The Guns of August, 1914: Minna’s Story

100 years ago this month, England and Germany went to war: the war that was going to be over by Christmas. Normandy and Picardy (France) suffered the most, as the countryside was totally destroyed — unexploded mines and bombs are still being carefully removed from these fields a century later.

In the midst of this turmoil, an English soldier and a young French girl from Normandy met and fell in love. Minna (my ex-husband’s great-aunt) was so enthralled with her lover that she learned to speak English very well. But neither set of parents would allow them to get married, as the countries had “always” been enemies.

The English soldier gave Minna a necklace, which I interpreted to be more symbolic — like a poem — than purely aesthetic. In 1977, I met her for the first time and she vehemently told me — in flawless English, in front of her astonished, uncomprehending family — what had happened in the Great War. When she died, her sister gave me the necklace, which Minna had wanted me to have, as I was “almost” English.

It is actually very small and it looks like this (the arrows point to my interpretation of the symbolism of the parts of the necklace):

necklaceWhen you turn it over, the disc above the “crescent moon” is gold, and to me, it represents the sun.

Coincidentally, the Andersen family in Le Havre (Normandy) had established a café/bar in the old (16th-century) part of the city (which was destroyed by American bombs in the next war). The bar was called “le Pole Nord” (the North Pole). Somehow this necklace fits the image of that crazy time when Normandy was still very Scandinavian and an entire generation of very young men died horribly in the muddy fields outside the city.

I go to the “Eternal Light” memorial for the American “doughboys” in Madison Square Park and look at the little electric bulb absurdly encased in a plastic (or isinglass?) star, that tops a pole above a huge monument erected in 1923. People sit on it and send texts, but they never look at the names of the battles engraved on the steps on which they are sitting.

All those young men have been forgotten, as has the doomed love affair between a young English soldier and his Norwegian-French girl, Minna.

About Nancy

Nancy Hoffmann began studying Zen Buddhism in 1992 and has dedicated this site to meditating on what she sees and believes. She is not averse to sharing laughter as well.
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