My Land is your Land

WW2 story book cover

Artwork by Enrique Cropper

“I first heard the story of George’s grandfather, Frank, in the summer of 1990, at one of his famous garden barbecues” je racontais, déjà regrettant de m’être porté volontaire pour faire, en anglais, un speech ‘d’un de ses proches à  l’Autorité Réglementaire Européenne’, lors du  service commémoratif de George, mon collègue depuis plus de 20 années.

“It seems Grandfather Frank was a very special person. He was a humble joiner – comment on dit en français, un menuisier – from Barking in the east of London and had died in action in the ‘Plan du Dyle’, during the defence of Belgium in May 1940. Frank and George lie now together in the cemetery of the Église Saint-Jean-Baptiste in Wavre”.

“George, of course, never met his grandfather but had been told he was a calm man,  who had entered the British army with the unusual aim of never taking anyone’s life.”

En regardant les visages de la centaine de collègues,  j’ai commencé à souffrir d’une petit crise de panique. Aurais-je dû parler, devant autant de collègues au cœur de la construction européenne, de l’histoire de la mort du grand-père de George, pendant une des périodes les plus néfastes de l’histoire du continent ?

Jusqu’à ce moment, j’avais focalisé mon discours sur la peine qu’on ressentait tous après le décès de George et sur ses qualités européennes. Non seulement son dévouement au travail, mais aussi son intégration dans la société belge : il y a 20 ans, George avait entraîné pendant plusieurs saisons une équipe junior de football. Suivant sa passion pour l’étude du paysage, il est devenu membre de la  Société royale belge d’études géologiques. Et il chantait tous les dimanches dans la chorale de sa commune de La Hulpe, où il avait habité avec sa femme et famille, depuis son arrivée à l’ARE en 1987. Je le taquinais souvent en disant qu’il était plus belge que moi.

Les visages continuaient à me scruter. Je me suis vite recomposé. En cas de trou, les leçons de mes nombreux cours en communication m’avaient appris un chose : lire tes notes !

Georges Farewell

“I learnt that George’s grandfather held some views about Europe, which I have never forgotten. For those of you who knew George better, you will see how he kept alive the wise thoughts of his grandfather. For those who knew him less well, I think the story of George’s grandfather will help you understand the way George, our dear colleague, conducted himself during his career, which lasted almost 33 years.”

La femme de George me regardait tendrement. L’éclat dans ses yeux me confirmait l’importance de la proximité affectif qu’il y avait entre George et son grand-père.  J’étais déterminé à lui donner le plus beau ‘send off’ que je pouvais.

“Firstly, George, like his grandfather, always sought to do his job, somewhat unusually you could say, without harm to any other. Though he always stood up for what he thought was right, and put his beliefs on the line if he thought it was necessary, I don’t recall George ever being aggressive to anyone on any occasion, even in his tone. George never provoked conflict of any kind.”

Plusieurs collègues hochaient la tête mais quelques-uns examinaient le sol et d’autres évitaient mon regard. Seuls les plus émus me regardaient, constamment.

“Secondly, one always had the sensation that George searched, like his grandfather, ‘beyond the physical plane’. As we say in the ERA, he looked ‘out-of-ze-box’, for an understanding of what was happening in the rough and tumble of European politics”.

“This habit of George was not always, as many of you know, the easiest to work with, especially if you wanted a quick fix (even if that fix was not properly thought through), or you wanted to get everyone to agree, close the meeting and shut the case.”

Ce commentaire prenait beaucoup de collègues par surprise. Je savais que George trouvait la quête spirituelle pour, comme il le disait « the real drivers of political life » la plus lourde tâche de sa carrière.

“But, third, and by no means least, George always resisted any shift towards treating citizens as a mass or by classes. ‘Nefarious over-generalisations’ he would mutter. Though I seldom heard him use the word ‘propaganda’, those of you who became familiar with his ‘modus operandi’ will agree with me that George would never tell anybody what to think. He only ever told you to think.”

J’ai senti un murmure étouffé de consentement entre mes collègues. J’ai continué.

“George’s grandfather, I was told, viewed the totalitarianism of the period 1933 to 1945 as the culmination of a mass, anti-human subjection of mankind to mechanistic thinking. George often expressed the same view. He said that this was ‘the real world war’ because, independently of which national side you were on, mass thinking forces each citizen into a logic of being a cog in a well-lubricated state machine. Humankind’s creativity, spontaneity and altruistic nature are sacrificed for the sake of what are dubbed societal objectives, predetermined by so-called political leaders.”

“It was this insight into how mankind had erred » je continuais, maintenant dans un état élevé d’engagement avec mes auditeurs, « which George held in his heart throughout his career.”

A ce moment, voyant des signes de détresse sur les visages de mes collègues, ma voix a commencé à se briser et j’ai vite décidé de couper mon discours.

“Colleagues, I must close. The pain for us all of losing George, in this way, is too much to bear. But I would like to share with you one last thing. If you ever have chance to visit George’s grandfather’s tomb in Wavre, engraved on the headstone is the first part of a poem, written by an Englishman* during the first World War. A piece of paper with this text was found in Frank’s coat pocket when he was killed. It has been treasured by his family ever since. I would like to read it to you now:

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust conceal’d;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air.

Je ne pouvais plus contenir le lourd sentiment de douleur dans ma poitrine. Les larmes commençaient à s’accumuler dans mes yeux.

“George, my dear colleague, you were a peaceful, thoughtful and considerate man. For me, these are the qualities of a great Englishman as well as a great European.”

L’image des tombeaux adjacents de George et son grand-père Frank me venait à l’esprit avec tellement de force, qu’elle m’a fait oublier complètement la fin de mon discours. Je sentais une force qui m’a fait emprunter une fin beaucoup plus abrupte.

“In fact, you were such a good European that I grew to feel that, like your dear grandfather, you belonged in Belgium more than I belong myself. For that I thank you, George, and may you both rest in peace in my Land.”

L’émotion me prit et ma voix monta d’un ton, je ne pouvais plus la contrôler.  

“Because this Land is my Land, George. And my Land is your Land. God bless you, George, God Bless you!”

 

 

*Rupert Brooke (1887-1915)

About writingbrussels

Seven Writers. Three Languages. One City.
This entry was posted in Mark, My land is your land, Observing Brussels. Bookmark the permalink.

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