Saturday 12 September 2015

Madhouse Diaries : Jean Bart's statue has had a facelift !

Statue of Jean Bart on the Place Jean Bart in the center of Dunkerque 03

Dunkirk has its very own local hero in the revered corsair/privateer Jean Bart, who was born in the town in 1650 and died here in 1705. Born into a lowly seafaring family, he wasn't allowed to become an officer in the navy so he became the captain of one of the Dunkirk privateers. We'll never know how much is truth and how much has been embellished but he appears to have been a man of extraordinary bravery and sang-froid. Some of the highlights of his life and career include escaping in a rowboat from Plymouth to Brittany when he was taken prisoner by the English and capturing a huge convoy of Dutch grain ships, saving Paris from starvation. A statue was erected in his honour in the town square of Dunkirk in 1870. During World War II, when 70% of Dunkirk was destroyed, the statue of Jean Bart survived with minimal damage (an impact on his cheek and the tip of his sword) - an urban legend says that he was left intact by the Germans rather than being melted down for the war effort because his sword is pointing towards Britain ! Ever since we've lived here, his statue has looked like this.

But for the last couple of months, he's been hidden away behind a screen as he was renovated to his former glory. Today was the day of the big unveiling.

A big screen showed images of the statue through the years, including the iconic picture of him proudly standing tall among the ruins of World War II - very similar to the iconic image of St Paul's Cathedral during the Blitz.

The town square was teeming with people, buzzing with excitement.

They teased the crowd by revealing his hand, clutching the sword, but - despite the wind trying to snatch away the remaining tarpaulins - the crowd had to wait with bated breath until they were ready for the big reveal !

After a speech from the mayor and a choir singing a rousing rendition of L'hymne à Jean Bart, the moment that everyone had been waiting for had arrived ...

As he was unveiled in all his glory, there was a collective gasp !

Even from a distance, you could see the shiny burnished golden colour of the bronze and details are now apparent that I've never noticed in all the years I've walked past him.

He's certainly a more handsome and striking chap than when he was covered in 170 years' worth of grime and bird poo ! I like the fact that they've left his World War II damage intact because it adds to his charm and history - I'd actually never noticed the hole in his cheek before but now you can't miss it.

A slew of silver streamers were released in place of fireworks and it almost looked as if he was smiling !

This is my favourite photo though - the angle makes it look as if he has regained his place on board his ship, beneath the billowing flag of Dunkirk !


  1. Fab piece of history, Cheryl! I have never heard of Bart, and enjoyed reading your post.

    1. I'm sure he's seen as a pirate rather than a hero by some nations !


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