Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The First Great War Remembered.

I'm not the greatest historian. The facts and figures of the first and second world wars tend to flow into each other for me. The feel and themes of the times resonate very similarly for me too. I suppose this is a child-like, naive way of looking at these wars.

What I do know and remember is that my Peter Jerome and Pepe Andre used to tell me stories about those times. When Peter Jerome scaled the wall of a prominent military figure (of the opposing side) and stole his peaches off his trees. Then there were the stories that weren't told but I heard of later. Where you didn't purchase meat from the door-to-door meat salesman because you didn't know where it came from, or that a slaughtered cat looks and tastes very much like rabbit. How did they know that? I can take a pretty good guess and I know I'm right.
There were also the good things they didn't tell stories about. The nights the men, Peter Jerome and Pepe Andre, would hear the planes. They would leave the warmth and relative safety of their homes in rural Belgium with their bicycles and a change of clothes. Any allied pilots they found first would get a set of clothes to blend in and be helped to return to allied territory.

In South Africa, these stories were simply that: stories. Here in Belgium, where the remnants of The First and Second Great Wars still stand among the things of today, embraced by them, and the stories took on stark reality.
I never took much notice until I lived here and realized that I was cycling through the ruins of a World War I fort on my way to the office, that the lake in Keerbergen was a flooded airfield of World War II or that the concrete structure obscured and overgrown with trees wasn't a municipal service point of sorts but a Pillbox.

Armistice Day, the 11th November is remembered here with much ceremony and reverence. Every year we've been living here we've gone to Stadspark, to watch the firing of the cannons at 11:11 on the 11th of the 11th.

There's a wreath laying ceremony at the memorial in the park. The cannons are a way off but I think they can be heard for miles around. The video does them little justice. That shot ripples reality and the entire area shudders. It must have been terrifying hearing a battery of those go off during the war!

The memorial at Stadspark after the wreath-laying ceremony.

Ciao for now.

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