Day 18 - Armistice Day 100 years on.
Today was the day, 100 years ago, that the guns fell silent and signalled the end of the Great War.
The Armistice had been signed at around 0515hrs, but fighting continued until 1100hrs.
I arrived at the location where the last soldier to be killed fell at about 0940hrs. I sat on the bench that sits next to the simple monument and pulling my hat down tight on my head against the howling wind and sat alone with my thoughts.
After about half an hour of silent contemplation, two figures came into view, walking up the steep farm track from the village.
Introductions were made (James and David) and we chatted. James was about my age, an Englishman of Maltese descent who spends every Armistice day travelling to sites of WW1 remembrance photographing and Videoing remembrance ceremonies (check out his site
www.colourgrinder.com/?p=427 He now lives in Germany having married a German lady. The younger (David) was around 22 years old and I assumed he was the son. He worked for Mercedes Benz.
At about 1045hrs a French family of four arrived, then a Frenchman whose profession was a WW1 battlefield guide, then a German arrived by cycle who was touring the area visiting the many German Cemeteries. Finally, a group of four Americans arrived (a man, woman and two boys) who may or may not have been family, but each came from a different state (The man was US army, so it may be the boys were born in different states due to deployments). They had driven from Dusseldorf to be here.
So, on top of a exposed hill, thirteen people of four nationalities stood looking at the memorial to Henry Gunther, an American of German descent.
At 1100hrs we stood silently for a minute until the church bells could be heard drifting on the wind.
The American group laid a bunch of flowers and I placed a Remembrance cross. Photos were taken, handshakes exchanged and everyone thanked one another. We all went our desperate ways.
No sermon, no buglers, no ceremony...just a group of strangers, from four nations, paying their respects to someone they never knew. The best remembrance day tribute I've ever been at.
I then headed off to visit two German Cemeteries.
I then headed through the Verdun forest to tonight's digs, it rained on and off and involved some muddy and rocky tracks, which gave the boots and feet some trouble as the boots are running low on tread.
On reaching my digs I was forced to eat the last of my ration packs, and watch Match of the Day.
For me, my experience today sums up what Remembrance is about, it doesn't have to be grand gestures, it doesn't have to be remembering anyone in particular. It's just about remembering that people like me and you gave their lives so that we can enjoy ours.