Isn’t it funny how you come across things just at the right time. Or maybe it’s just that one can make things fit when one needs or wants to. Yesterday was 11th November. Remembrance Day (or Veterans Day if you are in the USA or Canada and I imagine territories which I am too uneducated to know about). It can have escaped no-one’s notice that this year marks centenary of the start of World War 1. La Grande Guerre. Yesterday, therefore the world stood and still silent to mark with gravity the huge death toll of the following four years. And much was written and much will be written. Rightly.
After 11:00 we set off to the village of Anglards de Salers south and a tiny bit east of home by about 45 kilometres. After a light picnic we toddled off on our walk and passed the little Chateau de Trémolière making a note to return and visit when it is open (outside of the big cities and the heavy hitting sites, many places of interest are closed from Toussaint to Easter in France). It houses a collection of Aubusson Tapestries, fabric and needlecrafts are passion of mine and besides it has the oddest tower I have ever seen. We also passed the 12th Century Eglise de Saint Thyrse which features on the list of Monuments Historique de France and made similar mental notes and then an ancient stone fountain which represented the only water in the village until 1904 when the two fountains in the middle of the square were built. The plaque on the now dried up ‘font’ declares that those Anglardiens who exodussed to Paris would recognise one another by statement that they had been ‘baptised in the stone fountain’. The connection to Paris is something I will write of another time … the historic links between the Auvergne in general and Cantal in particular to Paris are fascinating and unexpected.
As we walked the leaves danced in the wind. It was a classic Autumn day – north of nippy, the air clear as anyone’s bell and the views from the 800 or so metres up above the Vallée du Mars absolutely spectacular. In good spirits we came across a cross. A stone cross with the figure of Christ depicted, as is typical in the area, quite tiny with a disporportioned head and massively oversized hands. What stopped us in our tracks was the panneau next to it. According to legend (and legend, as my children were always reminded is a story so old that nobody can remember whether its true or not), there was a battle fought on this land between Attila The Hun and the Gallo-Roman forces led by Flavius Aetius (Roman) and Theodoric I (Gaul). This was in the 5th Century. Hundreds of years later at the turn of the 18th Century a group of men from the pays came across what they believed to be Attila’s encampment and a dispute broke out when they found a cross there. This stone cross. Presumably the argument arose as to who could rightfully lay claim to it. Good old compromise prevailed and agreement was reached that it would be placed between La Mars and L’Auze hence it has stood where we happened upon it for the last 300 years.
That’s the history or the legend but what stood out to me, was the body count in 451 AD. 120,000 men. In one battle. Of course I don’t have accurate figures for what the populations of France, Italy and Germany were at the time but I am pretty sure that they were a tiny fraction of the populations in the early 20th Century. Fifteen hundred years, ago all that loss of life. One hundred years ago all that loss of life. Present day all this loss of life. I am but a helpless little voice but maybe if all the helpless little voices gather together – maybe we could try to give to peace a chance and prove Plato, whose words I have annexed for my title, wrong.
PS: When we got home and did a little intersleuthing on the net, we realised that this picture is not simply of a rock but of the ruins of a 5th Century fortress which stood on top and around it – you can see some of the stone-work in the foreground. Sometimes you have to look a little harder to see the fact that war has been all around us for all time.