It was their second day in Paris and they were very excited to visit the city. It was their first trip during their Erasmus year and they wanted to enjoy it as much as possible. The plan for the day was to go to the Pantheon and the Latin Quarter in the morning and to La Bastille and the cemetery of Père Lachaise in the afternoon.
“Let’s go! We have an exciting day ahead of us”, said Léa, the only French in the group. “I’m almost ready. I’m making sure I don’t forget anything important. Phone, wallet, guide, all good. Okay, let’s go”, said Marina, one of the two Spanish in the group. The other one, Roberto, was looking for his glasses. “Have you seen my glasses? I can’t leave without them”, he said. “They are here!” replied Valentina, the Italian in the group.
The four friends left their apartment and started their tourist day. They had only met two months before but already had a strong friendship. Roberto, Marina and Valentina had met in the first class. The three of them were doing their Erasmus in Rennes, France. They all met Léa in the cafeteria, who, like them, was studying Foreign Languages. She was happy to share time with some international students and practice Spanish and Italian. She had proposed to them to go on a trip to Paris as she was very keen on showing her country to them.
They enjoyed the visit in the morning, they admired the beautiful architecture of the Pantheon and they walked around the streets of the Latin Quarter. They had lunch in the Luxembourg Gardens and then took the metro to the Père Lachaise cemetery. “I’m sure you will love this place. I know it’s not very common to visit a cemetery, but this one is special. Many famous people are buried here and some tombs are very beautiful, you will see”, said Léa.
“I didn’t know that visits were allowed in a cemetery. I’m curious”, said Roberto. “Me neither!” exclaimed Valentina and Marina simultaneously. They arrived at the entrance of the cemetery, and they all took one of the maps that indicated the place where the famous tombs were. “The majority of tombs marked are from men, but I have already made a list of famous and relevant women buried here. It’s also necessary to give them the importance they deserve”, said Léa. Roberto added, “You are right, women are often forgotten, but they have always been present and some of them are also very important in history”.
They started their tour looking for the tomb of Oscar Wilde, as Valentina loved literature and wanted to see it. They also took pictures of the graves of many people such as Sara Bernhardt, a French actress; Frédéric Chopin, a classical music composer; Maria Callas, a Greek opera singer; Eugène Delacroix, a French painter or Sophie Blanchard, the first professional female aeronaut in history. The last stop in their tour was the tomb of Edith Piaf, the famous French singer.
On their way, there was a tomb that caught Marina’s attention. “Look, there is a tomb here that has a Spanish flag. I didn’t know there were Spanish people buried here”, she said. “It says ‘To the Spanish soldiers fallen during World War II’”, read Roberto. “Did Spanish soldiers fight during the war? I knew Italians participated, but I thought Spaniards weren’t involved”, said Valentina. “Apparently, yes. I am reading on the internet that many Spanish fought with the Allies. Wait, here it says that there was a group that participated in the liberation of Paris on August 25 1944.”, said Léa looking at her phone.
They all sat on a bench, surprised by their discovery. “Keep reading about it. I want to know more. It seems interesting”, said Marina. Léa added, “Yes, let’s see what it says. I knew that US and British armies participated in the liberation of the city. It’s the first time I hear that there were Spanish combatants”. She read, “One of the first groups that entered Paris was the one called ‘La Nueve’, a group of Spanish soldiers. History books don’t often speak about them, but they were also important during liberation day”.
“Wow, keep reading, please”, said Valentina. Léa continued, “The names of the vehicles were names of Spanish towns and cities: Guernica, Santander, Teruel or Madrid”. “I am from Santander, a city in the north of Spain”, said Roberto. “I think it’s cool that they had names of Spanish cities. I am shocked. In school, we didn’t study this”, said Marina. “In France, we didn’t either, I studied that US and British soldiers were the only ones that liberated the city”, said Léa. “We have learned something new today”, said Valentina smiling.
Léa was reading more about the topic on her phone. “It says here that there is a memorial in the garden next to the town hall. Would you like to go?” asked Léa. “Yes, the plan for tomorrow was to go to that area so we can stop there. It’s a small piece of history in this already historical city!” said Roberto.
They kept reading the information and speaking about the discoveries they had made. At some point, Valentina exclaimed, “The tomb of Edith Piaf! We have forgotten about it! We stopped here and didn’t continue our tour. Let’s go before the cemetery closes”. “You are right, let’s go!” said Marina standing up. The friends continued their tour and arrived at the tomb of Edith Piaf, which was full of flowers. It was one of the most popular ones in the cemetery.
The next day, they went to the ‘La Nueve’ memorial and took a picture together. “I’m going to send this photo to my family and tell them about our discovery on this trip. I didn’t know I would learn about something related to Spain in Paris”, said Marina. “Me neither, but that is the magic of doing an Erasmus. You discover many new things!”, said Roberto. The four of them laughed and continued the tour around the city of lights.
EXTRA INFORMATION ON THE TOPIC:
The 9th Company of the Régiment de marche du Tchad, part of the French 2nd Armored Division (also known as Division Leclerc) was nicknamed La Nueve (Spanish for “the nine”). The company consisted of 160 men under French command, 146 were Spanish republicans, including many anarchists and French soldiers. All had fought during the liberation of French North Africa and later participated in the Liberation of France.
The 9th Company’s most notable military accomplishment was its important role in the Liberation of Paris. Men of La Nueve were the first to enter the French capital on the evening of 24 August 1944, with half-tracks bearing the names of the Spanish Civil War battles of Teruel and Guadalajara and other names related to cities and Spanish cultural facts such as Don Quijote, Guernica, Santander or Madrid.These soldiers’ role wasn’t recognised until the beginning of the 21st century. The memorial, inaugurated in 2014 by the Queen and the Spanish King, is part of the effort to give recognition to these soldiers. In Spain, they have a memorial in the city of Madrid.