Known affectionately by the restoration team as “The Frenchman’s Grave” we are delighted that we have managed to trace Genevieve and Gerard Couffinhal, the grand children of Maurice Couffinhal, who tell their side of the story of this grave below.
We have been like castaways adrift on the ocean since 1951!
- Our Grandmother, Marguerite COUFFINHAL and our father GEORGES involved us fully in looking after the grave of our Grandfather, Pépé MAURICE, to keep it alive (like nursing a candle flame when it goes down)
- We often went to the grave to look after it. First in Keighley when IRVIN SYKES/POWELL was living in England before moving to Australia.
- IRVIN, who died in 2019, was John POWELL’S grandson.
- Our two Grandfathers have been lying in the grave together since 1951.
- Mrs POWELL/FEATHER gave up her space to my Grandfather and wanted to be cremated.
- I remember that we and IRVIN used to climb the wall in front of the school in an evening and bring back a bag of white chippings and some flowers – in fear of being stopped as thieves!!
- Then we made individual trips on our own.
- Just when the little flame was flickering, we got to know Mr and Mrs HERBERT PICKLES who knew Maurice.
- HERBERT was an extraordinary gentleman. He looked after the parks in Oakworth. He was the one who kept the grave going when we could no longer come.
- He too brought bags of white stones and sent us reassuring photos (the little flame was revived).
- Our father visited with Geneviève.
- Then I travelled with him; we visited several people, among them Mr & Mrs PICKLES and Annie LUND.
- When HERBERT told GEORGES that his health meant that looking after the grave was becoming difficult for him GEORGES decided to commission a new tombstone and memorial.
THE PLAN TO DESTROY THE CEMETERY
- We have experienced some very difficult moments, particularly when we learned of the plan to destroy the cemetery and build houses.
- We did all we could, including approaching the British Ambassador in Paris.
- A member of the French Foreign office choir, GENEVIEVE took part in a concert which was given with the BRITISH Embassy in Paris on the occasion of the centenary of the twinning arranged by the International Brotherhood Alliance. We were invited to the party at the British Embassy in Paris and spoke briefly to the Ambassador.
Geneviève and I wrote to all the diplomats in London and Paris
– It looks obvious that we cannot go further alone:
– + even if we got the agreement of the Methodist Church in OAKWORTH to change the grave stone, they have many other financial priorities.
– + even with a full support of local Friends in KEIGHLEY
– + even with good help from Media ( Keighley News,Target News..)
– + even with full agreement of both Families concerned
– + even with a nice support of POIX du NORD , the other town twinned with KEIGHLEY ( this twinning continues after 100 years )
– 2004 is the CENTURY of l’Entente Cordiale ,
– + not so many people who built this friendship are still alive.
– + this grave is like a symbol of the first century and why not, could be a milestone for next centuries to come!
– + It would certainly be fair that a sign of respect and recognition could be given to these 2 pioneers of l’Entente Cordiale .
IRVIN also wrote from AUSTRALIA
- We could not demand that building be halted but the bodies of these two pioneers should at least be transferred TOGETHER to another cemetery….. no reply, no decision!!!
And then just when we hadn’t the strength to keep rowing, a lifeboat turned up with the cemetery project!!! We are full of hope and of course are prepared to help Andrew Heaton and the restoration team, if possible. I have attached some photos.
Yours very sincerely
Geneviève and Gérard COUFFINHAL
More of the story from Gerard:
Ernest and Blanche Ridgion gave their son the name Maurice. The links continued, even after the death of Maurice Couffinhal.
Over time, the links with Suresnes-Puteaux grew weaker but those with Poix du Nord have been strengthened. Our father Georges was in contact with several very nice people from Poix du Nord. We are very grateful for their perseverance with the twinning.
To return to the story of our attachment to Oakworth. Although my grandfather Pépé Maurice was only around from my birth on 25 May 1940 to his death on 14 July 1951, I, my sister Geneviève and our brother Gilbert (who lives in La Réunion) have always lived with his memory.
Each time we came to England, we tried to visit the grave. It was easy when Irvin Sykes (grandson of Mr Powell) and his family lived in Keighley before they moved to Australia. I particularly remember my visit to Irvin in 1965 when we climbed over the wall to the steps in front of the school at night to clear this jungle and spread some small white stones on the grave. The stones remained a symbol for all our family. It was impossible to get through the main gate, which was blocked. I did it several times and each time we were scared that we would be caught as thieves!!! Happily, Herbert Pickles kindly offered to take up the baton. He cleaned and maintained the grave and put flowers on it for years and renewed the precious symbolic white pebbles. The photos he sent us were an enormous comfort. Herbert and Bertha were fantastic people. They became members of our family and we met regularly in France and in Keighley. This is why were pleased to make contact again with their daughter Joan and granddaughter Donna, who were also following the progress of Andrew Heaton and his team’s magnificent project.
When our father, Georges, realised that climbing the wall was becoming difficult for Herbert, he decided to have the grave rebuilt. It was The Knowle Funeral and Monumental Services in Keighley which took on the work. It was certainly complicated to carry out, as the access via the gate was blocked.
A report from the Yorkshire Evening Post 01 June 1925
KEIGHLEY’S ADOPTED TOWN IN FRANCE
TWENTY YEARS’ FRIENDSHIP AND TO-DAY’S VISITORS
The delegates from Poix-du-Nord (Keighley’s adopted French town), who are visiting Keighley this week, attended a reception by the Mayor (Mr R Calverley) at the Town Hall this morning. The delegates number 15, including two representatives from the branch of the International Brotherhood Alliance at Suresnes-Puteaux near Paris. They include Messr Désiré Ducornet, son of the ex-Mayor of Poix-du-Nord, who has visited Keighley on three previous occasions. He speaks English fluently and at today’s reception he acted as interpreter for the party. Included in the party are two ladies, one of whom, Mademoiselle Henrietta Huvelle, acts as Town Hall secretary at Poix-du-Nord. The youngest member of the party is Fernand Masse, a 15-year-old schoolboy.
The visit has been arranged by the Keighley branch of the International Brotherhood Alliance, whose members are acting as hosts. Among those present at the reception this morning, in addition to the Mayor and Mayoress of Keighley, were ex-Alderman F N Binns and M Sam Clough of Steeton Hall, both of whom have always taken a great interest in the International Brotherhood Alliance movement.
The Mayor, in welcoming the visitors, recalled that it was now 20 years since the first delegation went from Keighley to Suresnes-Puteaux, and since that time interchange visits between Keighley people and French people had been maintained. It seemed rather a happy augury that they should be assembled there that morning, because he noticed from the newspapers that there was a very good possibility of the French and English Governments coming to some satisfactory arrangement with regard to a compact between the two countries. He hoped the present relationship which existed between Keighley people and the people of Poix-du-Nord and Suresnes-Puteaux would long continue.
Monsieur Ducornet, replying for the visitors, referred to the delegations in the past and said they always felt quite at home when they came to Keighley.
Monsieur Couffinhal replied for the representatives of Suresnes-Puteaux. Afterwards the visitors proceeded to the Town Hall Square where one of their members on behalf of the delegation laid a wreath at the foot of the War Memorial. A wreath had previously been laid on the memorial by the representatives of Suresnes-Puteaux.
This afternoon the delegation paid a visit to the Keighley Corporation’s new waterworks at Sladen Valley.