Rooted, by pride restored,
In the rich, Rhine-wrought soil of Bruebach
The very day the Bosche were booted out
(The second time, that is);
Now ramrod straight and mast-high,
Competing only with the medieval church tower opposite
For lofty ascendance and local reverence
Our garden’s ‘Sapin de la Libération’
Seems to bear all of its 65 rings
With the quiet, green dignities
Of memorial to the moment and to French ‘Fallen’,
And of the visceral memories of survivors of invasion and occupation,
Still bearing the scars more openly than inwardly
As if it were yesterday….
And ‘might just be again another day –
Who knows anyway?’.
History writes itself deep and indelible in the souls of its witnesses.
The young, nouveau poor come touting for work
[and who can blame them for trying?]
Offering to lop it, chop it and otherwise reduce it
To sap-spitting fuel for a winter open fire
And sadly, but understandingly, forego
All hope of its exploitation
After our short explanation,
Leaving, head bowed,
In regret or recognition.
As ever, it’s not that simple –
This is Alsace, after all:
A land with a long-chequered heritage
Of belonging and language,
A prize of enviable proportion;
A pawn at the mercy of powers and princes
Who would possess her for her position:
Cradled between the blue hues of the Vosges
And the stark black of Schwartzwald,
Gateway to Swiss Alps and south to Italy,
Rhine and plain, vine and wine.
“Leben wie Gott im Frankreich”
So the (German) saying goes:
And as they’ve tried it at least twice
I guess they should know.
The 1939 blitzkrieg across the Rhine
Saw Fernand, our old French friend and neighbour,
Conscripted at the sharp end of a Schmeisser
To wear Wehrmacht grey
And frogmarched to the Eastern Front as expendable,
Non-Aryan fodder for Operation Barbarossa.
Some major miracle or ministering angel
Spared him from Stalingrad
And Stalin’s standing orders
To take no prisoners.
Retreat before the Red Army,
Brought him hard up against the Western Allies
As their two-front trap squeezed and finally snapped shut
Upon the remnants of the 1000 year Reich,
Whereupon he was mortared
And almost mortally injured by the Americans,
Saved from the foxhole that was fast becoming his grave
By some foolhardy-brave Ranger Medics
Who heard him praying to his Father
And self-administering the last rites in French…
Only to be shot on his way to safety
By a bullet from a German machine gun.
Targeted by two sides,
Touch and go,
He woke up in England:
A German POW
Until somebody with an ounce of sense
Realised the reality of his nationality,
And then, promptly losing the plot, tried to repatriate him
To a country rife with lynching-party reprisals
Exacting summary justice
Upon the heads of all easy targets like conscriptees and collaborators,
Which would certainly have finished the job in peacetime
Which neither side had quite managed, despite their best efforts, in wartime.
He was helpfully, and, I hope, deliberately ‘lost’ by the British system
And spent a good few years re-building a bombed-out Southampton
Before daring to embark for his home in Bruebach and the Libération sapling
Which would shelter and shade his twilight aging.
No hero’s reception or victor’s laurels for Fernand:
His own, beloved country, for which he would have fought
To his last breath if he only could,
Had revoked his French nationality –
So he had to suffer the indignity heaped upon multiple injury
Of applying for his own ‘Re-integration’
Like a criminal to be released back into society
In the face of all the anathema
The much diminished, yet still imperious,
Might of the State could muster.
No wonder Alsace is somehow ‘separate’.
No surprise some of its older citizens
As Alsacien first and foremost
And French a long way second…
The wounds of history everywhere run deep,
But here, unhealed, the blood still seeps.