Queuing for the Train

(Jim Archibald) #1

The life of an itinerant, born-again French Paysan; especially a Scottish one, can be thought provoking. That provocation invariably comes out of a clear blue sky. Quite literally in this case. I had gone to Clermont Ferrand, our nearest sizeable city, to pick up my niece who was visiting from Antwerp. I love this city in the summer, and I urge you to visit. It sprawls across the plain, within the mountain bowl of the Massif Central. At this time of year its a chimera of light and colour and more reminiscent of the Med than the Midi. I was in that lyrical frame of mind; that state of mind that says, "well done, what a great decision to settle here!" The heat was radiating from the off-white pavement. The canvas was off the jeep and I was parked easily and negligently some thirty feet from the entrance to the rail station. Under my panama hat and behind my Rayban sun glasses, I considered myself the epitome of the retired French gentleman; well fed, well rested, and well aware of the beauty of the day. The entrance to the station is turn of the century chic - very Charles Rennie Mackintosh with a Gallic twist. The forecourt was busy. Not in any industrial, working day manner; more in that French summer manner which is easy on the eye and pleasing to the ear. As I approached the entrance, avoiding the child wielding a large ice-cream in the manner of a Star Wars light sabre, I noticed a large brass plaque on the wall to the right of the entrance. It commemorated the last rail shipment of Clermont Ferrand's Jews, from the station, to Eastern Prussia. It listed the number of adults and children, and included the Mayor of Clermont Ferrand and all of his family. The date was Summer of 1944. Just sixty six years ago; just seven years before I was born. It blocked the sun and stilled the murmur. The Panama hat and sunglasses felt like pantomime costume and I hastily, and guiltily, pulled them off. We are lucky as Britons. We view these incidents in sepia tinted photos, or through the poorly focused lens of the Newsreel. And Mrs Cohen from the bottom of the street was never in danger of the Final Solution! But here, on a day like this, these friends and neighbours, these fellow Frenchmen were herded towards a train. All of this under the helpless gaze of French people very similar to those here today.

(Kathryn Dobson) #2

What an interesting post Jim - I look forward to your next.

(Catharine Higginson) #3

Jim - I’ve just posted this on the SF facebook page and there’s already an appreciative comment!

(Catharine Higginson) #4

Thats a really great and thought provoking post.

(Stuart Wilson) #5

Far from being an expert, but I really enjoyed reading that.