In the small town where I live, there is a bridge named after an American soldier who is known for saving the bridge and allowing his fellows to liberate the town. Every year a ceremony is held there in his honour. On that day I was on the bridge taking pictures of the ceremony, when an old man came up to me and started talking about the war. I felt he needed to talk so much that I offered to come to his house to listen.
Claude makes it clear from the outset that he is not a historian: he has worked with wood all his life. But there is a story he wants to pass on: his own, and his mother Marcelle's. On 9 June 1944, he was 13 years old. With his school certificate in hand, and the prospect of the end of the war, he had his whole future ahead of him. But that night, the stars were not lighting up the sky. Reconnaissance planes had just fired magnesium rockets. The whole city was ablaze. He has never seen it as he sees it now.
Claude remembers every moment, those long seconds of silence during which he saw his friends and the little ladies of the neighbourhood running down the street and then perishing under the fire of a second salvo of bombs. Seventy-five years later, he still does not understand how he escaped unscathed. At that moment, he does not know it yet, but the nursing home where his mother works is a ruin. It was only around noon the next day that her moans were heard from under the rubble. So she was taken to the nearby big city for treatment.
For three months, Claude took refuge in a nearby farm and did not see her again. His older brother would regularly walk the road and bring a photo of him to their mother, to prove to her that her son was still alive. And then one day, she came back, with a big scar on her head and an amputated leg. When he recalls that moment, the old man is overwhelmed by an emotion that has remained intact: "I was young, I didn't know yet that you could cry with joy."
Fifteen days later, Marcelle resumed her work "at the restless" with the same passion and in spite of the heavy leather prosthesis she had been fitted with. Claude has been fatherless since the age of 8. His mother was irreplaceable, and even today he cannot imagine being separated from her. So he has made sure that her grave will be able to accommodate him too when the time comes. "We'll play knucklebones!" he jokes with a tender smile. Not far from the grave, there will be those of the "anonymous" people in the cemetery, his friends from the neighbourhood…