26 March 2008

The 90th Anniversary of the decision to confer on General Foch the supreme command of the Allied and American Forces was celebrated in grand style by the town of Doullens.

Airmen from the 103rd Air Base at Cambrai provided a military presence under their commander: Colonel Caïtucoli.

Alongside them the Sapeurs Pompiers from the Doullens Emergency Response Centre paraded in their ceremonial chrome helmets. The term firemen doesn't do justice to an emergency service which in France is also responsible for paramedic assistance as well as aid at traffic collisions etc.

A platoon of young students from the Doullens CD2C were dressed in the uniforms of the poilus and their young age highlighted the sacrifice that many youngsters made having lied about their age (As had done M Ponticelli the very last of France's Great War soldiers who had died just a week before.)

The CD2C is a Second Chance college run in part by the Defence Forces offering young people with no qualifications a basic return to schooling and help to find their feet as well as a profession.

Colonel Caïtucoli shares a moment with a veteran

Colonel Caïtucoli shares a moment with a veteran airman

Children from the Jeanne d'Arc school wearing t-shirts bearing a bleuet flower (the French equivalent of the poppy) mixed with the seventy eight standard bearers from the Département of the Somme's various veterans' associations.

Music was provided by the Northern Command Air Force Band based in Dijon who led the well attended parade through the town to the war memorial. Here wreaths were laid and the eternal flame re-lit. Whilst the British are used to hearing the Last Post sounded, in France it is Au Morts (To The Dead) which is played.

Returning to the Hôtel de Ville we were entertained by the children singing the Marseillaise as well as Beethoven's Ode to Joy.

Colonel Duhr

Colonel Duhr in conversation with a French veteran

The dignitaries included Colonel Duhr from the German Defence Forces and M Bécourt-Foch the great grandson of Maréchal Foch.

A rather unusual musical feature was the presence of two players from the Bagad de Lann Bihoué playing Celtic folk music on the pipes and

Bagad de Lann Bihoué

Two musicians from the Bagad de Lann Bihoué

A Bagad is a pipe band in this case the musicians are serving members of the: base aéronautique navale (Fleet Air Arm) at Lann-Bihoué on the southern coast of Britanny. The band was originally formed in 1952 and has survived attempts to have them disbanded (cost cutting appears to affect all Defence Forces).

The idea of a Bagad (the plural is Bagadou) is quite recent and draws its inspiration from the Scottish Pipe Bands. Musicians follow one of three disciplines - pipes, drums or the bombarde.

The latter has been equated to a rustic oboe and sounds like something straight out of the courts of some medieval king. Once popular throughout France it is now associated with Britanny.


The parade to the War Memorial

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Within the Hôtel de Ville an exposition of the life and works of the French war painter Lucien Jonas (1880-1947) was on display. The paintings and portraits within the Single Command Chamber are his work and a number of cabinets showed other items from this prolific artist who created about 800 oil paintings and 4 000 drawings depicting military life over the next four years.

Mobilised into the army in 1914 he was soon attached to the Musée de l'Armée as an official war artist. His work was often featured by magazines and journals and he was popular as a portrait artist for the senior officers. He spent the entire war visiting the various frontlines (including the British) sketching and painting as he went.

After the war he continued his work and was eventually commissioned to create banknotes that went into circulation in 1939. These were unusual in that they showed ordinary people as well as the more typical mythological scenes. As the Second World War came to a close he was once again in demand for official portraits of the returning French Generals.

Doullens Town Doullens Town
Doullens Communal Cemetery Extension Doullens Communal Cemetery