Friday, July 15, 2016

Australia and New Zealand invited to Paris for Bastille Day and an addendum

Troops from Australia and New Zealand were guests of honor in Paris national celebration day called "le 14 juillet" in France (but Bastille's Day outside the country.)  The two Oceania countries were invited to commemorate the Battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest battles of World War I.  This battle centenary was celebrated on July 1, 2016, in Thiepval, Somme, France.  I wrote about this in my last post.  The Australian Imperial Force (AIF) had sent 295,000 men to France and Belgium to serve in WWI between March 1916 and November 1918.  Of these, 132,000 became casualties and 46,000 lost their lives.

New Zealand Forces had a total of 364 Pacific Islanders and 2688 Maori in addition to regular troops serving on the Western Front in the 1916-1918 war.  A total of 18,500 New Zealanders died in or because of the war and nearly 50,000 more were wounded.

 The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps suffered more than 30,000 casualties in the Battle of the Somme alone, and their sacrifice has not been forgotten by France.  As guests of honor Australia and New Zealand marched in the parade.  Eight Maori warriors were at the head of the parade, followed by 72 New Zealand soldiers and 133 Australian soldiers.  It is the first time that the flags they were carrying had been paraded together outside of New Zealand.  A party of Maori warriors opened the parade this morning.  A Maori warrior, Private Adrian Te Aonui, ran along the Champs-Elysees in a dress rehearsal and was photographed by the international media.

I got up at 4:30 am this morning, July 14, 2016, to watch the parade live on my computer (10:30 am Paris time.)  I took several photos from my screen, but some are not very clear.

The parade was led by Maori warriors followed by an 85-strong New Zealand Defense Force (NZDF) contingent, many wearing replica World War One uniforms.  There were also regimental colors and banners representing NZDF units that served in WWI.  Lieutenant Colonel Eugene Whakahoehoe was leading the contingent and wore the Ngā Tapuwae kahu huruhuru Māori feather cloak in recognition of his exemplary conduct and contribution to the NZDF.  (Click on collage to enlarge.)

A TV reporter interviewed one of the Maori warriors and asked about his weapon.  He explained that it was a "taiaha" a traditional weapon made of wood and used for short, sharp strikes with quick footwork from the wielder.  The warrior had also placed a new engraving showing the trip to Paris drawn as a friendly link between New Zealand and France.

The Maori warrior party in the parade was comprised of personnel from all three services of the NZDF.  The Maori warriors were known as a fierce, unforgiving slayer of the South Seas.  The Parisians were quite impressed (and so was I.)

Prime Minister John Key of New Zealand and his family attended this Bastille Day celebration in Paris with French President Francois Hollande.  New Zealand Chief of Defense Force Lieutenant General Tim Keating said it was an honor to march in one of the world's oldest and largest military parades.  "This is an historic occasion for the New Zealand Defence Force and a fitting opportunity to reaffirm our enduring relationship with France, especially during the First World War centenary" he said.  He added that there were more New Zealand service personnel with known and unkown graves buried in France than anywhere else in the world.  The nine New Zealand Army regimental colors, including the Queen Alexandra's Mounted Rifles guidon, carried World War I battle honors and represented regions across New Zealand.  The Governor-General of Australia, Sir Peter John Cosgrove, was also present.  The Australian Defense Force marched in a "position of honor."  Contingents included the Royal Australian Navy, Army and Royal Australian Air Force and a tri-service flag party, or in total 140 members.  It is the first time that both Australian and New Zealand forces have paraded in Paris since 1880.  France and Australia have deepened their ties since Australia signed a contract last April to have France design and build a 34 billion euro ($39 billion) next generation submarine for them.

The parade had a total of 3,239 men and women walking, 241 on horses, 212 vehicles, 55 aircraft, 30 helicopters and 35 specialized working dogs.  The only novelty this year was that the French Customs (Douane) personnel were  marching down the Champs-Elysees for the first time in almost 100 years. They had come down once before, in 1919, for the Victory parade celebrating the bravery of their agents during WWI.  The Customs services were re-activated after the 13 November 2015 terror attack in Paris at the Bataclan.  To enable them to march in unison the 49 Customs agents were trained for 6 hours during three weeks.

I was pleased to have gotten up during the night to watch this parade live.  The fireworks would come later on but I wanted to watch the Tour de France next.  I went down to the kitchen for a quick cup of coffee and turned on the television at 7:30 am to watch the 12th stage of the Tour.  I did not want to miss this stage because I knew they were supposed to finish at the top of Mont Ventoux.  I remember the Mont Ventoux well from when I was a wee child.  I lived close to its base, in the small town of Vaison-la-Romaine, with my grandparents until I was about 4 years old.  It is called the Giant of Provence, rising 350 to 1,912 meters high (6273 feet) with a lunar landscape at its top.  Since 1990 it has been listed as a Biosphere reserve by UNESCO.  It has a unique biodiversity of more than 1,000 species of plants, flowers, trees, 120 varieties of birds including golden eagles and duck hawks.  In my 2009 post about the Tour de France I wrote about the Mont Ventoux - click here to see it.  In that post I showed a photo of my granddad and me in Vaison.  I returned  as a teenager and stayed in my grandparents' friends' farm in Vaison, near lavender fields, for monthly vacations.

Since then I always wished to return to Vaison-la-Romaine.  I went back to Provence several times but never made it back to Vaison.  We did go to Nice in October 2012 and rented an apartment not far from the Promenade des Anglais for a week, but we did not have a car.  I included a picture of the bay of Nice I took in late October 2012 in the collage above.  That picture was in a post on Nice I wrote on another Tour de France in 2013 - click here to read it.   I still have many pictures of Nice and need to write another post in the future.  But let's get back to the Tour.  Because of fierce winds, with gusts measuring 104 kph, it was decided that this stage would finish at Chalet Reynard, a ski resort restaurant, about 9.5 km (approx 6 miles) from the top.  So far the cyclists had had a good run, although the wind, called "le Mistral" was blowing hard.

Thousands of spectators had been already camping along the route to Mont Ventoux and had to retreat to the small restaurant.  The crowd was immense along the narrow road as they had to assemble at the finish instead of being along the 6 mile road.  The Chalet Reynard is an old ski refuge dating to 1927 which was updated as a restaurant.  It stands at 1,417 meters (4650 ft,) alone, on the road to the top of the mountain.  This is why this stage ended in chaos.

As I watched TV in disbelief, the yellow jersey (winner of the Tour so far) British Chris Froome, was walking then running up the road without his bicycle!  A first in all the years I have been watching the Tour.  What had happened is this - less than 1 km from the finish the camera motorcycle had to stop in front of a wall of 100-200 people standing on the road.  Australian cyclist Richie Porte collided violently against the stopped motorcycle and Chris Froome piled on top of him.  Then another motorcyclist ran over Chris' bicycle and broke it.  Without a bike Christ started to jog up the mountain for a couple of minutes so as not to lose time.  Spectators watching this and other cyclists passing him were in shock.  It certainly was a mess, it was crazy.  Then he was handed a "neutral" bike that he tried to ride a bit, but could not.  Finally he was given another bike and finished, but late.

The Tour de France race jury ruled that Chris Froome had lost his bike through no fault of his own and let him retain the yellow jersey.  Chris said "Ventoux is full of surprises ... I am happy with the jury's decision."  It certainly was a wacky conclusion to the 12th stage today.  It is a farce for the Tour that will be talked about for years.  I think that the race organizers need to keep better control of the crowds, and above all on Bastille Day when everyone is out; they need to respect the cyclists.  It is like if spectators were allowed in pools while swimmers were in a swimming match - that is not right.  Anyway it had been a fun Bastille Day and I am pleased I got up to watch all of it.  I came back up to the computer this afternoon after watching the Tour to write this post and now, at 7:15 pm, am finally going down to fix dinner.  I am still reading on Brexit and will try to talk about it in my next post.


Addendum - Friday 15 July, 2016.  Yesterday evening after finishing the above post I went downstairs and saw the end of the news on TV.  My husband had been watching but because of his Alzheimer had not understood what had happened in France.  I was stunned by the horror of the tragedy: a massacre of happy families with children and tourists on the 14 of July enjoying the fireworks in our lovely city of Nice - truly a city for joie de vivre.  The Promenade des Anglais (The English Walk) is beautiful and a destination for happiness, not despair.  The truck, without its lights on, zigzagged on the Promenade for over a mile mowing adults, children and babies - he killed at least 84, including 10 children, and there are over 200 in hospitals including 52 critically injured.  A hero jumped in the cab and seized the driver's revolver.  This hero saved many lives by stopping the truck on its murderous route.  The police was able then to shoot the terrorist down.  I did not feel like going back up to the computer last night and publish my happy post about Bastille Day.  Now I added a sad cartoon by Plantu to my heading picture.  What can I say?  I just have intense grief.  How many more cities and countries can we keep adding to - je suis Charlie, je suis Paris, je suis Beyrouth, je suis Bamako, je suis Bruxelles, je suis Orlando, je suis Bagdad, je suis Bangladesh, je suis Istanbul and now je suis Nice?  Je suis infiniment triste (I am infinitely sad.)

Friday, July 8, 2016

The Tour de France 2016 - part 1

July already - the month of the Tour de France!  This year it started on Saturday July 2, 2016, at the Mont St Michel in France.  By the time it ends on the Champs Elysees in Paris on Sunday July 24, 2016, the cyclists will have run a total distance of 3,519 kilometers or 2,186 miles.  The route will cover 23 stages: 9 flat, 1 hilly, 9 mountain including 4 summit finishes, 2 individual time trial stages and 2 rest days.  The 103rd Tour de France will visit three countries: Spain, the Principality of Andorra and Switzerland.  (Click on collage to enlarge.)

There are 22 teams with 198 riders starting the 2016 Tour.  This year the riders come from Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Republic of South Africa, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, the USA, Ukraine and Wales.  It is truly an international sport even reaching 3.5 billion viewers, live and on television, in 188 countries.  I explained some facts about the Tour in a post in July 2009 - you can read it here.  The first stage, on July 2, 2016, ended in Utah Beach, Normandy.  Photos of Utah Beach and former German bunkers below.
Utah Beach was the code name for the furthest west of the five beaches designated, during World War II, for the D-Day landings of June 6, 1944.  20,000 men landed there with 1,700 military vehicles.  Because of strong winds, they landed almost 2 km south from where the German soldiers were stationed, resulting in only 197 US casualties (or less than 300 overall.)  Mark Cavendish, from the Isle of Wight in the UK won a well deserved yellow jersey for the Tour de France first stage, ending in Utah Beach.  It made him immensely happy, because of the historical significance of the place, and because he had won 27 green jerseys (for sprinting) from taking part in several Tour de France races, but never a yellow jersey, as a winner of a stage.

The day prior to the start of the Tour de France, Friday July 1st, 2016, was the 100th year anniversary of another battle, the Battle of the Somme during WWI (north of Normandy, in pink in the map below.)

This battle was a lot deadlier.  The battle started at 7:30 am on July 1st, 1916.  The British Army alone suffered 57,470 casualties by the end of the first day, including 19,240 men killed.  The battle lasted 141 days resulting in over 1.2 million casualties on all sides with Allies advancing only a total of five miles.  Four million men, from around the world, were involved in the Battle of the Somme, from Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa, etc., in addition to the French, British and German armies.  It is estimated that it was the deadliest clash of the Great War.  (Click on collage twice to be able to read postcard captions.)

On July 1, 2016, commemorative evens were held in Manchester, London and France.  10,000 guests (half French, half British) were invited in Thiepval, France, one of the main battlefields.  French President Francois Hollande was joined by British Prime Minister David Cameron, the royal couple Kate and William, Prince Harry, as well as Prince Charles and his wife Camilla.  Former German President Horst Koehler was there and Irish President Michael D. Higgins.  Six hundred children (half French, half British) placed wreaths by the graves of fallen soldiers.

Initially, France was to be represented by Prime Minister Manuel Valls.  But at the last minute, and despite the British people decision to leave the European Union (EU,) French President Francois Hollande came to "show friendship between the French and British peoples."  A week earlier Great Britain had voted to leave the EU, after the Brexit referendum. 

I'd like to end this post by pointing out that all 198 participants of the Tour started today, July 8th, 2016, in stage 7.  There was no abandon by anyone in the first six stages - a first time in the history of the Tour de France.  A British rider, Stephen Cummings, member of the South African team, won this 7th stage.

More to come in part two ...  
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