Sunday, 29 June 2008

Roadside Remembrance

Every June for the past few years I have remembered to stop at a little stone marker in a beautiful village in France in the Alpes Nord. The village is Abondance, and through it runs the Dranse on its way from the mountains to join other small rivers and streams that flow into Lake Geneva and then out of the lake where it becomes the Rhone in France and flows south gaining in size and strength as it irrigates the vineyards that run its length, until the Mediterranean is reached.

But this year I forgot.

I spend time in and around this village either cutting the grass at chalets of absentee owners, or walking amongst the meadow flowers and pine woods or climbing on the Via Ferrata in nearby Chapelle d'Abondance.

What made me stop the first time was noticing some flowers by this small stone marker and then I saw it was the site of the death of one Calixte Burnet killed in battle on the 17th June 1944.

Was this man from around here or from elsewhere in France as one of the hundreds, the thousands, of resistance fighters that struggled against the Nazi invaders, and who spent the days following the Normandy Landings, the Débarquement, creating as much of a nuisance as possible ?

It doesn't explain his origin, and perhaps it is not as important, as what he did. But his falling in a small battle here is remembered and acknowledged by someone, somewhere. However this year it was some ten days later as I stopped at the nearby Boucherie Maulaz to buy some lunchtime Feuilletee Sausisse that I spotted his marker and felt sorry that I had forgotten. But fresh flowers were there.

And that reminded me of other markers; other commemorative stones. Ones not often showing recent flower placements. And not all those are for people fallen in open battle. There is one that stands on the RN5 being passed daily by speeding cars along the lake road from Thonon and Evian towards the haut-lac and the Swiss border crossing at St Gingolph.

I wonder how many of the vehicles' occupants are oblivious to the events this stone commemorates. Were these men caught here at this spot, or were they brought here ? Was it a beautiful day like today with the lake water blue below them, warm and a soft breeze blowing from the south across France and towards Switzerland. Had they tried to escape ? Were they made to face the freedom that Switzerland offered as their lives were taken from them.

The Lac Léman offers many pleasures; perch and fera to eat, warm waters in which to swim, beaches of pebbles upon which to lie and sunbathe as the paddle steamers cross it; the black kites migrating from the Middle East and swallows swooping and feeding throughout the day and into the dusky evening light, when the setting sun reflects its rosey rays onto mountain railways on the far Swiss shore as the trains creep up through the vineyard covered hills opposite.

They knew then they would not enjoy these again.

We should not forget these people.

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