Saturday, 25 October 2008

Freedom and occupation

We have brought Ian's friend Mike with us to assist with the arduous jobs, such as sawing, cutting and lugging wood and to assist with the technical aspects of the design, thus giving Ian someone to talk with and leave me free to be a 'domestique'; fetching the refreshments! Mike lives in Albert. Albert is in the middle of the Somme a few kilometres from the front line and after the first world war all but one building remained and a handful of people, living in cellars. Mike bought a house on the main road opposite the aerospace factory, in an area that was once a casualty clearing station for the French. The house was formerly a hotel and at one time a brothel and a bar. It was in pretty poor condition and Mike is painstakingly restoring and renovating it; turning it into flats and bed-sitters.

The history of the area is fascinating and depressing. Mike has found human bones when digging but unless they can be linked to a person by other artifacts no one is interested as there are so many to be found. On the first day of the battle of the Somme 60,000 young men were killed or fatally injured. That is more than 20 times the number killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Here in the Dordogne the history is not quite so tragic although during the second world war the border dividing occupied France from free France was a only a few kilometres away. Apparently the area where the land is was occupied and the older locals remember stories of villagers being taken to the woods and shot. There is still some animosity towards the Germans (although at the same time a gay German couple lived happily in the village for many years).

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