New friends, old places
Today Bernard Lejeune took us all around Charleroi, Marcinelle and Nalinnes in southern Belgium.
Bernard is a historian and writer of history books and he first contacted us a few months ago as he was doing research for his new book. He came across some references we had made to Nalinnes, his village, on the Smythe Family website. Viv and Percy (Smythe brothers two and three) both visited Nalinnes just after the war and Percy wrote about it in his diary.
They had a Battalion Christmas Dinner in the Nalinnes townhall and by all accounts it "surpassed any previous event of its sort in the history of the Battalion officers' mess -- winning by a head perhaps from the famous Le Transloy dinner of July, 1917."
Bernard very kindly obtained the key to the town hall and was allowed to show us around and into the rooms where the banquet was held - and by the looks of things the decor hasn't changed much.
The rotunda is still in the town square and the house where Percy was billeted is still standing. The little town was charming and the countryside is magnificent. Bernard was the perfect host and we were so thrilled with this personal tour.
He then took us to the Ham-Sur-Heure castle where some of the troops were stationed as well as the Prince of Wales. The castle is now the townhall and Bernard's daughter works there so we got the full tour, including some parts only the Mayor sees.
Afterwards, we picked up his grandchildren, twin 5 year old boys, and returned to his home for coffee and cake. Bernard gave me a large box of Belgian Chocolate (oh dear) and we gave the children some Australian coins and keyrings and spent a lovely afternoon looking at Bernard's wonderful collection of historical books.
What an excellent day!