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Visiting Charles de Gaulle Bridge, Dinant, Belgium: revisiting events a century ago
An injury, a massacre, and the course of history
It was here on August 15, 1914 that a certain Lieutenant Charles de Gaulle, of the French army, was injured at the outset of World War One.
A reader may comment: 'I thought this was Belgium, not France'.
Well, yes, this is true; but in World War One — as also in World War Two — Allied armies from a number of countries were heavily involved in fighting on Belgian territory (1)
The history buff may well speculate about the life of the historic personality who became leader of the Free French forces in World War Two, and eventually a longserving President of France: if the life of this then young soldier had been taken at this time rather than the actual, historical outcome of this dramatic event, would the history of France — and indeed Europe — have been rather different?
In any case, the then Lieutenant Charles de Gaulle was aged 23 at the time of his war injury.
The current Bridge over the Meuse River at Dinant dates from 1953, and is named for Charles de Gaulle. However, it is known that previous bridges at what is now Dinant were present as far back as in Roman times, when the Meuse (Latin: Mosa)(2) was already known as a fluvial thoroughfare.
On the bridge, in somewhat 'flowery' language (3) the following inscription is given in French:
"Here Lieutanant Charles de Gaulle was wounded on August 15, 1914
at the dawn of a life wholly consecrated to the defence of man and his liberties
To the town of Dinant, the Fraternity of the Cross of Lorraine."
As an historical fact, one may pause to record that many of the citizens of Dinant, where a young Charles de Gaulle was injured but survived, did not share such a fate: many civilians were executed in cold blood by the Imperial German invaders (4). Much of the town was also devastated; more than 1000 properties were destroyed, not merely by way of collateral damage in time of war but as an act of repression against the civilian population.
October 25, 2013
(1) Another interesting fact concerning General Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970) is that he received some of his early schooling in Belgium.
(2) A Roman crossing over the Meuse further north was known as traiectum ad Mosam, which corresponds with the name of the modern city of Maastricht, in The Netherlands, where the Meuse is known as the Maas.
(3) While the English in public inscriptions — especially in North America — tends to reflect a desire for simplicity and clarity, it is not unusual for commemorative inscriptions in French to use particularly ornate forms of expression.
(4) On August 23, 1914, hardly a week after Lieutenant de Gaulle sustained his injury at Dinant, 674 men, women and children were massacred by the Imperial German invaders.
Also worth seeing
In Dinant itself, its Collegiate Church (French: Eglise collégiale) with its bulbous tower, the Citadel perched on a rock overlooking the town and the Meuse River, and Bayard Rock (French: Rocher Bayard) by the Meuse, are widely visited attractions.
Namur (distance: 29 kilometres); with its Citadel built overlooking the confluence of the Meuse and Sambre rivers, the city has been a regional centre for centuries.
Givet, France (distance: 20 kilometres), situated in the French part of the Meuse Valley, has an imposing fort overlooking the town and some distinguished ecclesiastical and civic architecture.
How to get there
Brussels Airlines flies from New York to Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ), from where car rental is available. The Belgian railroad company SNCB - NMBS maintains a service between Brussels and Dinant. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.