Wartime victims are not forgotten

SINCE my arrival here I have learned something about France. This is a country that takes seriously the honour of those who have fallen for France, and quite rightly too.

James Marston

SINCE my arrival here I have learned something about France.

This is a country that takes seriously the honour of those who have fallen for France, and quite rightly too. November 11 is a national holiday and a time for reflection.

The mayor, local dignitaries and politicians leave wreaths at all the memorials, and here in Toulouse there is one in every neighbourhood. The First World War is not forgotten and neither the second.

The German occupation was, and perhaps remains to an extent, a hugely traumatic experience for France.

Since I moved here I have taken a renewed interest in this period of French history and last weekend I took the metro to the resistance and deportation museum in one of Toulouse's pleasant suburbs.

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It was an informative and fascinating afternoon out.

I have now seen pictures of German tanks in the little square near my flat and I have understood something of the men and women behind the street names of Toulouse that honour them. I learnt that Fran�ois Verdier was a brave fighter, a Frenchman determined to liberate the south, a man who said nothing under torture, a father of two butchered by the gestapo and found mutilated in a forest, the man behind the name of a metro station I pass through every day.

I have seen that De Gaulle's speech delivered on June 18 1940 from London as France fell in 1940 is particularly moving. And, most interestingly for a journalist, I have seen the very printing presses that were used to distribute and the underground newspapers used to further the cause of the resistance.

During the course of that afternoon I also learned how arms and ammunition were dropped by the allies in the countryside and how by the end of the war the resistance had become a highly organised organisation. I also learned that Toulouse itself was liberated in August 1944 some time after the D-Day landings in the north of France.

At the end of my visit I fell into conversation with an elderly lady who volunteers at the museum. I think I was the only person she had seen all day and it wasn't easy to stop her talking once she got going.

She spoke no English and though I struggled to keep up I managed to follow most of what she said. She told me that she was 15 when the Germans left Toulouse, she told me her father was in the resistance, she told me young people in France take little interest in what happened, she thanked me and she told me not to forget.

I'M jetting back to the UK in a few weeks to celebrate a wedding of a young couple in New Zealand. That might sound a bit of an odd statement so let me explain.

Some friends of mine, who are very big in Essex potatowise, have invited me and my sister Claire, who wants to marry a farmer, to a spot of lunch to celebrate the wedding of other friends taking place down under on the same day.

You couldn't make it up could you?

Naturally I agreed to grace the event with my presence, I might get some chips.

Thanks to the marvels of the worldwide web I miss little of the news in the county of my birth - Suffolk.

And I read with interest that in Bury St Edmunds large crowds showed their appreciation of our troops as a parade was held for gunners back from a six-month tour in Afghanistan.

The gunners were from 27 Squadron RAF Regiment, based at RAF Honington and they were accompanied by a full marching band from the RAF Central Band of the Royal Air Force.

I bet that was moving to watch. Traditions and events like that make me proud to be British and proud of our armed forces.

Incongruous though it might sound I celebrated Australia Day here in France.

This was because my friend Narelle, an Australian, wanted a barbeque. Naturally, at the prospect of sausages and salads I shut up my Toulousain flat with street views (immediate) and ceilings (high) and popped along.

As those of you who follow my weekly column know I like a quiz and Narelle had kindly organised a fingers on the buzzers style test.

One lad, an Australian, called Luke, knew all the answers including the fingertip fact that Edmund Barton was his country's first prime minister. Impressive. I'd been waiting for questions on Kylie or Neighbours - the early years.

As regular readers will know I have become addicted, well if not addicted then quite attached to, a soap opera called Plus La Belle Vie - it's all about beautiful people who live in a sunny place.

I have also discovered, during routine channel flicking, that Dr Who makes a regular late night appearance. Strange though it is to hear David Tennant and Catherine Tate talking French - I didn't realise they were quite so talented - stranger still it is to hear a Dalek give the order to "exterminer."

There's no denying it, dear readers, I'm homesick for Suffolk.

After four months since my upstickking from the small Edwardian Spa town of Felixstowe for southern France I am, I have to admit, missing the sea, the shops, the gardens, the people, the pubs and bars, the Dennis Lowe Theatre Company - and my small flat with sea views (distant). My mother Sue tells me the sea was sparkling on her last visit.

I have put this sudden malaise down to a passing phrase.

Felixstowe, Suffolk - there's nowhere like it.