How often do we hear railway metaphors and similes used to describe dramatic events in our lives? We say that someone has made a trainwreck of their life; that our plans have been derailed; when we speak of life-changing circumstances. Even in a small way, we might describe a feeling of tiredness as having run out of steam or puff, another allusion to the trains of a bygone era.
The railways have made a great impact on life and language since their eager acceptance by the British public in the 1820s and 1830s. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, train travel represented possibly the fastest and most economical way to cover long distances; and the most endurable if you were not rich enough to command the comforts of life.
On 22nd October, 1895 (when Madame Dupont was also having a little holiday away from her diary) the Granville-Paris Express overran its buffer stop at the Gare Montparnasse; crossed the concourse before crashing through the wall and came to rest in spectacular fashion, nose first, in the street below.
Incredibly, only one person was killed: not by the train directly, but by falling masonry. And here we see the irony of fate: The poor woman was minding her husband’s stall while he was away running an errand. Definitely, the wrong place at the wrong time!
And what of the stall holder himself? Did he congratulate himself on having had an amazing escape? Or did he wish that it had been him? Or miss her so much that he felt he should have died with her? We will never know.
More recently, the Gare Montparnasse is famous as the venue for the surrender of Colonel Dietrich von Choltitz to General Jacques-Phillipe Leclerc and Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy on 25th August 1944.
Colonel von Choltitz, the German commander of Paris during World War II, was hailed as the saviour of Paris by its grateful populace for his refusal to obey Hitler’s insane orders to destroy the city.
General Leclerc was the commander of the French 2nd Armoured Division formed in London in late 1943. The Division landed in Normandy attached to General George S. Patton’s 3rd U.S. Army and fought alongside the FFI in the Battle for Paris (19th – 24th August 1944).
Colonel Rol-Tanguy, known by his nom de guerre of Colonel Rol during WWII, was the leader of the Paris division of the FFI. A real hero of the French Résistance, he fought on grimly from the underground through all the years of the war.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.