Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A cross-Channel connection

I had the good fortune today to be given a personal tour of the Musée Maritime in Carantec by Jean-Pierre Daffniet, President of the museum association.  On one side of the road there's a well-presented room devoted to resistance evacuations from Carantec to England during WWII, plus a highly symbolic artefact - the actual boat, Le Requin (The Shark), in which local boat-builder Ernest Sibiril got a small group away on October 31st, 1943. Among these was George Wood, an English pilot who miraculously escaped after his plane exploded over Ploujean and was hidden for months by the resistance before being taken across to Plymouth. J-P Daffniet spoke movingly of his recent encounters with George Wood, who visited Carantec and Morlaix in 2010 at the age of 90.
Across the road the main building has two large rooms of maritime memorabilia such as objects recovered from the Malouin corsaire ship L'Alcide, which went down nearby in 1747, numerous models of boats and some curiosities like scrimshaws and, weirdest of all, a tiny model of an allied plane made by the Germans to educate anti-aircraft gunners about what to look for overhead.
What I particularly liked about this museum was that all temptation to chuck in anything vaguely related to the themes has been resisted: what is here is a telling local record of important experiences. Many of the families involved in war-time activities are still here, many buildings where allied airmen and Free French fighters were hidden under the very noses of large German contingents remain. The emphasis is on individuals, who spring to life under M.Daffniet's articulate rendering of quiet heroism and fortitude in a time of profound uncertainty and danger. His narrative brings home the extraordinary responsibility and risk borne by almost the entire community of Carantec to shield and succour those who needed to be saved.
It is a proud, though sobering memory that belongs collectively to its community, however much it also represents a piece of the jigsaw of events repeated all along the north coast. The museum association is not just preserving the past but transfering local heritage - a precious possession - from one generation to the next so that no-one will forget what has shaped post-war society in Carantec.

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