A BROOKLYN GI AND EX-CHOIR BOY SINGS AT OLD FRENCH RITUAL

By Richard E. Jones

Stars and Stripes Special Writer

PLOERMEL, Brittany, Sept 24, 1944—A lone Yank, who fought on the African beaches until a Nazi bullet stopped him, played an unscheduled role when the people of this quiet town celebrated an ancient ritual for the first time since Nazi domination was lifted.



Cpl. John J. Walsh, of New York, was an altar boy from the Bronx who once was in the choir at St. Anselm’s sang the ancient Latin words of the mass again when the Pilgrimage of the Notre-Dame de Boulogne came back to Ploermel. Wash’s OD uniform stood out among the black cassocks of the rest of the choir, and his singing was a symbolic note in the ceremony—an accent to the new bond between France and America.

Nuns pass the ruins of their bombed out Church in St. Malo, France

Nuns pass the ruins of their bombed out Church in St. Malo, France.

The ritual, which dates back to 1386, is a simple one. In that year, according to legend, the figure of the Madonna appeared on the prow of a ship gliding into the harbor of Boulogne. Since then, the figure has been on a pilgrimage from Boulogne to Lourdes, going constantly back and forth until two years ago, when the rite was forbidden by the Nazis.

The figure always travels in a boat-shaped carriage drawn by barefooted parishioners. It always remains for 24 hour in one parish, then passes on to the next village where the masses and rituals are repeated.

Walsh was stationed near Ploermel with a bomb disposal squad, to which he had been assigned after a wound forced him out of the First Division in action. He and 13 others were the only Americans in the area. They went to the garland-bedecked town to watch in honest American wonderment, and they stayed to join the Bretons in worship.



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