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Visiting Heer-Agimont, Belgium: Bridging the Meuse, Bordering France, & 20th Century Hosting of Some Unusual Foreigners

Updated on March 12, 2018
Flag of Belgium
Flag of Belgium | Source
Bridge (N909) over the Meuse near Heer-Agimont
Bridge (N909) over the Meuse near Heer-Agimont | Source

Spanning a great river; & some unusual historical associations

A major feature at the Belgian village of Heer-Agimont, in the Hastière municipality of Namur province in the Walloon region (French: Région wallonne) is its 202 metre cable-stayed bridge, over which the RN909 runs.

Spanning the historic and scenic Meuse River, the bridge was built in 1973 and restored in 2013.

The bridge also acts somewhat as a metaphor of the unusual geographical situation of the village: linking its two parts, Agimont on the left bank and Heer on the right bank, it demonstrates a strong east-west element, but it spans the Mesue, which is an historic waterway which has borne north-south traffic for thousands of years, with Heer-Agimont being adjacent to the Franco-Belgian border.

Possibly because of its border location, close to the French department of Ardennes and the City Givet — located within walking distance of the village, Heer-Agimont hosted some unusual foreigners in the early 20th century.

The d'Orléans family — descendants of King Louis-Philippe of France (reigned 183--1848) has long supplied a line of Pretenders to the French Throne, and, until 1950, when the French Republic finally decided that the d'Orléans family were no longer a threat to France's institutions, the family was in exile; Henri, Count of Paris (1908-1999), in the years prior to 1939, was in residence at Agimont at a local château . This afforded the Count the possibility of living within sight and walking distance of France, while not infringing his legal banishment. (On a number of occasions, the Count, who also lived in exile in Morocco, Spain and Portugal, was known to have entered France clandestinely.)

In 1940, through the tumultuous events surrounding the Fall of France, and probably because of its border location, Heer-Agimont saw the arrival of General Franz Böhme (1885-1947), at the head of a unit of the invading Nazi German 32nd Infantry Division division.

Far less welcome locally than the Count of Paris, but — like the Count of Paris — unusually complex in his national background, General Böhme was Austrian-born, served in the Austro-Hungarian army, and eventually became head of the Austrian army, before Austria was incorporated into the German Reich in 1938.

In addition, both General Böhme and the Count of Paris were in one way or another identified to some extent with fascism: for a number of years prior to World War Two the Count of Paris was linked with the French Royalist movement Action Française, led by Charles Maurras, which was fascist in sympathy. For his part, General Böhme was accused of war crimes after the war, managing to cheat the hangman's noose by dispatching himself by his own hand in 1947.

However, there is no evidence that the Count of Paris and General Böhme had any personal sympathy with one another or collaborated in any venture.

While Henri, Count of Paris, had formally renounced links with the fascist Action Française prior to the beginning of World War Two, he was not completely unidentified with at least ambiguous acts perpetrated by French royalists loyal to him. Having left Agimont in 1939, by 1942 he was physically present in Algiers when presumed royalists Fernand Bonnier de La Chapelle and Henri d'Astier de La Vigerie (1) — with whom the Count was in close contact and whose bidding led to his presence in Algiers — assassinated Admiral François Darlan on December 24, 1942.

For his part, Henri, Count of Paris, from whom an order was later attributed as having come from him on December 21, 1942 (« L’Amiral Darlan doit être éliminé, il faut le faire disparaître par tous les moyens ». 'Admiral Darlan must be eliminated, he must be made by all means to disappear' (2)) later claimed that he had been unfairly blamed for the death of Admiral Darlan.

By this time, Henri, Count of Paris's former quiet, less controversial and comfortable period of exile at Agimont, Belgium must have seemed in hindsight to have been quite serene.

Sometimes history — including historical associations linked with a small locality in a scenic setting — can become rather complicated.

February 21, 2018

Notes

(1) Fernand Bonnier de La Chapelle pulled the trigger which immediately caused the death of Admiral Darlan, a compromised, leading Vichy-France figure with whom the Allies, freshly landed in North Africa, were briefly in tactical alliance; he was summarily executed shortly afterwards and then in 1945 rehabilitated posthumously by an Algiers court. Henri d'Astier de La Vigerie, who led the group which planned the death of Admiral Darlan, was formally investigated and held in custody for his role in the assassination, but was released in 1943 on the instructions of General Charles de Gaulle.

(2) See (in French): https://www.sylmpedia.fr/index.php/Le_royalisme_en_Alg%C3%A9rie_fran%C3%A7aise#Le_complot_monarchiste_d.E2.80.99Alger These murky events have also been variously attributed to the activities of the British Special Operations Executive, US diplomat and Office of Strategic Services operative Robert Murphy, as well as to the entourage of Henri, Count of Paris. The full truth surrounding Admiral Darlan's assassination may never be known.

Prince Henri d'Orléans (1908-1999), Count of Paris, Orléanist claimant to the French throne
Prince Henri d'Orléans (1908-1999), Count of Paris, Orléanist claimant to the French throne | Source
General Franz Böhme
General Franz Böhme | Source

Also worth seeing

In Heer-Agimont itself there are walking paths alongside the Meuse; at Agimont, on the left bank, a château, executed in bluestone quarried in neighbouring France, the former home of the exiled French royal family (see above), is now a holiday centre.

Dinant, Belgium (distance: 20.9 kilometres), on the Meuse, is mainly noted for its unusually designed Medieval collegiate church, its citadel and the Bayard Rock.

Annevoie-Rouillon, Belgium (distance: 26 kilometres) has a noted castle with gardens dating from 17th century.

Givet, France (distance: 3.9 kilometres); this stronghold on the Meuse has a strategic fort which overlooks the town and some civic and ecclesiastical architecture of distinction.

...

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. A bus service runs between Dinant railroad station and Givet, France, and which includes Heer-Agimont on its route. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. 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.

Map location of Hastière, Namur province, Belgium
Map location of Hastière, Namur province, Belgium | Source

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