Formally Yours from Austerlitz

Another overcast, cold and damp day in the Czech Republic. One is again reminded of the importance of the Sun of Austerlitz – without which Napoleon and the Grande Armee would have been fighting blind.

We are scheduled to attend a cermony at the Peace Memorial in Parce – one of the dozen villages that lie scattered around the still existing battle field of Austerlitz. About 45,000 men, (9,000 of them French, 36,000 Allies) and over 15,000 horses died on these fields in December 1805. There is an extremely toucing monument to the dead horses hidden behind the Stara Posta where we’ve been eating dinner, The Peace Memorial honors the fallen men – and is one of the few that I think is completely fitting to their memories. The setting is a huge park – the top of which is crowned by a low building topped by a tall column. Under the column is a fairly large Memorial chamber, one that will be important later today. Behind the memorial is a small museum dedicated to Napoleon.

For now – we gather at the bottom of the hill in Parce, a tiny Czech village with traditional homes and narrow winding streets. We prepare to march out together to do the 2km walk up the hill to the memorial. Victor joins the ranks of the flag bearers at the head of the parade – there are the flags of 12 different regiments, proudly organized to make the march.

Unfortunately, we do not have a drummer – so the troop must chant the pace to keep us all in step. The doctors fall in behind the troops – there are 4 of us – Boris Nezbada from the Czech Republic, another aide-Major Ivana Patráková dressed like me in light blue, and a very young ‘Pharmacist’ from the Corps Medical. He looks very dashing in his knee breaches and high white socks, but I immediately think – bet he’s going to be very cold. The 4 of us form up to follow our troop up the hill to the base of the Monument.

In the park like setting of the Peace Memorial, the Elite Gendarmes have used ‘danger’ tape to creat a main section for us – and areas to the left and right for the considerable audience. There are about 500 re-enactors at the ceremoney (quite a bit down from the 2000 that participated in yeserday’s battle – but still considerable) – and the Imerial Garde’s Drum and Fife Corps, complete with a very flamboyant Drum Major.

Not surprisingly – the speeches are all in Czech – so that’s pretty boring, particularly because, the wind is picking up, it’s quite damp, and it’s gradually getting colder and colder. The most excitement we have is admiring the winter coats of the Russian Women Re-enactors. They sure know how to dress.

When the Russian Orthodox priest appears to conduct a service – I’m ready to bolt. In Russia – those services lasted for hours – but this is the Czech Republic – fortunately we got the appreviated version. Only the Russians removed their hats, and only they seemed to know when to cross themselves. I’m painfully reminded of visit to the Churches in St. Petersburg – glorious music – but why can’t we sit down!

My young friend – the Pharmacist – is starting to shiver badly – so I move closer to him to share body warmth – and give him my wool cape. He suffers thru – maintaining his position in the line until we move to march into the Memorial Chamber. At that point he dccides that Hypothermia is not a good way to end the weekend – and hands back my cape to dash off to leave with his family.

Too bad too – because the part in the Memorial Chamber is the most emotional and moving part of the entire day. Marshal Soult (Oleg Sokolov) gave a stirring speech in French – congradulating the GRANDE ARMÉE on their performance yesterday- and encouraging us to continue to perform well in honor of the Emperor!

The Fife and Drum Corps perform several pieces – wreaths are laid on the main stone, there is a moment of silence as we recall those who fell, and when we quietly leave, there’s hardly a dry eye in the place.

Great way to end a wonderful weekend.

Too bad we now have to walk down that huge hill…. At least that exercise will warm our very cold feet.

Signing off to go warm up (hot goulash soup – here I come!) – The Soup Lady.

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