The next day’s journey from Pontarlier to Jougne was rainy and another stage further into the Jura, climbing into the hills
and then walking along an abandoned railway,
turned over to a seasonal tourist line, The Coni Fer.
I crossed the Jura ski resort of Métabief before heading into the lesser known town of Jougne. After a night’s sleep, a descent into this valley and an extended farewell to the Jura mountains as I walked down through here and out onto the plain.
I had spent the last six weeks updating my buddy, Mike, on what was going on in my life: ‘I am walking in France’ … ‘I am still walking in France’ … ‘I am bloody walking in bloody France, still’. Not far out of Jougne, therefore, I took great delight in phoning him: ‘I’m not walking in France anymore’! I managed to resist asking ‘where am I?’ then jumping backwards and forwards: ‘no, I’m not’ … ‘no, guess again’.
The pleasure of reaching Switzerland was marked by a rare selfie in front of the old border stone on the path. Finally, I had walked a long way!
In Switzerland, everything changed. Within yards, even the plastic which wrapped the hay was luxurious. I know I had perhaps walked through a corridor of rural depopulation (and what I had seen wasn’t ‘France’) but it had felt like endless dying villages and, yes, poverty. Here, all was business-like and prosperous.
I had the pleasure of walking one final Jura gorge before heading out of the mountains into Orbe and then across the plain to Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) and Lausanne.
It was around this time I received the following text:
Hello, I hope I am writing to the right person. My name is Fiona and I am wanting to contact the person who met my brother in law Dominique in France while walking to Rome. The person has asked for details of a solider, Francis Alexander Smith who died in the Somme in 1916. Could you confirm that it is you who requested this information and I will send you the details.
You may not recall that we met a marvellous character, Dominique, whilst in northern France. We told him about never having traced Angela’s grandfather and he offered to ask his sister in law, who worked for the Commonwealth War Graves Commision, for help. Well, he and she had turned up trumps.
It turned out not to be the right man but it prompted Ange to search under Frank rather than Francis and there he was on the Glasgow Necropolis website. Born before the invention of the motor car, he had volunteered a month into the war but, perhaps in consequence of being in his mid thirties, an ex-diamond miner in South Africa, a hard drinker and a ‘character’, he didn’t have the most obviously glowing war record. He was punished on more than one occasion for drunkenness and/or absenteeism. On one such, he married Ange’s grandmother, Lily, in Hove.
When he reached front line in France, he was promoted to Lance Corporal. The record includes the following statement: it is a matter of some surprise that he managed to retain that rank until his death 7 months later. One can imagine, perhaps, that such a man, when it came to the front line, might make an excellent NCO. He certainly wasn’t absent on the 22 May 1917. As close as possible to that date next year, Ange will visit his grave, on his personal centenary, with her family, to pay overdue respect to her grandfather’s memory.