Those who have read Major Tom’s War or my other posts will know that Gaston, mayor of the town my grandfather liberated at the end of the First World War, was a thoroughly good egg, as Tom himself might have put it.
When in Bavay last year for the Armistice commemorations, I was struck by how aghast people were at the prospect of Brexit. They could not equate the country which had supported them through two world wars with the same country abandoning a peaceful and unified Europe now, following a clearly tainted referendum. I tried to reassure them that surely it would not happen, that common sense would prevail, and yet we nation of lemmings are still hurtling towards the cliff-edge as I write this.
At the time, I was given a copy of the speech Gaston made for the formal ceremony to mark the town’s liberation.
I have only just got round to translating this. It has such contemporary resonance for our times. Given the sudden resurgence of Fascism all around us (whether wearing yellow gilets or speaking with a chummy Old Etonian accent) I thought I would post it here:
“I am delighted to greet the town council, at this moment which marks the triumph of Justice over brute force, which was wrongly considered as morally justified by Germany.
The World has lived through some extraordinary times which will be described with pride, I am sure, when future historians come to write about them.
An extraordinary lesson must be learned out of the agonies of division which Humanity has suffered.
Fundamentally, as says Monsieur Clemenceau, the Council’s president, what has appeared before us now is a great vision of Unity. This desire for Unity is what will bring together all men of justice and lawfulness on earth, an earth that is beautiful, and good, and where all things are well.
We must all now unite in glorifying what is Good, just as we are united in condemning what is Evil. What we must now do is do everything in our power to make sure that Good triumphs.
I propose to send a message to Monsieur Georges Clemenceau, on the part of the town council, to express our admiration for how he has brought France, and our admirable Allies, to Victory.
A shining Victory which requires Humanity to take a new direction and to allow itself to hope once more.”
How must Gaston have reacted to the second war, only a few decades later? And 100 years on, where is that ‘shining victory’ and new direction now? Instead we have madness afoot, with fascism at its rotting heart, which I fear Gaston would recognise all too clearly.