Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

240 days of plague - menhirs and commemorations of war

As previously noted, I'm journalling every ten days while the current situation persists. We're slowly turning the corner: today, for the first time since mid-September, both the numbers in hospital and the numbers in intensive care decreased from the previous day. It is taking longer to flatten the curve than in the spring, except in one respect - deaths seem to have peaked on 6 November. So I'm definitely not expecting any return to the office before December, but hopeful that it may not be too far into the month before we can go back.

I gave myself a day off on Tuesday, and fulfilled a couple of long-held ambitions. The first was to start a programme of visiting Belgium's ancient standing stones. There are not very many of them, about 20 all told (which is less than in most Irish counties). I'm familiar with the one near Tienen at the church of Our Lady of the Stone; most of them however are in Wallonia, and F and I set off to the cluster south of us around Namur.

The first is at the hamlet of Beaurieux in the commune of Court-Saint-Etienne. We parked just off the motorway and had a decent walk to get there - it's several hundred metres up a sunken laneway. We had actually been there before, in 2011; it has been distinctly smartened up now.

The nearby Ferme de Beaurieux is being restored at public expense; there is a rather glorious millwheel.
Next on my list was the similarly named La Roche qui Tourne in Velaine-sur-Sambre, in the commune of Sambreville. It's relatively well signposted - to get to it you have to walk across fields and then into a wood. As with La Pierre qui Tourne in Court-St-Etienne, there is no evidence of it actually turning - it's pretty damn massive.

Finally, La Grosse Pierre at Perwez is, despite the name the smallest of the three. It is also pleasingly presented, with a young oak tree (I think) providing shade.

These menhirs are fundamentally mysterious. We know that they are there; we know that people delibertaly put them there; we don't really know why.

Since the development of writing, we have made it easier to interpret our public remembrances. Just a few hundred metres from La Grosse Pierre is a small memorial to a crashed Allied plane from the second world war; most of the crew were killed, but the survivors were picked up by the "Comet" resistance group and survived camping in the woods until the liberation, just like in Secret Army. (Click to embiggen.)

From here we went on to Huy, where I hoped to find some vestiges of Patrick Sarsfield. Sarsfield was the glamorous general of King James II of England (and VII of Scotland) who suffered fatal injuries at the Battle of Neerwinden in 1693, and died and was buried at Huy. His wife Honora Burke, who he had married in 1689 when she was 15 and was pregnant with their second child when he died, was the (much) younger sister of my 5x great-grandfather, the 9th Earl of Clanricarde.

I had seen references to a plaque commemorating Sarsfield on the walls of the ruined Church of St Martin in Huy. Alas, the sign there now has no reference to him.
There clearly was a plaque there previously, because there is photographic evidence, and you can see that it was on the wall immediately above the current plaque.

Some optimistic historians from Limerick have pledged to find Sarsfield's remains and repatriate the hero this month. I wish them luck.

More locally, yesterday was Armistice Day, and a public holiday. Our town hall has set up and outside exhibition about local experience of the Second World War; I went and had a look.

A lot of it was stuff I already knew, or that was not so surprising; but I had not heard of Sister (Leen) Baggen, who rescued twenty Jewish children from an orphanage in Leuven and found them cover at the house of Dr Lemaire near the railway station.
It is tastefully done, and there were a fair number of local people there too, though the usual 11 November ceremony had been cancelled for obvious reasons.
Tags: covid-19, world: belgium

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