Well, the 8th of May has come around once again and so 'Les Tricolores' have been unfurled on all the monuments in the villages and towns, and preparations made for celebrating the end of the Second World War in France.
This has been one of those "come and go" celebrations in France where it was somewhat difficult to find sufficient veterans with genuine links to the Resistance to stand in front of the memorials while the National Anthem was played.
I say "come and go" because various politicians have had a hand in changing the dates and meanings of these celebrations in order to pander to different sectors of the community.
Charles de Gaulle was allowed to announce the end of the war on the 8th of May in 1945 to the French people. Church bells rang out and in many French people's minds de Gaulle represented the fight to end German Occupation, which was not exactly what Churchill and Roosevelt had wanted, but agreed to anyway.
The day to commemorate this announcement was initially set to be the second Sunday of May.
In 1953 this was changed to the 8th of May, and this meant that May now had four holidays in it, with Mayday, Ascension and Pentecost Monday.
In 1959 the celebration was again changed back to the second 'Sunday' of May, to reduce the time off work in May for the General Public.
The Veterans protested this decision and continued to celebrate on the 8th of May, particularly if it fell on a "weekday".
In 1965 there was a capitulation by the Government and the 8th of May was recognised as a special "20th Anniversary" of the end of the War, and a holiday was declared, but only for this one year.
In 1968 the government again changed stance, and announced that May the 8th would be recognised, but only in the late afternoon, so as not to disrupt the working day.
In 1975 the President announced that there would be no celebration and recognition of the end of the War, in order not to embarrass the Germans and to bring the two nations closer together, but in true Gaelic Fashion, parades were still held in many rural areas of France, anyway.
In 1981 it was again proclaimed as a Public Holiday and in 1982 as a National Holiday. What that subtle difference is here, I am not quite sure. Perhaps something to do with ponderous legal grindings of bureaucracy?
In a village near where I live in France, they decided that 2011 was going to be the last year that they celebrated the 8th of May, because there were no veterans left to honour, and the memorials have more names on them recalling the First World War fallen, and the wars in Algeria and Indochina. Most of the names on the memorials for the Second World War seem to be people who were kidnapped and murdered by the Germans in 1944 as they became increasingly nervous of anyone of military age.
However, in the village of Les Maillys (pronounced "Lay My-ee-ee") this year they were to have somebody special with a real connection to the war.
On March the 10th of 1944 a Stirling Bomber was shot down nearby.
The aircraft was engaged on a mission to drop supplies to the Resistance in the Haut Savoie. It was shot down by a Luftwaffe Night Fighter based at Longvic near Dijon, and crashed near Brazy-en-Pleine in the Côte d'Or. I understand that three of the crew were killed in the crash and that three were taken by the Gestapo and tortured to death in an effort to extract information.
They are all buried in the cemetery in Brazy-en-Plaine.
When the funeral took place under German supervision there were no French or British flags allowed, so three young Frenchmen dressed one in Red, one in White and one in Blue, to stand at the graveside to represent the colours of the Allies.
The good news from this sad affair was that the navigator, Flight Sergeant Squance, was able to bail out of the aircraft at low level, and survived. He found a farmhouse where he was given shelter then ferried across the Saône River to safety. He was eventually supplied with a false identity document which specified that he was “mute”, which somehow seems reminiscent of the “ ‘Allo ‘Allo” airmen, but nevertheless true. This was because his accent would have given him away, even to a German. He went via Paris to Gibraltar and was then shipped back to England where he rejoined the war.
The important part of this story was that Tim Squance met his future wife, who was a WAAF, and they had a daughter together who they called Mary-Anne and it was Mary-Anne who came as the Guest of Honour to the final 8th of May celebrations at Les Maillys.
At the ‘Grande Fête’ the Mayor of Les Maillys presented Mary-Anne with a special medal in honour of her father and of the crew who was lost in the Stirling crash. It was a grand occasion for the locals to have a real and tangible link to one of the only acts of the war that touched their village.
Of course none of this link with the past would have happened had it not been for a keen coordinator of events who organised the local Brits into a choir to sing the British National Anthem on the day, and who chaired meetings beforehand to get the local interest aroused. He also found Mary-Anne and her husband via the Internet and persuaded them to come to this event, as well as accommodating them and acting as chauffeur to them so that they could visit the farm house where Tim Squance found succour after his traumatic parachute fall and evasion from the German soldiers.
So we all owe a great vote of thanks to Lawrence Dobson who was solely responsible for ensuring that the memory of these brave men was brought to the fore, and that this important piece of local history would be emblazoned on the recollections of the local populace.
Thank you Lawrence for all your efforts.