometimes I just forget that not everyone will get it! I try to put the translation in the text, and I hope that even when I don’t the meaning comes across. ^_^

      Thanks again so much!


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