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11 November 2012

A Reunion of St-Pierre - Albert Prefontaine and Adhemar Renuart

A few years ago, I was sent a lovely old postcard from Winnipeg, Canada, to add to my small collection of old Winnipeg postcards. The postcard was found on a dusty bookshelf in a junk store in Winnipeg and my friends, knowing I liked old cards, translated it from French into English and popped it in the post for me to enjoy and research.

The research has grown and grown thanks to Marcel Victor Prefontaine, the great-great-grandson of one of the people mentioned in the postcard, who has given me so much information I felt that it should get a new post!

One of my big questions was when was it sent?

Here is the original postcard:


And here is what it says:

5th September - My Big Girl (as in a daughter who is no longer a child by looked at tenderly - contrary to an English father who might refer to even their grown daughter as his "little girl", a French-Canadian father would refer to such a child as his "big girl" since a petite-fille is actually the term for grand-daughter). My tour of Belgium completed, after returning to Paris Saturday, I left for Arras. Arriving at the train station of this place (Arras) I met Albert Prefontaine and Adhemar Renuart accompanied by their wives; you can imagine the exclamations! It was St-Pierre (the people of that town and not St-Peter the apostle)that was reuniting. After stopping at our rooms we took a car and went to Wancourt, first off, to the Priest (cure, spelled with a capital "C" as would have any good French-Canadian Catholic of the time, to denote respect for his position) who knew not what to do to receive us as best he could - the poor soul! Wancourt having been completely destroyed, he has for/as...
Translation by  Marcel Victor Prefontaine

So what can we learn from just this one postcard?

The writer of the postcard is surprised to bump into two other residents of St Pierre at the train station in Arras, France. This is indeed something worth being surprised about, seeing that St Pierre was, and still is, a small community south of Winnipeg, Canada.

So, how can this help us date the postcard?

Well, according to history blurb on St Pierre's, now renamed St-Pierre-Joly's, website (http://www.stpierrejolys.com/profile/history.shtml), the town was founded in the 1870s and changed from St Pierre to St Pierre Jolys in 1922. We can, therefore, deduce the postcard was written before 1922. But there is more...


Arras and Wancourt

We understand from this postcard that Wancourt has been completely destroyed. This, therefore, dates the postcard to somewhere between 1918-1922 as Wancourt and Arras were scenes of ferocious fighting in World War 1.

A Sad Journey

Marcel Victor Prefontaine tells me that Albert Prefontaine, one of the men mentioned in the postcard, had a son, Aurele Prefontaine, who sadly died on 27th August 1918, aged 21, while fighting in World War 1 near Arras, and is buried in Wancourt. And it was because of this that Albert Prefontaine, his wife and Adhemar Renuart and his wife were there. Marcel Victor Prefontaine has found a reference to Albert Prefontaine's visit to France in a book written in the 1970's called ”Pages de souvenirs et d’histoire - la paroisse de Saint-Pierre-Jolys au Manitoba”:

"This village of the Pas-de-Calais (region) which now counts barely more than 300 inhabitants, had the honor of receiving, the 4th of September last, guests having traveled from Canada.

It was first Mr. l’abbe Jolys (the priest of the community of St-Pierre, Manitoba at the time was father Jean-Marie Arthur Jolys), the zealous and sympathetic founder and priest of the flourishing parish of St-Pierre.  It was also Mr. & Mrs. Albert Prefontaine who were accompanied by Mr. & Mrs. Adhemard Renuart, all four parishioners of Mr. Jolys, and of the best.

The reason for their visit to this small corner of our Artois was a long-planned religious ceremony: it was the benediction of the magnificent banner of the Sacred-Heart donated by Mr. Prefontaine to the church of Wancourt in memory of his son, Aurele, who was killed in action in Wancourt the 30th of August 1918 and who is buried in the British cemetery of the area, located towards Cherisy.

At 3 in the afternoon, Mr. Jolys solemnly blessed the banner of the Sacred-Heart and we went off, in procession, to the cemetery, to Aurele Prefontaine’s tomb, where we sang the “De Profundis” for the soul of this valorous soldier and for the souls of his 1800 companions who rest to his sides.

The priest of St-Pierre spoke for a few instants,...It is by a sacrifice of extraordinary greatness that France was saved.  Victims, all these soldiers harvested in the flower of their youth; victim, this young Aurele who, wounded fatally on the front, exclaimed: “Mon Dieu!” (My God!), last words that sum up a Christian and chaste life."


On a happy note, Marcel Victor Prefontaine tells me that Albert's daughter Edith married Adhemar's son Denis in November 1919 - a happy union after such terrible sadness.