Our piece of paving stone landed near the top of the pile and when the bulldozer leveled the pile it ended up on top with its weathered side up once again facing the French sun. This is the side that saw quite a bit of history before it became part of this runway near Dunkirk.
It was first laid down on the corner of Rue Clemenceau and Rue du President Poincare. Today it is near the Plaza Jean Bart and within sight of the Bell Tower.
The area of Dunkirk and its excellent harbor was much disputed between Spain, the Netherlands, England and France. At the beginning of the Eighty Years' War, Dunkirk was briefly in the hands of the Dutch rebels, from 1577. Spanish forces under the Duke of Parma re-established Spanish rule in 1583 and it became a base for the notorious Dunkirkers.
The Dunkirkers were legalized pirates for the Spanish and for close to 80 years were a thorn in the side of the British and Dutch capturing hundreds of costal vessels and even joining in some to the great battles of the time. In order to evade the blockading Dutch and English they are credited with designing the frigate. A ship fast enough to elude a ship of the line yet strong enough to run down and destroy any other vessel at the time.
Our piece of paving stone saw the boots of many an invader from the Spanish to the French then back to the Spanish and briefly the Dutch and so on. Not that it cared whose boots where gradually wearing it down. In 1658 even the British owned it but they sold it to France in 1662 and it stay in French hands until 1940. Then the hobnail boots of the Germans took a good millimeter off our stone.
A man of countless stories was arrested while standing on our paving stone. In fact a drop of his blood still stains it. It is hardly traceable but it is there. The man who was arrested was entered in the prison rolls as Eustache Dauger. Better known to history as the Man in the Iron Mask. He is the man of Alexandre Dumas and Three Musketeers fame and dozens of movies and novels.
Within shouting distance of where our little piece of history used to lay is a statue of Jean Bart another name of historical interest. Many of Jean Bart’s 14 children stumbled on the spot where our stone rested as it was slightly raised above it surroundings which made it a natural stumbling block for many a child. Jean Bart is one of Frances most revered naval commanders and heroes having no less than 6 major ships of the line and a few battleships as well named after him. The last being an anti aircraft Frigate still serving in the French Navy.
The city was again contested in 1944, and the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division attempted to liberate the city in September, as Allied forces surged northeast after their victory in the Battle of Normandy. However, German forces refused to relinquish their control of the city, which had been converted into a fortress, and the garrison there was "masked" by Allied troops, notably 1st Czechoslovak Armored Brigade. The fortress under command of German Admiral Friedrich Frisius eventually unconditionally surrendered to the commander of the Czechoslovak forces, Brigade General Alois Liška, on 9 May 1945.
Our little paving stone did pretty well until a 105mm shell finally landed 21 feet away and threw it into the air where it struck the right temple of a young lady named Brigit. No one knows her last name but luckily it did not kill her because Brigit was the last person to remember the culinary delight Potjevleisch. It’s a Flemish potted meat, originally from Dunkerque. It is a terrine made of three meats: often veal, bacon and rabbit; or chicken, duck and rabbit. Calves feet are sometimes added. The meat is cooked with onions, shallots, garlic, white wine and some herbs, lemon and tomatoes. If the paving stone had killed Brigit, Potjevleisch would have been lost forever to the sands of time.
Within weeks our paving stone will have the tires of Soviet Tu-2 medium bombers rolling over it by the dozens. Along with millions of others it forms the base for the runways that will launch a thousand planes at a time. All winging their way towards other flying machines like themselves and the pilots in them will try and kill each other like all the men before them.