Missing house on Anzac day in northern France

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By Monique Steele *

Opinion – With a plate of burnt Anzac cookies given to neighbors wearing rubber gloves, this is the story of our nation.

No legend

Journalist Monique Steele and her partner, Karim Lafdal, in Saint-Cirq-Lapopie in France.
Photo: Fourni / Karim Lafdal

Although many Anzac Day events have been canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, for Kiwis abroad, the desire to return home is strongly felt today.

In a small village in northern France, two stranded Kiwis from Christchurch share their war stories with their neighbors (while respecting social distances).

Welcome to the 40th day of the 56-day isolation of Covid-19 here in France.

The memory of the war is alive here in Aix-Noulette, a small village in the department of Pas-de-Calais in the north of France which was destroyed during the war.

Near the Belgian border, the north is home to numerous cemeteries, memorials and battlefields from the First World War. It was the site of a lot of French, Allied and German bloodshed during 1914-1918.

Over 12,000 New Zealand military personnel are buried or commemorated in approximately 430 cemeteries in Belgium, France and the United Kingdom.

Daily walks with our Irish Wolfhound, Paddy, offer a welcome break from the seemingly endless confinement.

Along our route through the forest, spring has arrived with green shoots and flowers lining our path.

Fields of freshly sprouted wheat are home to the immaculately maintained Bois-d’Aix Cemetery, commemorating over 100 British victims of the First World War. Paddy sits quietly at the door.

The fields give way to a ridge that dominates the otherwise flat plains. Here we see the dome of the Notre-Dame de Lorette basilica. It is located in the largest French military cemetery, where over 40,000 French soldiers and ashes of victims of concentration camps rest forever.

No legend

French military cemetery at Ablain-Saint-Nazaire in northern France.
Photo: Fourni / Monique Steele

A New Zealand flag flies high at the entrance to Lorette, along with other countries involved in the conflict.

France also played a role in the Gallipoli campaign, claiming almost as many victims as those of the Anzacs.

My kiwi / French partner and I have been touring France and Western Europe by van since July of last year after leaving our job and leaving our friends and family for the ride.

We were fortunate in these uncertain times to be put in place by my generous uncle.

In our closed house, New Zealand souvenirs are everywhere. A poster from Arrowtown; another from Pukaki Lake. A simple wood with a paua seashell eye hangs in the hall.

He wears All Blacks or Crusaders rugby shirts almost every day.

But, “in the process of retreating” (words of Jacinda Ardern) on Anzac Day in this country of 67 million inhabitants which lost nearly 22,000 people in Covid-19, I have never felt so far from my house.

The “deconfinement” in France begins on May 11.

Let us remember the sacrifice of our Anzacs and keep in mind the victims of this new global challenge.

No legend

La Targette French National War Cemetery in Neuville-Saint-Vaast.
Photo: Fourni / Monique Steele

* Monique Steele is a New Zealand freelance journalist living in France, where the memory of the Great War is never far from everyday life and who is on the 40th day of a 56-day internment to fight Covid-19.

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