A memorable meeting at Kermaria – 21st September 2014

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Our Provincial assemblies for this year orientate our reflection towards the theme of meeting. It is in fact at Kermaria that an extraordinary meeting had taken place on the Sunday the 21st September with a group of 13 people from very different horizons.

They were the descendants of French soldiers and families welcomed at Kermaria during the First World War, who had come here as much with emotion as curiosity to search for the traces of forebears they knew little or nothing about.

This meeting was the result of an initiative taken by the Service of the General Archives. When you delve into the documents that speak of such a warm welcome shown to the soldiers or to their families, you yourself become filled with the same emotion and a hundred years later, you spontaneously burn to express this sympathy, if not to those concerned who are no longer there today, at least to their descendants.

But what can you do, when you don’t know anything about them : their address, their identity, or even if they exist ? Luck was on our side plus we gave it a helping hand … On Sunday 21st September 2014, they are there !

The Participants

Here are first of all the descendants of the HOCQUET family, originally from Blécourt, near Cambrai (59). Nine of them have come from the North, from Haute-Garonne and Loire Atlantique. They are the grand children and great grandchildren of two soldiers who were brothers, Achille and Henri Hocquet. The latter, after the war, returned to Blécourt; Achille settled in Loire Atlantique and relations between the two branches of the family weakened and finally ceased completely. It is thus thanks to the service of the Archives that contact was re-established between them, and that, after losing contact, they are meeting today for the first time in a century.

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Here are Gisèle and Jean-François SUBLET, whose grandfather, Jules Foutelet, a native of Burgundy, spent a short convalescence at Kermaria in 1915. Our archives make no particular mention of this young man. Last spring however, Jean-François and Gisèle arrived at Kermaria in search of the mysterious convent that that the young soldier spoke of in his abundant correspondence with his family. His letters, which they spontaneously gave to us, constitute a real treasure with their gripping witness to the horrors of the battle fields and the unexpectedly profound judgement of such a young man on the war and all the warmongers.

Here finally are General Christian MILLECAMPS and his sister Régine, the grandchildren of Alphonse MILLECAMPS. The Millécamps family, who came as refugees from Armentières (59) and lived at the old farm of Sullio from 1915 to 1919, developed particular links with Kermaria. One of the younger girls, Germaine, who was 11 years old when she arrived, went on to become a Daughter of Jesus under the name of sister Emile Victor, thus creating in herself a indissoluble link between the Daughters of Jesus and the Millécamps family.

A well-filled day

Sr Odette Le Tutour, the vice-provincial, was there to greet the guests in the name of the congregation, as well as the team from the General Archives and two members of the exhibition steering committee.

D day and no-one is late for the rendez-vous fixed for 8h30 ! Those who have come from furthest away had been there since the evening before, among them the family of Henri Hocquet. The following morning, the family of his brother, Achille, were the first to arrive, and made the acquaintance of their cousins from the North, re-forging links broken for almost a century.

After all had had a welcome but rapid cup of coffee, Sister Anne took the group off for a guided visit of the exhibition, soon interrupted by the journalist who had come to cover the event.

As the bell tolled, we made our way to the chapel for Sunday Mass. Some experienced a powerful emotion, one feeling suddenly very close to a grandfather, another to a unknown great grandfather, those who had gone before them in this place where they had prayed, sung, and found in their faith and confidence in God, the strength to carry on. At the beginning of the celebration, Sister Odette welcomed our guests and friends, presented them to the assembly, recalled the reason for their presence here, and how such a meeting was charged with symbolism. For some of the group, this moment of shared faith was to be a highlight of the day.

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After leaving the chapel, a circuit had been planned to get to know Kermaria as an ensemble. We thus paused at the oratory of Saint Joseph the Poor, then stopped in front of the building that had been St Joseph’s Hospital … and each one, in his or her mind, evoked the image of an ancestor who had stayed there !

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And then it was on to a festive meal, in the Sacré Cœur room, still sparkling after its recent renovation ! The archives team had taken charge of the menu, from the aperitif to the dessert. Just bringing it to mind makes more than one of us drool !

In the afternoon, a return to the Archives to take up again the visit of the exhibition and above all to watch the video that forms part of it. Then, towards 17h00, it was afternoon tea and good-byes.

An « unforgettable » day

That is the « word » on everyone’s lips and in all they have written. Why ? “We didn’t expect that !” A surprise then ! Especially for those who discovered Kermaria for the first time : spacious, filled with flowers, not enclosed by walls; imposing and harmonious buildings, perfectly maintained ; elegant interiors with bright colours ; in short, a convent that breaks with the conventional clichés. And in it, elderly sisters, of course, but open to the exterior and in no way out of step with the world of today : the proof can be seen in the E.H.P.A.D. (Establishment for the Elderly Dependant) and the day hospital, both of them open to lay people as well as sisters, as well in the competence of the sisters in mastering new technologies and techniques : computers, audio-visuel, the Internet …

archives 2Surprise also at the day itself !

Beginning with the initiative taken in organising such a meeting !

It’s meticulous organisation !

The festive meal !

And, above all, the warmth of the welcome !

Nevertheless, what was most important for all was the friendly, fraternal and welcoming ambiance that was immediately established in the group, “as if we had always known each other”. In fact, you would have thought it was a family party bringing together relatives, happy to re-find each other after a long separation (which was in fact the case for the Hocquet family). This climate helped promote the exchanges throughout the day.

archives 3Many appreciated the chance to get to know their family history better. Most of them, in fact, onlt had a fairly vague knowledge of their relatives’ stay at Kermaria : reason, circumstances, date of arrival, the duration of the stay, their military career …. essential elements or details that they were happy to clarify thanks to what we knew from our archives or our research. And suddenly, in the mist of the family past, a figure stood out clearly, provoking admiration and affection, and giving more weight and value, it seems, to the present-day existence of their descendants.

All of the participants judged a day like this to have been « a perfect success and a pleasure shared ». Each one was aware of having lived a highpoint, particularly intense and filled with emotion.

The good-byes were not exempt either from a certain nostalgia. But must we talk about good-byes ? All have the intention of coming back to Kermaria, when they are on holiday or travelling in Brittany, accompanied by such and such a member of the family. We ourselves, intend to fit a meeting with our friends from the North and the Marne into the programme of the voyage that we are preparing at this moment for our sisters, and which, from the 17th to the 22nd of April 2015, will lead us on the traces of our soldiers in Artois, the Somme, the Chemin des Dames, to Verdun and the surrounding area. The links we have forged will be maintained and strengthened.

It’s only a good-bye !

Yes, we will see each other again !

Kenavo !

Sister Emma L’HELGOUARC ‘ H

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