Les Casernes of St. Hippolyte du Fort
In our little town, St. Hippolyte du Fort, there exists an impressive limestone building. Within its walls, we find our Silk Museum, several office spaces, plus a pleasant restaurant. The rectangular structure surrounds a lovely interior courtyard, now a venue for various cultural events.
Built by King Louis XIV to house his infamous dragoons, which thankfully removed the soldiers from Huguenot homes, where they exerted atrocious pressure on the Protestants to convert.
Called the"casernes" or barracks, it was then used for the troops of Napoleon III.
At the end of the 19th century, it developed into one of four military schools in France. From 1886 to 1934, some 500 boys aged 8-19 trained here for the French army.
"The Military School of Saint-Hippolyte-du-Fort * The oldest and the youngest"
For almost 50 years, the sound of marching and music filled the town. Many of the boys later died for their country, commemorated by this poignant (creepy?) statue.
"Military Prep School of St Hippolyte du Fort * To her Glorious Dead"
It's hard to imagine children training for war, much less participating in battle. I can't find information on the age required for the young men sent to the field, but I hope they were at least in their late teens.
Back in the day, this type of education provided a profession and a purpose. The service and sacrifice of all such military personnel continue to be honored and commemorated throughout France (and elsewhere).
May 8, 2023
May 8, 2023 * World War Memorial
During World War II, the pro-Nazi Vichy government in France used the casernes to house captured British soldiers. After these prisoners often escaped from a fort in Marseille, the authorities relocated them to St. Hippolyte.
This did nothing to improve the situation. The story goes that the Pro-British officer in charge let the detainees roam freely through town during the day. Often seen at local cafés, playing boules with the locals, and just generally strolling around, the villagers' natural sympathy towards the prisoners of their enemy grew.
The French officer in charge also announced that he'd ordered roll call to be taken only in the morning. This generous gesture, giving escaping prisoners an ample head start, plus the active help of local Resistance and kind locals, 166 out of 400 escaped. Needless to say, after 14 months, authorities moved the captured Brits to a more secure prison near Nice.
What strikes me in this heart-warming story is the courage of those who risked their own imprisonment, or worse, to help others. May we do the same should the need arise.
Off the courtyard into town
Inside the rounded passageways, we find these blocked up doors. I'd love to know what they originally led to and why they're now closed off. Any ideas?
The El Gusanillo Restaurant housed in the bottom right corner not only has a lovely terrace, but a sense of humor as well. Upon entering, you are greeted with these fun chalkboard quips.
#1- We will serve you milk only if!!! the cows eat grapes
#2- Stay relaxed!! We have munitions/supplies
#3- Here, the only arm we tolerate is the corkscrew
Of course, no need for soldiers at all would be vastly preferable. Unfortunately, war and bloodshed have existed since the beginning of time. Thankfully, there is hope. There will be a moment when Jesus Christ returns to rule and reign with justice and all that is right. Peace will be the order of the day.
Enjoy this poem by Mary Starck:
The Reign of Peace
Some day, some happy day,
All forms of strife shall cease,
And may it be not far away––
The time when all is peace;
On every sea, on every shore,
The sound of war shall be no more.
Some time, some happy time,
And may that time be near––
Injustice, cruelty and crime
From earth shall disappear;
For Christ shall come to be our King,
And every tongue with joy shall sing
That time, that happy time,
Which this whole world shall bless,
Will bring to view a sight sublime––
The reign of righteousness;
For Christ alone shall be our King,
And every tongue His praise shall sing.
His love, His wondrous love,
Shall soften every heart,
As it comes down from heaven above,
While sin shall then depart,
And every tongue with joy shall sing,
When Christ has come to be our King.
La vie est belle...