On a leisurely road trip of 7,000 kilometres through Spain, Portugal and France our journey took us mostly through the country back roads, from one small village to another. Here and there we took the expressways to make a few kilometres before again turning off into the countryside.
ANZAC Day is special to both Aussies and our Kiwi cousins so, on finding ourselves in rural Portugal on 25th April, we made our own observances of that day. That was as simple as stopping by a cluster of wild-growing poppies sprouting from the stony wall of an old castle. We spent a few quiet moments in reflection for the sacrifices made by the slaughtered youth of our earlier generations.
A few days ago, on a glorious sunny spring day in western Europe, we made our way from Bordeaux towards Normandy. Back home in Australia it was already the early hours of Mother’s Day, but still Saturday afternoon in France. With that combination of circumstances and emotions we felt it appropriate to visit and pay our respects at the first war cemetery we came across. It did not matter to us what nationality that would be or whether it would be WWI or WWII.
No sooner had we voiced those thoughts than we saw a sign for the US War Graves at Saint James. Turning off the highway we wove our way along the narrow country road to that village. The cemetery holds over 4,000 graves and a monument to the more than 400 servicemen still lying lost somewhere in the fields of France. The grounds were beautifully kept and, with the sun shining benignly and the many birds singing their spring songs, it was a serene and calming place. A handful of visitors drifted slowly and respectfully through the great array of headstones.
Later that day we again took to the narrow country lanes, looking solely for a quiet and pleasant place to enjoy a late lunch of delightful French pastries, ham and cheese. On the outskirts of the small village of Brucourt we turned into an even narrower lane that climbed through thick woods up a gentle rise.
Suddenly we found ourselves at the small and ancient church for that community. We were alone in the little car park, with forest on one side and pasture with grazing cattle on the other. As we ate our lunch Kathy noted a small sign on the church wall and went closer to read it. The little church had a small enclosed graveyard that held only a few dozen graves. However the sign indicated it also contained a Commonwealth War Graves site.
We entered the yard and soon found those graves; only six in number, but well maintained and half sheltered by a large shady tree. Here was one small tragedy from the multitude of tragedies that was WWII. From the inscriptions it was apparent that one of the D-Day invasion gliders had gone off course and crashed close by to the little village.
The servicemen were airborne artillery, medical and glider corps who had all perished on the 6th June 1944. Alone and far from the large cemeteries that hold so many of their comrades it is comforting to know that they are not forgotten. Lest we forget.