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Culture

Jumelage de Sidcup et Arleux-en-Gohelle

By Patricia Connell
12/03/2007

First World War memory lives on and initiates twinning between Sidcup and Arleux-en-Gohelle

 

When was the last time you heard of towns twinning? A common practice in the 70s when I was growing up, it has all but disappeared from the political agenda. Encouraged after the war as a means to getting to know your foreign neighbours, twinning was meant to improve communication and strengthen ties between countries at a grass-roots level. It certainly did the trick for some of us who, like me, ended up finding a soul mate. My husband and I will celebrate our 26th anniversary this year.

So when Christopher Price from Sidcup contacted me a few weeks ago and asked me if I would be interested in attending their twinning event, I accepted the invitation on a very personal note. It was only later however, when Chris gave me the background story to their twinning with Arleux-en-Gohelle, that I became truly fascinated by the upcoming occasion.

 

Late in 2000, the news broke in the local paper (the News Shopper) that the body of a young soldier from the 1st World War had been found near Arras (northern France). He was identified from records as 2nd Lt. Marcel Simon of the 1st Battalion. Royal Berhshire Regiment. Local interest was aroused because Marcel Simon was originally from the Sidcup area.

His remains were discovered whilst contractors were digging to build the foundations for a new supermarket in northern France. Thanks to an old custom amongst army officers, his name was engraved on his belt and this helped identify him from the list of soldiers missing in action during the 1st World War. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission contacted Merton Court School and asked if the school wished to send representative to the internment – an invitation that was of course accepted.

 

After the funeral service, The Mayor of Arleux-en-Gohelle, Mr Guy Marquis,  introduced the idea that links should be strengthened between the two communities of Sidcup and Arleux-en-Gohelle. Subsequently, a party from Arleux shared Merton Court School’s Remembrance Day Parade in 2005 and a delegation from Sidcup made a  visit to Arleux  in 2006.

 

It is also worth pointing out that Marcel Simon, who was half French, had been to the Merton Court school in Sidcup. The School had a tradition in those days of having many of its young boys joining as army cadets. This is reflected in the 36 ‘Lost Boys’ names displayed on the school memorial. Marcel Simon’s name is now alongside his other fallen comrades.

 

FranceInLondon.com was there on Friday 9th March when once more a small group of representatives, including Mr Guy Marquis, Mayor of Arleux, came to Sidcup to strengthen the relations between the two towns. Dominic and Christopher Price, both avid linguists (Dominic is also headmaster of Merton Court School), made sure that the day was going to be a success. Nothing was left to chance. Wreaths were led in front of the memorial by all parties present.

Marcel Simon can be assured that his death was not for nothing and that his memory will live on.

 

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