In late October, Patrick Foster Smith, known locally for publishing In My Father’s Footsteps, the WW1 diaries of his father Harry, a lieutenant in the 216th (Nuneaton) Army Troops Company, Royal Engineers, travelled to Camblain-Châtelain (Nord-Pas-de Calais) a small town in France some 8 hours by car and ferry from Coleshill. Responding to an invitation from the town’s Comité Historique, Patrick, together with Brian and Paddy Nicholson, set up a bookstall in Camblain’s Salle des Fêtes, alongside displays that included a full-scale trench, first aid post, canteen, mortars, bombs and numerous showcases filled with items retrieved from the battlefields that surrounded the town a century ago.
The town’s weekend Commemoration of the Centenary of the Armistice began on Saturday morning with the inauguration of the newly-sited war memorial. It was a colourful ceremony with two marching bands, a mass of standard bearers and army veterans watched by a large crowd. Local children read out the names of the 80 local men who had died in the conflict. Wreathes were laid at the foot of the monument, among them a poppy wreath brought by Patrick. (In France cornflowers are as much associated with the Armistice as are poppies). In conclusion Mayor Lelio Pedrini spoke of the pain and sacrifice endured in the battles of Artois and elsewhere.
Soon after, in the Salle de Fêtes, the exhibition was buzzing with activity. The British stand promoted much interest and many books changed hands, particularly Sur les Traces de Mon Père, the French version of the diaries kindly translated by Patrick’s friend Gérard Laporte.