Sunday, October 26, 2014

At Last...My Grandfather's Grave in Angiens, France

Le Havre! After a failed attempt last year to get into the port, we finally made it. We were really going to find my grandfather's grave.

We rented a Fiat Panda. Renting the car wasn’t hard, but the guy at the agency couldn’t find Angiens on any map. He had never heard of it. We showed him where it was on Google Maps, but we still couldn't pinpoint it on any of the maps he had. In the end, he programmed Angiens into the GPS and we just went on a wing and prayer, hoping it would take us to the right place.

And we were off...I took so many pictures this day. I didn't want to forget one moment of the experience.

For many years, we didn't know where my grandfather was buried. We only knew that he had died in  World War II in 1940, making my father and my aunt, Elsie, orphans. Their mother had died several years before. We believed he had been killed in the Battle of Dunkirk and that was about all we knew. Then my cousin, Ann, found a photo of my grandfather's headstone on-line while doing some research for the family tree. We were able to pinpoint the church and the location of the cemetery. Then it became a dream to get there one day...

It was a beautiful drive through many of little towns...

We had a TomTom GPS, which we weren’t familiar with. I had the crappy map from the car rental agency, which didn't even have road numbers on it. Other than the divided highway, which we quickly left, none of the secondary roads were marked. Then I resorted to using my phone with the GPS, but the 3G network was proving to be far too slow. In the end, we put our faith in TomTom.

It is a lovely part of France...

Doudeville, population 2500...this was the first time I was able to find our location on the map, and then we were promptly at TomTom's mercy again.

The roads started to get even smaller...


Lots of windy, tree-lined roads...

We saw these cyclists coming towards us. I don't think I’d enjoy cycling on these roads. People drive pretty quickly and the roads are narrow.

And another little town with lovely old buildings. After Doudeville, I couldn’t find anything on the map that looked like where we were. I had Jim stop and look at it and he couldn’t figure it out either.

Many of the fields still hadn’t been harvested. We saw this huge mound that we thought were potatoes, and then I thought they were rocks. In the end, we guessed they were sweet potatoes or yams.

I was momentarily excited when we came across this church. We had a photo of the church and cemetery we were looking for, and for a minute I thought this was it. But it wasn't, and we carried on...

It was an absolutely beautiful drive.

Loved the moss covered building. Every time we turned a corner, the road got about two feet narrower. Now the road was wide enough for one vehicle. If you met a car, one of you had to pull over onto the grass.

Another mound of sweet potatoes...

Look, look! Our first sign for Angiens...we were so excited. Only 2.5 km to go...

Another tiny little village...

Angiens...only 1 km to go...

At last, the sign that we were here. In the distance, I could see the steeple of a church. I was beyond excited!

Just an adorable little town with lots of flowers and manicured hedges. It was by far the most affluent village we had seen.

Lots of hydrangeas...

Look at this spectacular hedge and these old homes. We were still waiting for the church steeple to come back into view.

Right in the centre of the village...the population of Angiens is about 600.


We went by the Mayor's house...

And almost opposite the Mayor's house was the church! It didn’t look quite the same as in the picture because the steeple didn’t have the ring around it. The photo we had...

And the church we found...once we saw all the windows, we knew it was the right church. It looked like they were doing renovations.

We drove by the church to turn around and park. Across the road was this very old house that looked like it might have had a store or garage at one time. I don't think it had seen any customers for a few years

Coming back to the church...I could barely contain myself now. We hadn't even got out of the car and my throat was choked up.

We knew we were looking for a row of white headstones...

We came around the corner and there they were. By this time both of us were crying as we searched for my grandfather's. 

Then we just stood there and blubbered. We also noticed that in the same plot as my grandfather’s was another headstone, which simply said "A Soldier of the 1939-1945 War."

We noticed that all of the white headstones were dated June 10-12, 1940. Most of them seemed to be Scotsmen from the Gordon Highlanders and the Black Watch.

We started placing things on the grave...

It was a Sunday morning and we thought there might be a church service, but there wasn’t.

An elderly lady came by and looked at us curiously and walked over. I was still blubbering and couldn't talk so all I did was show her this sign that we had had translated into French (Thanks, Sylvie!) and explained what we were doing. She asked us a few questions, which I think we answered correctly, but I wouldn't swear to it. She could see we were quite emotional, so she left us to our business.

This is one of the only pictures we have of my grandfather standing in the back row on the day Cousin Ann's parents were married in 1936. My father and his sister are also shown. Their mom had died the previous year. The flower girl on the far right is Cousin Dot, whom we had recently visited and who gave me my birth announcement that she found amongst her parents' belongings.

By now we had everything on the grave, including a Canadian flag.

There was heather on all of the plots. The one on my grandfather's looked a little dried up, but it was obvious that someone has been caring for the graves.

The Royal Army Service Corps insignia with the words "Honi soit qui mal y pense." I thought this was quite interesting and found out that loosely translated it means "evil is as evil thinks."


Finally, after 74 years, someone was able to visit my grandfather's grave. I was so wishing others from the family were there to share the experience. I was also sad that we didn't have any of this information when my father was alive.

And then the church bells started to ring...


There are 17 headstones in the row, five of which are unknown soldiers. At this point, I was just contemplating and Jim was going around exploring the graves. Oh my god, I look like my mother in this picture.

I wanted to get a photo of the church and the cemetery, so went across the field to the fence. This horse saw me and came ambling over...

 I wished I had an apple or something to give him...

Thanks to my good hubby, Jim...his enthusiasm for the search for my grandfather was as great as my own. The church from the same location as the photo we had brought with us.

The row of headstones...

I started to look around the cemetery. It's quite a mishmash of different stones, old and new. Some of the older ones are now starting to dip and fall over. Many of the newer ones had plaques, flowers or keepsakes of some kind.

You can see how many of them have flowers. Even when we were there that day, there were two or three groups of people who came and visited the graves.

Some of the older ones that are falling in disrepair...

This headstone behind my grandfather's has completely toppled over.

This one has a serious lean...

The stone at the bottom of this one is crumbled and broken...


Interesting faces...we could see some areas where the church was needing repairs.

More church bells, but these were different. They just kept ringing and ringing. I felt like they were saying "Thanks for coming!"


We had been at the cemetery for almost two hours and, while I hated to leave, there really wasn't anything more we could say or do. As we turned to go, I noticed this grave with the word Leonard that just stood out. Leonard was my grandfather's name and also my father's name. Ooohh...I felt a shiver.

With a last look back and another little prayer, it was time to go.

Heading back to the car...I barely remember going back. My head was buzzing. It was so full of thoughts and emotions.

Then I realized, I hadn't even seen the front door of the church.

Front door is surprisingly small for a large church and it had a screen over it. It was clear this church is not currently being used.

Signs on the front of the church indicated that services are being held elsewhere. Hopefully, it is just while repairs are being carried out.


Back in the car and leaving Angiens...look at the beautiful thatched roof on this garage and house.

Another look at the village. I just couldn't get over how beautiful it was here. But in my mind, I was still wondering...how did my grandfather and these other soldiers end up here and not in the cemeteries in Normandy or Dieppe? I needed to do some more research when I got home.

Very peaceful...

The sign for Le Havre. Thank heavens the guy at the car rental agency had programmed the GPS to get us back. We could have stopped and visited other places on the way back, but I was so full of what I had seen that I couldn't take in anything else.

The ship...back safe and sound. Thank you, TomTom. We got back on board and had lunch and a drink and rehashed everything we had seen. We could only return the car later in the afternoon, and by that time we ended up standing in line to get back on the ship with 1000 other passengers returning from the ship's tours to Paris and Normandy. That wasn't great timing!

Back on board, we watched this tanker being escorted in by two tugs. The one in front was going backwards and the one behind was keeping him straight.

A beautiful God sky over an amazing day that we’ll never forget.

So I did do more research when I got home. I knew The Battle of Dunkirk had ended on June 5 and that my grandfather had died on June 11, but I thought perhaps he had died of injuries several days later. Having seen the 17 headstones all with dates between June 10-12, I knew this wasn't possible. I started googling the dates and Angiens, France and this is what I found. The 51st Highlanders surrendered to the Germans in Valery-en-Caux, about 10 km from Angiens. "Severe losses were suffered and approximately 10,000 men became prisoners of war." Now it made sense why they were buried in Angiens. As I scrolled down the page, I saw that they had a remembrance service at the cemetery in Angiens in 2010, where the names of the 12 soldiers were read out, as well as the 5 known only to God. If only we had known, but I am so thankful for everything we have found since then.

Tomorrow, a sea day...


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