Family holds historic mementos

The second plaque, which celebrates 50 years of exchanges.
The second plaque, which celebrates 50 years of exchanges.

It is a story which started nearly a century ago in war-torn France, when two Alnwick brothers bought a pair of crucifixes back to England after surviving the carnage of the Battle of the Somme.

Almost a century later, and these precious mementos are still in the family’s possession, having being passed down over the years.

The unveiling of the plaque to recognise the outstanding contribution of June Raynal, the inspirational founder of the exchange.

The unveiling of the plaque to recognise the outstanding contribution of June Raynal, the inspirational founder of the exchange.

And now the keepsakes are to be handed on to the fourth generation, after Irene Marshall, from Shilbottle, has decided to give the keepsakes to her two young Alnwick granddaughters, Rebecca and Claire Marshall.

“There is a real sense of pride and both Rebecca and Claire know the importance of the crucifixes,” said Irene.

The treasures were originally purchased by James and John Smith, who prior to the First World War, lived and worked in Alnwick; John at Hardy’s and James at the Northumberland Gazette.

At the outbreak of war, they joined the Army and were sent to France where they fought in and survived the Battle of the Somme.

Irene Marshall with her granddaughters Rebecca and Claire and the crucifixes.

Irene Marshall with her granddaughters Rebecca and Claire and the crucifixes.

Before leaving France, they each bought a crucifix and on their return to England they gave these crucifixes to their two sisters, Rachel and Frances.

Frances worked as a cook at the old Duchess’ School for girls and never married while Rachel married John Stoddart and together they ran a general store in Narrowgate, Alnwick, selling sweets, cigarettes and tobacco.

Frances died young and on her death, her crucifix was left to Rachel who kept both mementos until she had two granddaughters, Irene and Elsie.

One Christmas, at the beginning of the 1950s, Rachel gave the crucifixes to her granddaughters who kept them as treasured possessions until Easter this year, when history repeated itself.

A close up of the crucifixes.

A close up of the crucifixes.

Irene’s sister Elsie died, having never married or had children, and Irene found herself, like her grandmother before her, in possession of the two crucifixes.

Like Rachel, Irene has two granddaughters, Rebecca, 12, and Claire, 14, and Irene has decided that the crucifixes should be given to them.

However, before giving them to her loved ones, Irene wanted to take the crucifixes back home to France; the country where they had come from nearly a century ago.

She got her chance recently, during a special anniversary exchange with Shilbottle’s twin village Héry, France.

Irene was one of 21 members of the Amicale Héry-Shilbottle Association that went across to France a few weeks ago to honour 50 years since the first overseas trip of the partnership in 1964.

Shilbottle officially twinned with Héry in 1963 and a year later, 15 youngsters came across from France, travelling to Northumberland by train, Metro, ferry and bus.

Five decades on, and this landmark exchange in the 1960s was honoured by a visit to Héry, and 50 years of continuous friendship was commemorated by the unveiling of two plaques.

The first recognises the outstanding contribution of June Raynal, the inspirational founder of the exchange, whose energy and enthusiasm enabled the twinning to be established.

June was committed to the Amicale from 1963 until her death in 2011.

The plaque commemorating June has been placed on the Rue de Shilbottle and was unveiled by her husband and daughters, together with the Mayor of Héry and the president of the Héry Amicale, Françoise Gindre.

It was a very moving ceremony, attended by a large group of people from the Amicale and the local community, who had come to show their appreciation and pay their respects.

A second plaque, which celebrates 50 years of exchanges, was unveiled at the village hall by Françoise Gindre, Anne Armstrong, chairman of the Shilbottle Amicale, and the mayor, Chantal Charbonnier.

The programme for the exchange included a celebratory welcome reception, attended by many people who had taken part over the years.

There was a magnificent 50th anniversary cake and toasts were made to the past, present and future of the Amicale.

During the exchange there were excursions to Paris and Dijon, as well as the chance to explore the area around Héry, which is located in Burgundy.

In addition to the commemoration of the Amicale and the many exchanges which have taken place over the years, Amicale members who have died were remembered in an ecumenical church service which reflected on the strength and significance of the friendship, not only between Héry and Shilbottle, but also between France and England.

This was particularly poignant because of the 100th anniversary of the declaration of the First World War.

The Shilbottle Amicale presented four candles, each with the motif of a poppy, and these were lit during the service as an act of remembrance.

Irene’s two crucifixes were blessed during the service of commemoration and remembrance in Héry. “It was emotional,” said Irene

In 2013, golden anniversary celebrations were held to honour 50 years since the Amicale was offically formed.