|A sad loss for Canadians...
||[Feb. 10th, 2009|06:36 pm]
up again later: M. Devloo, the 'grand-pere' of Vimy, died late last week. And he has left enormous shoes to fill. He was a retired schoolteacher who lived in the small town of Vimy, and had a deep appreciation for Canada, Canadians, and the Canadian memorial located about 10km away from his home. For 13 years, he would drive to the train station at Vimy (pictured below) nearly every day to check for wayward Canadians. If he found any, he would insist on driving them to the memorial, introducing them to the guides, and making arrangements to pick them |
Vimy, that crucial French village so soaked in Canadian history and blood, is a place of pilgrimage. Anyone who opts to take a train there knows, though, that actually getting to the memorial is tough. It's nowhere near the station, and the station has no taxis. It has no phone. It has no employees. But, for the past 13 years, it had Monsieur Devloo.
He was the elderly man in the trench coat, beret and broad smile who virtually every day stood on the platform to wait for wayward Canadians and offered to take them to the memorial. He asked for absolutely nothing in return.
Vimy Train Station
From seeing that station, you can probably guess why the visitors were all smiles by the time they arrived at the Visitors' Centre.
M. Devloo also went out of his way to develop relationships with the guides, and would do almost anything for us. The first time I saw M. Devloo during my second stint in 2007 was when he showed up one day to fix the house bicycle. Although he was a retired schoolteacher, he considered bicycle maintenance one of his jobs (as long as Canadian guides were involved). That summer, he also frequently dropped by with fresh rhubarb and and vegetables from his garden. On days off, he would sometimes take us to areas not easily accessible by train (skiing on a slag heap for instance), and these trips would always end with a trip to his house and garden, where he'd feed us cookies and juice or beer and show us old pictures of Vimy and some of the many postcards and letters he'd received from former guides. And if that's not enough, when the situation warranted, he went even further above the 'call of duty.' When a train strike threatened the ability of one of our Fall 2007 guides to get to work, M. Devloo picked her up every single day until the strike was over. And she was always on time.
M. Devloo also taught many a guide to drive a standard. One of the Fall 2007 guides was one of his pupils, and at one point, she offered to give him some gas money to cover the extra he was spending to teach her. She says that he looked quite thoughtful for a moment, and said that yes, that might be nice. He would go home and figure out how far they were going and how much he was spending, and he thought the amount would come out to 'deux bisous' (two of the cheek kisses common in that area of France).
M. Devloo would also go out of his way to help the friends of guides: when we had visitors, he would volunteer to drive them around to Vimy as well as Beaumont-Hamel and other related sites. When my friend Deirdre visited in August of 2007, she spent the better part of two days with him being shown around. Although she doesn't speak any French and M. Devloo's English was limited to 'Hello. You Canadian? You go to Memorial?' she had a wonderful time.
I've borrowed lots from CBC's well-written obituary here for those interested in reading more about M. Devloo. I'm only sorry that very few of you had the chance to meet him.
What a great guy. I'm not a guide, but I joined his Facebook page.
Membership in his Facebook page has more than doubled in the last couple of days. He deserves it :)
When I'm an old man I want to be like him. Seriously, though. :)