The ceremony for the 8th of May was today. The mayor’s speech was marred by the garbage truck passing through the village – the noise drowned out most of what he said, but I know the theme by heart. After the speech and the national anthem, we went to the village cemetery to lay a big bouquet of flowers on the soldiers’ graves. Five English soldiers and one Australian soldier lie in the small cemetery, in a corner of their own. Their graves are impeccably kept. There are several villagers who were there the day the airplane was shot down, who helped bury the men, and who still talk about it. Last year, one of the men’s brothers came to see the graves. He looked at it, shook his head, and said, “he wasn’t supposed to be on that flight. He was a replacement. Lat minute.’ I looked at the age. 19.
All the soldiers are so young. The eldest was 24. It’s the tragedy of war, I suppose. Perhaps war should be fought by old men, the same ones who organise, plot and plan them. The worst thing about the American cemetery in Normandy are the mens’ ages. All so young. It never gets easier to look at all the white crosses, with the names and ages carved in them. The names mean nothing, but the ages – they get to you. They get to everyone. Silent, striken people walk in the cemetery in Normandy – only my daughter, age 4, sang and danced through the graves. She thought they were fences.
After the ceremony in our small cemetery (a lovely place, on a small bluff with tall trees all around it) we went to the town hall for drinks and crackers, and the mayor came up to me and asked, worried, if he had pronounced the soldiers’ names correctly.
“Perfectly,” I said.