Units Overseas Tour: France

Written by: Lynn Young, President General
October 30, 2014

After a fabulous week touring Scotland, Virginia Lingelbach, National Chair of Units Overseas, my husband, Steve, and I flew from Edinburgh to Paris for the first of six visits to our Units Overseas chapters.  Arriving in Paris at noon on Saturday, October 11, we were escorted from the airport to the hotel by my Personal Page, Frédérique de Beaumont, State Librarian, where we were greeted by State Regent Dominique Favreul and Rochambeau Chapter Regent Lucy Morin. Following our reception, we were given a private tour of selected works at the Louvre, including the Mona Lisa, conducted by Chapter Treasurer Caroline de Navacelle who is a National Registered Guide with privileges at the Louvre. 

Later that evening, the State Regent hosted a dinner for our delegation, the State and Chapter officers at the 1728 Restaurant, a perfect location in which to toast the 124th anniversary of the founding of the National Society.  This historic building was the Paris mansion of the Marquis de Lafayette and is the home in which he died in 1834. The rooms were appointed with paintings and furnishings from the 18th century when he occupied the premises.  The building’s owner, Jean-Francois Chuet, provided the group with a private tour of Lafayette’s study and library where he received guests and diplomatic representatives.  These rooms are restricted from the public and were opened by special arrangement for our visit.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Great War in France, although the U.S. did not officially join the war until 1917.  Thousands of lives were lost and many of the areas were decimated by the attack.  Everywhere we went, there were reminders of the devastation of the war.  My great-aunt, Paralee Parish, was a Red Cross nurse in France during the War and I was thrilled when Frédérique presented me with a book listing her service.

Sunday started early with a motor coach tour of the Northeastern region of France enroute to our destination to the town of Tilloloy, the site of the memorial fountain which commemorates the gift made by the NSDAR in 1921 to reconstruct the municipal water system for the town after its destruction during World War I.  There we were greeted by Mayor Gerard Comyn and members of the town council.  Almost one hundred years later, the town is very grateful for the assistance of NSDAR, without which the town could not have been rebuilt.  Mayor Comyn joined me in placing a wreath at the fountain.  Following an interview by the regional newspaper, Courrier Picard, the delegation and guests toured the town church, built in the 16th century and nearly destroyed in World War II.  A reception offered by the town council in honor of the NSDAR was hosted by Mademoiselle d’Andigne at her home, the Chateau of Tilloloy.  Please read the December 1921 issue of the Magazine for more information on the dedication. 

Following the presentation of gifts, we bid farewell, reboarded the coaches for the drive to the village of Bony, location of the World War I American Military Cemetery, La Somme, managed by the American Battle Monuments Commission.  We were greeted by Cemetery Superintendent, Eric Barker, who provided an overview of the history of the cemetery. Mayor Comyn joined me in placing a wreath at the gravesite of Helen Fairchild, a World War I nurse and NSDAR member from Pennsylvania.  Following the remembrance, we participated in lowering the American Flag as the cemetery closed.  After a very moving day, we boarded the bus for the two hour drive back into Paris during which Frédérique interviewed me for a chapter video.

As we began our second full day in France we were joined by Rochambeau Chapter Associate Member Becky Osbourn, a member of Louisiana Purchase Chapter in Missouri, and her husband, James, President of the Spirit of St. Louis Chapter SAR.  Dr. Ellen Hampton, professor of history at the Sciences Polotiques University in Paris and chapter member, served as a guide for the tour of Picpus Cemetery and chapel and a driving tour of the historical monuments and landmarks of Paris, including statues of La Fayette and George Washington, partially financed by the NSDAR in 1900. It was at the same time that Mrs. Manning, President General 1898-1901 represented the U.S. President at the World Exposition in 1900.

Our next visit was to Picpus Cemetery and church.  In 1640, a religious convent was founded for the education of young girls.  Between June 14th and July 27th, 1794, during the Great Terror, 16,594 were sent to the guillotine.  In the area of the Picpus Cemetery, 1,306 persons from various social backgrounds, aged between 16 and 85, were executed in the Place du Trône Revnersé, now renamed Place de la Nation.  Among those were elderly nuns and the grandmother, mother and sister of Adrienne Noailles, wife of the General Marquis de Lafayette.  Most of those victims are in a mass grave in the cemetery and descendants are eligible to be buried there.  The Marquis de Lafayette chose to be buried with his wife and her family.  His grave is always decorated with an American Flag, and even throughout the Nazi occupation during World War II, the flag remained.  A chapel was built to honor the victims and their names are listed on large plaques.

Rochambeau Chapter is celebrating their 80th anniversary this year and is comprised of almost 170 members, two-thirds of which are French and one-third Americans, many of whom have lived in France for years.  All meetings and communications are bilingual and I was grateful that they could translate for me.  The chapter compiled a booklet of monuments and landmarks significant to American history, including statues honoring George Washington, Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, Count of Rochambeau, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.

Dean and Honorable Rector Lucinda Laird welcomed us to the American Cathedral which has existed in some form since the 1830’s. The present building was consecrated on Thanksgiving Day, 1886, the same day as the Statue of Liberty.  In honor of the 50th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in 1994, President General Wayne Blair dedicated a plaque honoring all those who lost their lives in Europe to ensure freedom for mankind during World War II.  There was also a plaque to the 194 American Red Cross members who lost their lives in World War I. 

Following a quick luncheon and photo opportunity at the Eiffel Tower, we returned to our hotel to prepare for the wreath and flame re-kindling ceremony at the Arch of Triumph.  I was honored to be selected to place the lovely wreath of white roses and hydrangeas in this most prestigious ceremony.  The delegation, including many members of the Rochambeau Chapter, was escorted to the Arch down the Champs-Elysées, led by the commander of the ceremony and other officials of the Comite’ de la Flamme.  The Flame rekindling ceremony honors all of the French soldiers who died for their country and takes place every evening with a very strict protocol.   Participating in the service were wreath layers Frédérique de Beaumont and Daun Frankland and Registered Flag Bearer Catherine de Meaux.

 Following the ceremony, the delegation departed for the official chapter meeting and reception at the home of Rochambeau Treasurer Caroline de Navacelle and her husband, Gilles.  The meeting opened with a rousing rendition of “The Yellow Rose of Texas”, with a trumpet accompaniment. State Regent Dominque Favreul welcomed the members and guests and presented me with a lovely scarf signifying French-American friendship.  Gifts were also exchanged with Chapter Regent Lucy Morin.  After a brief presentation on the objectives of the Young Administration, I was honored to present a 100% participation certificate to the Rochambeau Chapter and to announce that NSDAR is a sponsor of the L ‘Hermione, a project to reconstruct an exact replica of the Hermione.  The ship will sail to the USA in 2015, bringing to life the voyage made by LaFayette in 1780 and re-affirming the historic relationship between the United States and France.  Learn more here: http://www.hermione2015.com/about-2/

Virginia Lingelbach presented both ladies with scarves from Meadow Garden, the home of the Declaration of Independence signer George Walton, which is maintained by the Georgia Society.  Virginia shared that Lafayette had paid condolences to Mrs. Walton at Meadow Garden during his visit to the United States in 1825.

Daniel Goodspeed, Consul General of the United States Embassy, joined the group for a presentation on the video and mentioned that his mother is a DAR member in northern California.  We all enjoyed watching the prize winning video of the “Concours Rochambeau”, a history contest targeting French students in the Paris region.  The students were challenged to research the history of the American Revolution and create a video with the theme “Today’s Memory in France of the American War for Independence”.  Using the alphabet, they very cleverly wrote a song about the Revolution. The contest was launched by the chapter for the first time in 2013-2014, with the support of the Academy of Parish and the U.S. Embassy at a prestigious high school. 

As we bid “Au Revoir” to the chapter members we also expressed appreciation for having the opportunity to join their Daughters in paying tribute to the founding fathers of American Independence and to again commemorate and strengthen French-American friendship.  I look forward to renewing our friendship in a future visit.

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