Monday, January 26, 2015

Perennial problem

I'm writing about Morlaix for a new guide to Finistère, and the creation of the text soon brings up the perennial problem of guidebooks. It's important to write about the famous viaduct, a work of art as much as functional architecture. When and why it was built are essentials. How it transformed journey times between Brest and Paris must certainly be mentioned to give the economic context of such a major construction. Then of course it's necessary to describe the RAF bombing raid on January 29 1943 that killed 67 civilians. Surely people will want to know that of those victims, 39 were children between the ages of 4 and 7, studying the catechism with their teacher in a school at the western end of the viaduct, not least because a little chapel 'of the angels' built in its place to mark their collective burial on the spot can be visited today. And that's really as far as I can go.
There's no room to write about the painful religious manoeuvrings that presented the tragedy as God's will, a new 'Slaughter of the Innocents', the children as chosen martyrs for the redemption of others (a stance which not surprisingly roused some of their parents to anger). And how barely a word was spared for the other 20 who died. Or the political repercussions and attempts to stir anti-English feeling: La Bretagne's headline on February 1 read 'Raid terroriste de l'aviation anglo-américaine sur Morlaix. Or to analyze the extraordinary decision of the allies to make such a day-time raid where large loss of civilian life was highly likely instead of targeting other viaducts carrying the same railway across other valleys in the middle of unpopulated countryside. Or the fact that only one arch of the viaduct was hit, and that the Germans had the trains running normally again only eight days later...

No comments: