Yesterday was Armistice Day in France. Unlike Britain, France marks the remembrance of its war dead by a public holiday. So, the remembrance ceremony always takes place on 11th November.

But this is France and they have their own way of doing things as I have often pointed out. In each of the 36,681 Communes in France there is a ceremony conducted by the local Mayor and representatives of veterans’ organisations. In each commune there is the same message from the President which is read out by the mayor. 

Mrs. Parish and I went to our local war memorial in Couesmes-Vauce. We had been told by the mayor that there was a ceremony at nearby Vauce at 11 and therefore the one at Couesmes would start around 1130. We duly arrived at the said time and of course have to go through the greetings and shake hands or kiss each other (on both cheeks). This also involved being kissed by the mayor (not something that happens very often in Britain). There were about 25 of us in attendance so the greetings took a while. We had also to await all the veterans and their flags who had been at Vauce.

War memorial at Couesmes-Vauce

The ceremony actually started at 12 noon and the mayor, Madame Baglin readout the message from President Macron. Then the veterans’ organisations read out the names of all those listed on the war memorial. One read the names and one after each name said “Mort pour La France” (died for France). This included the dead from the Great War and the from the second world war, including now the names of all those deported from France to Germany.  Either to work as forced labour or to be sent to concentration camps. Also included were those who died in the Algerian conflict and those in Indochina. In the picture the flag flying is that of the surviving veterans of the Algerian war who live in the local villages.

Veterans name the dead

It was a very moving experience and after they played the French National Anthem, La Marsellaise. To get over the lack of a PA system the mayor’s husband played it from the CD player in his car!

After the ceremony…… This being France we all went off to the local bar for what is called the vin d’honneur. To drink a glass of kir to the memory of the dead. For all of the veterans the Commune provides a full and free meal.

The French take armistice day very seriously as they lost 1.7 million dead in the first war and had the trauma of occupation in the second war. Out of the 25 in attendance there were 6 English people and we were warmly welcomed by the French. In France instead of the poppy we were given “bleuets” to wear.

The bleuet de France is the symbol of memory for, and solidarity with, veterans, victims of war, widows, and orphans, similar to the British Commonwealth remembrance poppy. The sale of "bleuet de France" badges on 11 November and 8 May is used to finance charitable works for those causes.

Bleuet is French for the cornflower. The cornflower – like the poppy – continued to grow in land devastated by the thousands of shells which were launched daily by the entrenched armies of the Western Front. These flowers were often the only visible evidence of life, and the only sign of colour in the mud of the trenches and battlefields.

At the same time, the term "bleuets" was used also to refer to the class of conscripted soldiers born in 1895 who arrived in the lead-up to the Second Battle of the Aisne in 1915, because of the blue uniform worn by French soldiers after 1915. 

As a contrast to the sombre mood of Armistice day we have had another fun filled week here at La Godefrere and the cats have been making their presence felt in protest at the harsh regime here where despite increasingly cold and wet days the cats have been reminded of their outdoor status. To bring attention to their plight the cats have used any opportunity. Archie chose to leap on my back and held on tight with his rather long claws while making sure I got the message. 

Archie makes his point, with claws!

Moggie took to sitting on a pole. This is a form of protest with a long history. Pole sitting is related to the ancient ascetic discipline of stylitism, or column-sitting. St. Simeon Stylites the Elder (388–459 bc) of Antioch was a column-sitter who sat on a small platform on a column for 36 years.

Flagpole sitting was a fad in the mid-to-late 1920s. The fad was begun by stunt actor and former sailor Alvin "Shipwreck" Kelly, who sat on a flagpole in1924 which lasted 13 hours and 13 minutes. It soon became a fad with other contestants setting records of 12, 17 and 21 days. In 1929, Shipwreck decided to reclaim the title. He sat on a flagpole for 49 days in Atlantic City, New Jersey, setting a new record. The following year, 1930, his record was broken by Bill Penfield in Strawberry Point, Iowa who sat on a flagpole for 51 days and 20 hours, until a thunderstorm forced him down. Flagpole sitting in the 1920s was a major part of the decade. For the most part, pole sitting died out after 1929, with the onset of the Depression. Until it was revived by Moggie who only managed about 10 minutes so he could hector me when I passed the pole on my way down the lane!

Moggie in pole sitting protest

So far, I have managed to resist the cat pressures, despite the cats asking whether I had read Animal Farm!!

Our other excitement this week was another visit out to one of our local village restaurants for one of the incredibly cheap lunch-time workers meals where the cost of a three-course meal with wine or cider and coffee is 12 Euros 50. Amazing value for money. This week we went to the Lion d’Or at Fougerolles du Plessis, about 20 minutes away and the good thing about this restaurant is that there are about 10 different choices for the main meal. It is a very popular restaurant with over 100 covers and it was pretty much full. However, to our great excitement things just got better as we discovered when we went to pay we were offered a loyalty card which is then stamped each time you go there to build up to a free meal, how great is that, there is such a thing as a free lunch!

Well, it has been quite an exciting week and now Mrs. Parish and I are partaking of a nice kir before a lovely lamb casserole from our half a sheep supply. Mrs. Parish is going back to Britain on Thursday for a week to see family and take Christmas presents. This means I am here on my own and in total charge of the cats and hens, will they survive?

Tune in for next week’s exciting instalment!

Bonne semaine