Lest we forget
One of the things I love about France is that Armistice Day is always observed on 11th November – no matter what day of the week it falls on (instead of how the UK now does it on the closest Sunday to the date). For me, it seems more poignant to be remembering those who sacrificed their lives on the exact anniversary of when the Armistice was signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France.
I’ve always tried my best to attend something local on Armistice Day and this year was no different – as with last year we popped down to our village square and listened to the service in French, with the children reading out the names of the war dead, the small choir singing, and the band playing the Sonnerie aux Morts (the French equivalent to The Last Post). Click here to listen. Listening to the choir reminded me that I had completely forgotten the vow that I had made to the Maire last year – which was to learn the words to La Marseillaise. I had made an attempt last year when I joined the choir (for just one week) but since then it had been all forgotten. Just in case he asked me about it I had a phrase ready in my memory bank “Désolé j’ai oublié“. But luckily, he had also forgotten!
It seems that life is just too busy and a lot of things get forgotten – and how strange it seems that a whole year has gone by since the last Armistice Day and the Autumn Fair that takes part on the same day.
But it is good to remember on days like this, that no matter which country we originate from, our men and women, and also horses and dogs, gave their lives so that we could have the freedoms we enjoy today. At the beginning of the Second World War, many countries opted to change the name of Armistice Day to Remembrance Day, but France still calls it by its original name. It has also become a day to remember the war dead of ALL wars, and I do find myself thinking about those who lost their lives in the Second World War, and also in all the troubles that we have had since – Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, Syria – to name but a few.
Being in an area of France where there are lots of reminders of the role of the French Resistance in the Second World War means there is a constant reminder of the war time troubles in this part of Europe too. In fact, I read just this week about Yvette Lundy the “Grande Dame of Epernay” who died aged 103 recently. To find out more about what role this amazing woman played in helping Jews flee occupied France click here
In our village there is a street called Rue de La Resistance and just 6 miles away in Fraysinnet-de-Gelat there is a war memorial remembering the atrocities that occurred here on May 21st 1944.
In this small village, that now has just 360 inhabitants, members of the French Resistance shot and killed one German officer. The payback for this single death lasted hours – 15 hostages were taken and assassinated by the SS. Ten of these were young males and five were young women ALL from one-child families. This was a deliberate attempt to prevent any further family line of descent. When you consider the impact that this must have had on this village, you can begin to fully empathise with this nation on the sensitivities of war. It is humbling for me as a Brit to stop, and reflect that it was not just our country that suffered the war.
The monument which stands outside the church has a stone plaque bearing the names of the victims. It also has a wooden sign saying “Barbarie Nazie” which covers the original wording which was “Barbarie Allemande”– changed in the name of international “rapprochement”. Hopefully, in a similar way our European neighbours will recognise that us, the individuals in all this Brexit malarkey are not personally responsible for the actions of our truly appalling Government at this point in history. We can but hope!
As well as attending the Memorial Ceremony, we also selected Commemoration as the topic for discussion at this week’s French/English Conversation Group. This was only the second session so the group is still a work in progress, but each session Beatrice prepares some fun activities in French for the English speakers, and I prepare some fun activities in English for the French speakers. This session I prepared a Word Search containing words associated with Commemoration in both English and French, and also a piece on Dame Vera Lynn in both French and English. Another Dame that has reached a ripe old age and is still going – now 102.
As nerve wracking as it is for me to read out text in French to an audience, I still find it is a good way for me to learn more of the language. My nemesis is dates – I really cannot get my head around the different way that the French use the number system and sadly all those weeks spent last year playing French Bingo seem to have been wiped straight from my memory.
One thing that always springs to mind for me when Armistice Day approaches is the impact that the battle field had on the survivors of war. Facebook is full of emotive posters that remind us of what they went through, and the sacrifices that were made, and in recent times we are so much more aware of terms like Combat Stress Reaction, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The “signature injury” of the First World War was “shell shock” which was used to describe, amongst other symptoms, the “thousand-yard stare” that many soldiers returned home with.
My Great Grandmother lost her first husband to the First World War. His best friend returned home from war, and they became close and she later married him – but the lovely man he had been when they were all pre-war friends was lost due to “shell shock” and sadly she had a very unhappy life with him. So, I guess you can say she lost two husbands to the same war.
If that had been now, he would have been able to get some help, and at least people would have understood, and there would have been some support for her. But back then…he was just a nasty man who became violent and aggressive – with no real understanding of how or why.
Thank goodness that these days we have that understanding of the damage that a battle field can cause a person for the rest of their lives. However, I feel that there is now a new gaping chasm in our modern-day knowledge of the impact of trauma – one that is finally being acknowledged
That is the impact of abuse on a person. We now know that childhood trauma is one of the many causes of Complex-PTSD. (CPTSD)And no wonder – being in a house full of raging parents, not knowing when you are going to be under attack is very similar to living in on a battle field.
Of course, there are many types of traumatic events that can cause CPTSD, not just childhood abuse, but also ongoing domestic violence, repeatedly witnessing violence, being forced to become a sex worker, kidnapping, slavery. And a person is more likely to develop CPSTD if the trauma was experienced at a young age, or if it lasted for a long time, or if it was from a person close to them, and if there were multiple traumas.
So, what I am saying is that, whilst in no way meaning to downplay the issues that soldiers may experience, there are also hundreds of thousands of people who are experiencing lifelong emotional issues that have occurred as a result of traumas they experienced at an earlier stage of their lives.
I’ve always been a great advocate of promoting openness about mental health issues. After all, our mind is a part of us in the same way that our legs are – so why be fine with saying we have a broken leg, but ashamed to admit that we have a ‘broken mind?’.
I feel that people very quickly become isolated when they feel that no-one will understand their problems, and that as a society we are still not very good at allowing someone to express their mental health concerns.
Many years ago, I became aware that my own childhood trauma had a massive impact on me, when a male boss approached me suddenly and unexpected from slightly behind me and I flinched badly – so badly that the poor bloke looked at me, with tears in his eyes and said “oh my goodness my love, what has happened to you?”. I could have sat down and told him about my childhood, how years of a violent stepfather had done this to me, but I just shuffled away feeling awkward and embarrassed. But back then I didn’t fully make the connection that the trauma I suffered meant I was on ‘high alert’ to danger, always expecting to be under attack, and my young brain had interpreted the childhood abuse as a deep rooted belief that if I was not safe as a child, in my family home, with my parents to look after me, then I would never be safe.
Even now, I don’t fully understand the trigger responses to this – but thankfully because CPSTD is now recognised as something that not only soldiers suffer from, then there is help and support out there for me to access, and for those around me to help to understand why, my sometimes completely emotionally ‘out of control’ responses, don’t mean I don’t love them. It means that I have been triggered by something which causes a feeling of being under attack, and my response is to counter attack. It’s all very complex – hence the term “Complex” PTSD. My flashbacks are different to the visual ones that soldiers may experience – mine are emotional ones, although I did once have a visual flashback of a train coming down a road in the New Forest not long after my ex-boyfriend’s 17-year old nephew had been killed in a train/car crash. (The flashback was a very scary experience for both me, and my passenger, and also part of the reason I never drive in the dark – but a different story for another day).
My understanding of my own personal situation also means that I can now understand how the responses of other people are not always what they seem to be. I can spot a ‘thousand-yard stare’ at a hundred paces. I have a person in my life, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia many years ago, but I am certain that he also has CPSTD – as a result of his own childhood traumas. The stare that I always thought was some sort of intense, crazy person look – I now realise is more likely the dissociation caused by CPTSD.
So, at this time of remembrance for the men, women, and animals that gave or changed their lives forever so that we have a life to live, let us also not forget that things are not always what they seem.
No one ever knows what battles a person is fighting in their own mind.
No one ever knows what demons keep a person awake at night.
We all get up in the morning and live to fight another day (until of course the day we die) and we owe it to each other to be kind to each other.
Maybe instead of judging a person for dealing with their problems in a way that we might not necessarily do so ourselves, we should try to respect that they are doing the best they can, with what they have, in the only way that they know how. And acknowledge that sometimes they were not given the best start in life to gain the best tools for the job, or that something else happened to them along the way which changed how they see the world.
We might not have the insight, or the empathy, or the skills to fully understand that person – but we are all born with a heart, and it is good to use that part of our body to connect with all our fellow human beings.
If you or someone in your life is affected by CPTSD and want to find out more information this is a good place to start