Manchester’s Transnational Friendship with France: James Connolly discusses the ‘adoption’ of Mézières.

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The 1921 Lord Mayor’s pageant raising funds for Mézières. Image courtesy of Manchester Central Library: http://www.manchester.gov.uk/news/article/7160/central_library_exhibition_to_celebrate_the_link_between_manchester_and_m%C3%A9zi%C3%A8res

My last post touched upon my recent side project on British towns adopting French towns and villages after the First World War. Here, I would like to briefly highlight how this transnational history also had a highly local and pertinent aspect for those of us working and studying at Manchester.   As last year’s exhibition in the Central Library demonstrated, our Manchester was involved in the adoption scheme from the outset, deciding in June 1920 to adopt not Lille but the town of Mézières in the Ardennes.[1]  The progress of this adopted was recorded in many newspaper articles.  In July 1921, a pageant was held for this cause, at which the Mayor of Mézières and the Conseiller-Général des Ardennes were present; it raised £5,000 – a lot of money for the time![2]  The following September, about 1,000 unemployed ex-servicemen from Manchester were sent to Mézières to help with reconstruction, paid at full French trade union rates, with the aid of the French Ministry of Labour.[3]  Fund-raising continued in various forms: in November 1921, a women’s football match between Lancashire and a London club took place in Manchester and raised £540.[4]  Sports played an important role in encouraging donations, thus the manager of the Manchester Hippodrome, Bertram Isles, awarded the Médaille de Reconnaissance (Medal of Gratitude) from Mézières in November 1922 for his part in raising £30,000 for the town.[5]

 

However, the link between these two towns was not purely financial, with frequent exchange visits of both local politicians and schoolchildren continuing throughout the 1920s and 1930s. In 1930, the Lord Mayor of Manchester had been invited, alongside other British mayors, to an event organised by the French President to offer official thanks for the adoption scheme.[6] British Pathé even filmed the Mayor of Mézières visiting Manchester in 1928 and the Mayor even got to meet the King and Queen when they visited Manchester in 1934.[7] Such was the strength of this transnational bond, and the extent of Manchester’s contribution to reconstruction, that there was an entire ‘Manchester’ district in Mézières. Readers of the Manchester Evening News were reminded of this in August 1939: there was a Manchester Hospital, Manchester Post Office, Manchester Church, and wards in the hospital were named after the ex-Lord Mayors of Manchester.[8]  Perhaps this was an attempt to reassure the British that, as a new war loomed on the horizon, the bonds forged in the wake of the last conflict still stood strong.  Even if that is the case, Manchester-Mézières was one of the most successful, enduring adoption pairings, with many buildings and place names in Mézières still bearing the marks of this Franco-British friendship: bringing this slice of history a little closer to home!

 

 

References

[1] Dundee Evening Telegraph, 14 June 1920, p.2.

 

[2] The Times, 4 July 1921, p.9.

 

[3] Dundee Evening Telegraph, 5 Sep 1921, p.2.

 

[4] Derby Daily Telegraph, 24 November 1921, p.3.

 

[5] The Era, 2 November 1922, p.16.

 

[6] Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 27 May 1930, p.12.

 

[7] Dundee Courier, 18 July 1934, p.6.

 

[8] Manchester Evening News, 16 August 1939, p.8.

 

 

 

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