WW1

September Guest Spot

In this month’s Guest Spot I’m very pleased to be joined by Valentin Pesant, a young French Commonwealth War Graves Commission gardener, who gives us an insight into his work & his inspirations. Valentin is still learning English so his answers have been translated using an online translator ( My French isn’t that good either!). Hopefully Valentin’s answers come across correctly after translation but for added assurance I’ve also shown his original answers in French for all you clever bilingual folks out there

Valentin Pesant, CWGC (Source Valetin Pesant twitter)

Bienvenue Valentin, Can you begin with telling us a little about yourself and your family?

Je m’appelle valentin, j’ai 22 ans je vis dans un petit village dans le Nord Pas De Calais plus précisément à Ligny Saint Flochel entre Saint Pol Sur Ternoise et Arras.je suis jardinier pour la CWGC, ma soeur et coiffeuse, ma mère et secrétaire médical chez les sapeurs pompier, et mon père et agent de sécurité

My name is Valentin, I am 22 years old. I live in a small village in the Nord Pas De Calais more precisely in Ligny Saint Flochel between Saint Pol Sur Ternoise and Arras. I am a gardener for the CWGC, my sister is a hairdresser, my mother a medical secretary for the fire department, and my father is a security guard

You’re a gardener for the CWGC based in the Ecoivres Group. Which area of France does this cover? Are there any cemeteries or memorials that people will be familiar with?

Je suis jardinier a la CWGC et ma base et a Ecoivres petit village du Nord Pas De Calais. Mon secteur concerne les alentours d’Ecoivres mais aussi dans le Ternois (Saint Pol Sur Ternoise, Hesdin, Fillièvres) nous appelons cela la Vallée car le secteur d’Hesdin et entourée de vallée.Dans mon secteur nous n’avons pas de mémoriaux mais de très grand cimetière par exemple le cimetière d’Ecoivres fait 1 hectare et comptes 1728 stèles du Commonwealth et 786 Français et Allemands. Le cimetière qui a le plus de tombes de guerre que j’entretien et celui de  Duisans, il compte à lui seule 3289 stèles. Mais nous avons aussi un cimetière qui attire beaucoup de visiteur et surtout de fans des Pink Floyd car le grand père de Roger Water repose au cimetière britannique de Maroeuil et il y’a quelques années Roger Water et venu ici au cimetière de Maroeuil avec ses enfants et il y a tournée une vidéo pour rendre hommage à tous ces hommes, ainsi que son grand père pour tous ce qu’ils ont pus faire pour la France, et cette vidéo  est passer pendant un de ces concerts

I am a gardener at the CWGC and my base is at Ecoivres, a small village in Nord Pas De Calais. My sector concerns the surroundings of Ecoivres but also in the Ternois (Saint Pol Sur Ternoise, Hesdin, Fillièvres) we call it the Valley because the Hesdin sector is surrounded by a valley. In my sector we have no memorials but very large cemeteries for example the cemetery at Ecoivres is 1 hectare and counts 1728 Commonwealth Headstones ,786 that are French & German. The cemetery which has the most war graves that I maintain is that of Duisans, it alone has 3289 headstones. We also have a cemetery which attracts a lot of visitors and especially fans of Pink Floyd because Roger Waters Grandfather rests in the British cemetery of Maroeuil and a few years ago Roger Waters came here to the cemetery of Maroeuil with his children and he made a video there to pay homage to all these men, as well as his grandfather for all that they did for France, and this video is shown during one of these concerts.(Editors note: The video is part of a film/ documentary made in 2014 of Pink Floyd’s The Wall by Roger Waters himself. His Grandfather was Sapper 158540 George Henry Waters 256 Tunnelling Company Royal Engineers killed on 14th September 1916. He was from County Durham. The war diary of 256 Tunnelling Co (WO95/488/10) actually records that at 9.50am he was killed by an aerial torpedo and a Private 27559 J Astbury was wounded whilst they were at Agney Les Duissans. Roger Waters father Lt Eric Waters 8th Royal Fusiliers would be killed in the Second World War on 18th February 1944 in Italy and is the inspiration for many songs on the album The Wall)

Grave of Sapper George Henry Waters (Image Valentin Pesant)

How long have you worked for the CWGC and how did you become involved?

Je travaille a la CWGC depuis 2 ans, et ma date d’entrée à CWGC ne peut pas s’oublier car je suis arrivé un 6 juin 2018, alors que 74 ans avant le débarquement avait lieu, je suis devenu impliqué car j’aime mon travail pour qui je le fais et pourquoi je le fais, j’ai beaucoup de respect pour ces hommes et ces femmes qui se sont battue pour notre liberté, je suis très fière de faire parti de la Commonwealth War Graves Commission, voir les familles venir des 4 coins du monde pour prier devant la tombe d’un grand oncle d’un arrière grand père ou d’autre membres de la famille et toujours émouvant a voir mais aussi un grand plaisir d’avoir les remerciements des familles pour l’entretien du cimetière

I have been working at the CWGC for 2 years, and my date of joining the CWGC cannot be forgotten because I arrived on June 6, 2018, 74 years after D Day took place. I became involved because I love my job for who I do it for & why I do it. I have a lot of respect for these men and women who fought for our freedom, I am very proud to be part of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. To see the families come from all over the world to pray in front of the grave of a Great Uncle or a Great-Grandfather or another member of their family is always moving to see but it is also a great pleasure to have the thanks from the families for the maintenance of the cemetery

You and your colleagues all work so hard to keep the cemeteries & memorials looking so clean & tidy,that must give you a great deal of pride but also it must be very hard work? Can you describe a typical working day and what your work involves? 

Il est vrai que notre travaille peu paraître facile à première vue, mais nous devons tenir une qualité irréprochable, je vais donc  vous décrire une journée d’hiver. il faut savoir que l’hiver le gazon et en sommeil il ne pousse donc plus ainsi que les fleurs et les arbres, l’hiver notre travail consiste à planter des plantes devants les stèles la ou il en manque car peut être que l’été d’avant le soleil a brûlé la plantes et celle ci n’a pas survécu, mais si je change une seule plante il faut que je regarde sur toute la bordure si celle ci y est encore et  si je dois la changer aussi, il ne faut jamais laisser une stèles sans plante elle doit être toujours fleurie le long de l’année, notre travail consiste a garder le cimetière propre et fleurie tout le long de l’année chaque plante que nous plantons pousse dans chaque saisons, une plante qui fleurit au printemps quand celle ci ne fleurit plus celle d’été reprend la relève et quand celle d’été et terminer celle de l’automnes arrive. toujours de la couleur le long de l’année, mais il y’a aussi du desherbage et du binnage avant l’ariver du primtemps.

It is true that our work may seem easy at first glance, but we have to maintain impeccable quality, so I will describe a winter day to you. You should know that in winter the grass is dormant and therefore no longer grows as well as the flowers and trees. In winter our work consists of planting plants in front of the headstones where they are missing because perhaps in the summer the sun had burnt the plants and this one did not survive. But if I change a single plant I have to look over the entire border if it is still there and if I have to change it too, we must never leave a headstone without a plant & it must always be in bloom throughout the year. Our job is to keep the cemetery clean and in bloom throughout the year each plant that we plant grows in each season, a plant that blooms in the spring when it no longer blooms, the summer one then takes over again and when the summer one finishes that of the autumn arrives. Always colour throughout the year, but there is also weeding and hoeing to be done before the spring arrives

Is there a cemetery or memorial that you like the most? And why?

J’aime beaucoup le mémorial de Vimy, Thiepval, Villers Bretonneux, ils sont d’une architecture incroyable qui représente les forces du Commonwealth venu ici en France se battre pour un pays qui n’était le leur et venir mourir pour nous libérer des nazis, quand le 10 novembre arrive ici en France il y’a une cérémonie au monument Canadien de Vimy j’y vais tous les ans et je peux vous dire que l’émotion est très grandes, un joueur de cornemuse et la ainsi qu’un trompettiste  quand il joue les hymnes aux morts ou les hymnes nationaux et que cela résonne dans les plaines de Vimy vous attraper des frissons dans le dos

I really like the memorial of Vimy, Thiepval,Villers Bretonneux, they are of an incredible architecture which represents the forces of the Commonwealth who came to France to fight for a country which was not theirs and they died to free us from the Germans , when November 10 (sic 11th) arrives here in France there is a ceremony at the Canadian Vimy monument. I go there every year and I can tell you that the emotion is very great. A bagpipe player as well as a trumpeter & when it plays hymns to the dead or the national anthems and it echoes across the Vimy Plains it sends chills down your spine

You take some beautiful photographs that you kindly share via twitter. Has photography been something that you have always had an interest in?

Je dois avouer que la photographie n’était pas  une chose au quelle je me suis intéressé étant jeune, mais au début de mes premiers  mois a la CWGC  j’ai commencer a prendre des photos de nos sites, et poster sur Twitter, et c’est avec stupéfaction que les personnes sur twitter aimer mon travail pour qui je le faisais   ils ont aussi un respect envers le travail que j’effectue, des responsables de la CWGC on commencer a me suivre sur le réseau Twitter et il y’a aussi une personne a la CWGC qui m’a donné envie de continuer dans la photos de nos sites mais aussi des fleurs qu’on peut planter et des mémoriaux. il y’a aussi le  drone il m’a appris a l’utiliser a prendre de magnifique vidéo et photos maintenant on se donne chacun de petit conseil pour la qualité de nos photos ou vidéo. Maintenant quand j’arrive dans un site je vais prendre une photo d’une rose mais essayer de jouer avec le soleil, l’emplacement de la rose avec la steles derrière si la rose et rouge et la steles et blanche les couleurs ressorte, j’essaye de prendre une photos différente de celle qu’on peut prendre tous les jours. mais je ne pourrais plus me passer de mon téléphone ou mon drone pour prendre des vidéos ou photos de nos sites

I have to admit that photography was not something I was interested in as a youngster, but at the beginning of my first months at the CWGC I started taking pictures of our sites, and posting on Twitter, and it is with amazement that the people on twitter loved my work for who i was doing it for & they also have a respect for the work i do. Officials from the CWGC started following me on twitter and there was also a person at the CWGC who made me want to continue in the photos of our sites but also of the flowers that can be planted & the memorials. There is also the drone he taught me how to use. It takes wonderful videos and photos now we each give each other a little advice for the quality of our photos or videos. Now when I arrive in a site I will take a picture of a rose but try to play with the sun, the location of the rose with the headstones behind. If they are pink or red roses the headstone and it’s white colours stand out. I try to take a different picture than the one you can take every day. But I can no longer do without my phone or my drone to take videos or photos of our sites

Duissans Cemetery (Image Valentin Pesant)

Do you have any personal family connection to the Great War or indeed the Second World War?

J’ai un arrière grand père qui a fait la première guerre mondial il était caporal de la cavalerie, nous avons récemment retrouvé une photos de lui en uniformes, j’ai ma grand mère aussi qui a aujourd’hui 91 ans qui a vécu la seconde guerre mondial les allemands sont venu chez elle pour chercher les matelas, et quand les anglais sont arrivés ma grand mère et aller les voir  et un anglais a donné une petite vierge a ma grand mère qui a son tour me la donner elle est toujours dans mon polaire de travail

I have a great-grandfather who fought in the First World War he was a cavalry corporal, we recently found a picture of him in uniform. I also have my grandmother who is now 91 years old who lived through WWII the Germans came to her house to look for mattresses. When the English arrived my grandmother went to see them and an Englishman gave a little Virgin Mary to my grandmother who in turn gave it to me. She is still in my work fleece

France suffered greatly in both world wars and lived for many years under German occupation. How is the Great War or La Grande Guerre viewed in France today? Is there much interest?

Il y’a beaucoup d’intérêt en France pour la première comme la deuxième guerre mondial surtout dans ma région le Nord Pas De Calais ainsi que la Somme et aussi en Normandie

There is a lot of interest in France for the First and Second World War especially in my region the Nord Pas De Calais as well as on the Somme and also in Normandy

Do you have any plans or career aspirations in working for the CWGC?

Oui,j’ai des projets au seins de la CWGC je souhaite monter dans l’avenir encadrer mon équipe puis un groupe et par la suite je voudrais être superviseur de l’assurance et qualité de nos cimetière partout en France

Yes, I have projects within the CWGC. I would like to go up in the future to supervise my team then a group and then I would like to be supervisor of the assurance and quality of our cemeteries throughout France

If the CWGC gave you the chance to work anywhere in the world where would you choose?

Si la CWGC je me donnait la chance de travailler n’importe ou je choisirai la Normandie je suis attiré depuis tout petit par cette région passionnée de l’histoire des 2 grandes guerre, oui j’irai en Normandie j’envisage de partir d’ici quelques années, après peut être en UK pour apprendre a parler Anglais

If the CWGC gave myself the chance to work anywhere I would choose Normandy. I have been attracted from a very young age by this region. I’m passionate about the history of the 2 major wars, yes I will go to Normandy. I plan to leave here in a few years, after maybe i visit the UK to learn to speak English

A few quick questions if I may

Rugby or Football fan?

Rugby

Red or White Wine?

Je ne bois pas de vin

I don’t drink wine

Favourite Celebrity?

Célébrité je ne sais pas Série oui Game Of Thrones un acteur et venu visiter notre musée mais personne ne me la dit j’étais déçu 

Celebrity I don’t know. Series yes Game Of Thrones. An actor came to visit our museum but nobody told me I was disappointed

Favourite season of the year?

Printemps/Hiver

Spring / Winter

Valentin, I would like to thank you for being my guest this month & to say a huge Thank You to you & all your colleagues for the work you do. Is there a final message that you’d like to say to the readers or the families of the fallen of the UK & Commonwealth that you so lovingly look after? 

Ne jamais oublier nos soldats que leur mémoire vivent a jamais

Never forget our soldiers whose memory lives on forever

You can follow Valentin on twitter @valetinpst and see his wonderful photos and the work that he and his colleagues carry out for the CWGC

Join me next month for another Guest Spot taking a slightly different route whereby it’ll be a Guest feature article

3 thoughts on “September Guest Spot”

  1. So nice to read your post. I was planning to visit a WWII cemetery in France last spring before Covid hit. It’s nice to hear a personal story d’un jeune homme qui s’occupe d’un tel endroit avec soin et respect.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I really really enjoyed this post from Valentin. A few years ago I was visiting my Great Uncle at Pozieres Memorial and there were a couple of gardeners working hard. I asked if I could take their photograph and the older one was thrilled – he said in 20 years no-one had ever asked that before. I thanked them profusely for the wonderful work they do and am really pleased to see this being more widely appreciated on Twitter.
    I love to see Valentin’s tweets and his photographs. He is a talented and thoughtful young man and I wish him the greatest of success in his career with the CWGC.

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s