There is never a dull moment at Bellebouche. After having an afternoon walking a friends dog in their woods, I came home to discover these wonderful carriages sat outside my house.
I ran in and got the camera and took a few photos. I thought nothing of it until I get a phone call the next morning. “Joan, venez voir ce que j’ai dans ma cour!”. My farmer friend had offered his stables and courtyard to les Haras nationaux, an equestrian company who were supplying the carriages for an historical event in Gourgé.
I was round there like a shot. The carriages had been unloaded and were getting ready to be hooked up to 4 wonderful horses.
The carriages would be driven down to our local town, Gourgé, where they would pick up the mayor and a few others and take them just outside the town to meet up with a coach full of people from the Ardennes region (more on that later). The two gentlemen from the equestrian company, changed into costume, ready for the event.
My farmer friend then said something that completely made my day – would I like to ride in the carriage down to the town? Stupid question ! I got to ride – on top – of the carriage. Absolutely fantastic ! I couldn’t stop grinning – like a complete idiot – I was having such a wonderful time.
When we arrived in Gourgé, I got down and let the mayor and his entourage climb aboard the buggy and the carriage.
Now for the historical bit …
On June 8, 1940, 120 refugees from Ardennes, all from the town of Houldizy in the region of Charleville-Mezieres, crossed the Roman bridge over the Thouet to reach their refuge in Gourgé. In case of evacuation, there was a plan that the Ardennes took refuge in the Vendee and Deux-Sevres. They were fleeing from the advancing German troops. The conditions were terrible and people had to leave their relatives who died on the way. Since then the two towns have been twinned.
Three people who were only children back then returned to re-enact their journey across the Roman bridge. Along with them were 22 others, all relatives of people who had walked this journey, all dressed in clothing from that period, carrying suitcases or backpacks.
When they reached Le Pont they met up with the Gourgé group and together crossed over the bridge. The large stones, which normally restrict traffic crossing the bridge, had been removed for the occasion. The horses and carriages crossed over, as they did, all those years ago. Their journey ended in the town.
I was so lucky to have been able to experience this little slice of life and history. It wasn’t advertised, only to those involved with the story. It was wonderful to see the old outfits and to get a feel for how they must have looked walking down the hill, over the bridge and to their safety, all those years ago.
My story doesn’t end there – I got to ride back again to Bellebouche alongside my chauffeur – with another stupid grin on my face !!
The whole photo set can be found here.