Having placed the little wodden cross on the small table, I step back, now standing in line with grandmother. She has bowed her head so I can’t see her face. Following her example, I cross my fingers and stand still. Some minutes pass, nothing is to hear, there’s only this strong smell of mould that makes me sick.
Then, suddenly, a group of German-speaking teenagers enters the room, laughing, giggling. Grandmother lifts her head, her gaze tells me that she wants to leave.
Slowly, we make our way through the dark cellar until we reach the exit. Sunlight and fresh air welcomes us outside. Grandmother still hasn’t said a word.
I tell her that we could walk up this small hill, trying to see more of the strange area around us, expecting that she will disagreee – but she simply nods so we turn into the direction of this small path, going upside. She breathes heavily while walking so, deep inside, I think how stupid my idea has been, regarding her age.
But, surprisingly, we reach the top without any difficulties. There’s not much to see, except of some barbed wire and … my thoughts are interrupted as suddenly grandmother speaks up: “My dad died 200 kilometres away from here, did you know? I was born five months after he had passed away – only being 22 years old.” I can see a tear running down her check – but I also see the strength in her eyes. Finally, she has found peace within her troubled past.
In this small room where French soldiers celebrated Christmas in the Winter of 1916, deep under the group, I discovered a small wooden cross with the following inscription: “Pour les soldats francais qui ont perdus leur vies ici. Un ami anglais” – “For those French soldiers who here lost their lives. An English friend”. Who did it place here and why? Will I ever know the truth?