My dear Bon-Papa Mathieu,
Today, you would have proudly displayed the French flag from your bedroom window, the one over the village square. Then you would have stood to attention with tears in your eyes.
You would have put on your best jacket, pinned your medals over your heart and then, you would have said: «Time to go, children».
No need to tell us, Bon-Papa, we knew where we had to go.
To the small square, 500 meters away from your home, the one that’s very close to the graveyard. There, as if to part the tiny «townhall» with its enclosed one-room school and the small village church, a granite war memorial was standing. An awful long list of names was engraved there in golden letters (young men’s names when in 1914, there were less than 200 people living in Arfons). You knew them very well of course, all of them being your cousins and your friends.
All the villagers were there since almost every family had lost a loved one! Old people who had lived through this terrible war. Younger people whose father or uncle had died then. The children who had never lived through a war.
Someone would then blow the bugle. It sounded so sad and heart-wrenching!
Everybody would join in singing the hymn we sang at the time: «Le chant du départ» and not «La Marseillaise».
Being the oldest survivor, my Bon-Papa would step up and set down a funeral wreath with a blue, white and red ribbon on which golden letters said «To our brave heroes».
And then, we would all stand there in a profound silence for one minute.
I was not always staying at my grand-parents’ home in the village at the time but the ceremony which was compulsory for us, schoolchildren, was held in every village and city.
Bon-Papa, I have some news for you. I don’t know whether or not you’ll like them but you were a man of peace, deep in your heart.
We still hold «November 11th Memorial Services» in France. Only a few people attend them. Now we listen to «La Marseillaise» and there is no one around anymore from the «War to end all wars».
Somehow we truly have become Europeans and we’ve come to think about «14-18» as a slaughter that should never have happened.
But I’ll never forget you, my grand-father, standing so straight in front of the war memorial with tears in your eyes, remembering.
«Never more». Isn’t it what they said at the time?
You’ll be happy to hear that I almost had a baby boy on November 11th, 1979. My waters broke in the evening. But he chose to wait until the 12th to really come into this world.
We called him Jean-Christophe as in «Jean-Christophe» by Romain Rolland, the humanist, who worked so hard all his life to find a way to establish a non-violent world, a world of men in communion with other men.
I guess he's part of the first European generation. I just realized I never taught him "Le Chant du Départ". I don't even know whether or not he knows how to sing "La Marseillaise".
But you'd be proud of him. We truly think that he really is a man of peace.
Peace on earth and good will to men, Bon-Papa.
*Good Night, and Good Luck*