You never know who you will meet

Privacy Level: Public (Green)
Date: Aug 1996 to Feb 2000
Location: Metz, Francemap
Profile manager: SJ Baty private message [send private message]
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In 1996 my girlfriend Lisa and I decided to make a European trip. We saved some money, dropped out of work, and bought 2 month Euro-rail passes. In the end we slept on the train by night, toured by day and managed to visit 13 countries.

While on the train from Brussels to Paris, we found a compartment that was completely empty and we were able to stretch out into a space that was designed for 6 people. We read from our books, wrote in our journals, listened to our iPods, nibbled on some snacks, and enjoyed the passing scenery outside. And enjoy it we did; the French countryside is just beautiful!

Near Metz the train stopped and some passengers got on and some departed. From outside, we saw that one man had exited a sedan and then boarded our train.

He came down the hallway and finally to our compartment and when he saw that only two of us were inside he opened the door. He was a distinguished looking man, perhaps in his 40's, sharply dressed and his English had an obvious French accent, "Do you mind to share the compartment." We nodded and invited the man to come in. He paused for a moment, and then said, a little more slowly, "Do you mind a dog?" Lisa was a dog lover, she had two of her own, both Lhasa Apsos. She perked up and enthusiastically replied, "Sure, we don't mind a dog at all."

The man returned to the sedan, but this time to the back door. He opened the door and reached in to help an old man out of the car. At the end of the older mans arm was a leash connected to a little furry creature and sure enough, it was a Lhasa Aspo! Lisa was beside herself with joy. Now she would have a friend to play with on the long train ride. The younger man helped the elder man onto the train and then helped him to take a seat in our compartment. Lisa urged the little dog up onto her seat and immediately began to smother the dog with affection. The younger man kissed the elder on the cheek and said, "Au revoir papa," and the elder returned the affection.

Once the train was again underway we were delighted to learn that our new travel companion spoke English, quite well in fact. We all made our introductions and he said that his name was Jean.

Lisa told him that she had Lhasa Apso dogs since she was a child and they were her favorite breed. Jean said that the dog's name was Chauncy. "Chauncy comes from Tibet," he calmly announced. I thought that he meant the breed and I made some comment to that effect. "No," said Jean, "Chauncy is from Tibet, I brought her from there, she was a gift from the Lama." Our conversation turned to Tibet, the Lama, and Chauncy. Twenty three years later, I can't remember if Jean said that Chauncy was a gift from the Dalai Lama or from some other Lama. But he specifically said that she was a gift from the Lama in (or of) Tibet and that he brought her back from there or from that region.

Jean asked where we came from and we explained that we were from the United States, from California. "Ah, Chauncy has been to California," he said. We were surprised to learn that Chauncy was such a traveler, in five minutes we already know she has three countries under her collar! Jean asked where we were going next? "To Switzerland, we told him." "Chauncy has also been there," to Italy?, "yes, Chauncy has seen Italy," to Greece? "Ah, Chuancy liked Greece, but a bit hot." It seemed that wherever we had been, or planned to go, Chauncy had already been there. As the minutes passed to an hour, we talked of travel and of travels past, and no matter what country in the world we mentioned, Chauncy had visited there too. It was very cute, this old man and his dog who had seen the world.

I couldn't help but wonder if Jean was a nice old man but that he also enjoyed a good tale.

Jean and Chauncy

At one moment, Jean looked out the window and said, "Champagne!" I looked and saw some rolling hills covered by vineyards. He explained that this was Champagne country and this is where the bubbly came from. And somehow we drifted to the geography of the area. I mentioned that Lisa's grandfather was in the 101st Airborne and was in the Seige of Bastogne, not far from where we traveled on that train. Jean was surprised and pleased to hear that Lisa's grandfather had helped free his country from occupation. Jean then told us that he was also in the war. My attention was piqued but Lisa was more interested in the dog; she and Chauncy played and enjoyed the company of each other.

I was curious to hear about the war but Jean told me that it was his lunch time and that he would like to go to the restaurant, "Could you help me to the food car? We can talk from there." I agreed and then he asked if Lisa would like to entertain Chauncy. Of course she agreed and Jean took my arm and we walked a train car or two until the restaurant and then Jean had his lunch. He began to tell me about the war.

Before the war started, he said, he was a pilot. After the German invasion, he fled to England and joined the Free French Squadron. He said that he was first sent to Africa where he was assigned to a bomber squadron and he "bombed the Germans for two and a half years." And after, he was sent to Russia where he flew a fighter aircraft and fought agtainst the Germans for another 2 1/2 years. He said that of his squadron of 33 who started the war, he was only one of 3 survivors.

It was quite a remarkable story. I tried to imagine how many pilots there were in France in the 1930's who weren't already in the military or flying for some commercial purpose? But Jean did seem to know what he was talking about so I continued to listen as he told me more.

But I kept thinking about all of Chauncy's travels...

As we neared Paris, I told Jean that we wanted to send him a postcard from Greece and we asked if he would be willing to share his address with us. At first he looked surprised, pleasantly surprised, and then he looked downright happy. He enthusiastically agreed and took my pen and journal to write his address. When he was finished, he handed me the journal and I looked at the entry:

Jean Pange
57530 Pange, France

I thought that it was a very simple address and also noted that Jean had the same surname as the town name. Funny thing, twenty three years later, I can still remember that address as if he wrote it two minutes ago.

In return, he asked for our addresses and we wrote ours as well.

We kept our promise and from Greece we mailed Jean a postcard. Some weeks later, after crossing into eastern Europe, back up to Scandanavia, we finally headed back to England for our flight home.

Because it was a long trip and we couldn't carry souvenirs, I made it a habit to fill out a post card for each place we visited and mailed them home. Each post card became a travel journal page and when I returned home there was waiting for me a huge stack of postcards. I have continued that tradition and 23 years and 75 countries later, I have boxes and boxes of travel postcards detailing my travels. On some rainy days I make a kettle of tea and flip through my postcards and reminisce of adventures past.

Mixed into my pile of postcards was a letter from Jean. We were excited to open it and see what message it carried. Inside the envelope were two postcards from Pange, France. They were both of the Chateau de Pange, what we assumed is the main tourist attraction in Pange.

"Le Chateau de Pange" appeared in the postcards as a virtual palace. We resolved that if we were ever to visit Pange, we would be sure to visit.

I pulled out the letter and started reading and Jean had some nice comments as he recollected the memories of our train ride together. As I finished the letter I looked at the card that Jean had tucked between the post cards, it read:

... as a souvenir of our trip by train from Metz to Paris -
With my best wishes -

It was then that I saw the title and the return address on the card:

Marquis de Pange
Chateau de Pange
57530 Pange

We immediately had a laugh, it turned out that the Chauncy stories were true after all!

It was quite a surprise; Jean was so casual. In my mind I had a certain stereotype for an aristocrat but Jean was unassuming, kind, and humble. He was a true gentleman and he even seemed just like the guy next door!

For three years we corresponded with Jean. We sent Christmas cards and postcards when we often traveled. And we received from him a Christmas card each year. In each card that he sent us, he invited us to come and visit him at the Chateau. But the frequency of travels to Europe from the United States, especially for young people on limited budgets, time is measured in decades, not in years. We did not know when, if ever, we would return to France to visit Jean in his chateau.

On the third Christmas, in 1999, we didn't receive a Christmas card from Jean. We thought that maybe he had forgotten or maybe he had taken Chauncy on another adventure. Or maybe his card was delayed in the mail?

By February or March we still hadn't heard from Jean so we gave him a call. His daughter answered the phone and unfortunately her English was not as good as that of her brother and father. We asked to speak to Jean and she told us that sadly he had passed away a few months earlier.

We were very sad to hear the news.

She told us that the French government sent out a company of soldiers with cannons and they fired a 21 gun salute on the lawn of the chateau. At the chateau they erected an obelisk in his honor as a hero of France and during a memorial service representatives from the government were in attendance. It was difficult to understand her English completely but if I understood her correctly, the Prime Minister also came.

In 1999 there was almost nothing on the internet about Pange, I was barely able to find it or a photo of the Chateau. But over the years, more and more information has been added and eventually stories of Jean reached the net to include family histories of his ancestors.

I read an article about the Chateau and it seems that his family still lives there. His son, perhaps the man I met helping Jean onto the train, entertains tourists at the Chateau. He and his wife welcome guests and I have always wanted to go and make a visit.

Lieutenant Jean de Pange

Since joining Wikitree I had a renewed interest in Jean and I began researching him and his family. Jean was indeed a Free French pilot. I learned that he fought with the Normandie - Niemen squadron ( FAFL ), is credited with 517 combat missions, and he was awarded several medals including the War Cross. I found portions of his autobiography and also records of his service in Africa and in Russia and read that he learned Russian in 6 months in order to liaise between the Russians and his French squadron. And he carried some distinguished visitors on his airplane in Africa: General de Gaulle and also General Leclerc.

Blason Pange

His family has quite a colorful past including relations to Princes, authors (both men and women), philosophers, an ancestor who fought in the American Revolution, and one of his ancestors is even credited (among others) with championing the idea of a unified Europe (EU). Many of the ancestors were murdered during the French Revolution and others fled to Switzerland for safety. I spent a few days reading all of the stories and they are quite an amazing family.

de Pange, Une famille noble

From the website of the Chateau:

In 1720, on the site of ancient medieval fortresses (burned in 1404 and 1704), Jean-Baptiste Thomas marquis de Pange built the current castle, still inhabited today by his descendants. In Pange, it is always a member of the family who welcomes visitors and evokes for them 400 years of history:
Since the ennoblement, in 1626, Pierre Thomas:
Chancellor of Lorraine, by Duke Charles IV "for more 300 years of services rendered by his family to Lorraine ".
Going through the French Revolution with the fate of three brothers:
- Louis, Lafayette's companion in York-Town and died for the king in the Vendée.
- François, the democrat, friend of the poet André Chénier and loved by Madame de Staël.
- Jacques, the youngest, the only survivor of this turmoil, became Napoleon's chamberlain, welcoming the Empress Marie-Louise to Pange in 1812.
Until the more recent era of the commitment of two Jean de Pange:
- Count Jean de Pange, a friend of Robert Schumann, a man of letters, historian and enlightened Germanist in the quest for the union of the peoples of Europe.
- His nephew, ninth marquess of Pange, having joined London in June 1940, engaged in the fight of Free France, in Africa, as navigator officer in the Lorraine group, then, in Russia, as a liaison pilot in the Normandy squadron -Niemen.

As I have time between my own genealogy and project work I plan to expand the Wikitree profile for Jean and for some of his ancestors.

I hope you have enjoyed my story.


Images: 1
French countryside
French countryside


Comments: 3

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This story shows that a life of kindness is the only way to live.
posted by Nova Susanna Lehman
I loved your story SJ, it is wonderful that you have been able to capture your thoughts and share them in this wonderful story. Oh wow... and look who it turned out to be!!! You have shared with us quite an honor. Thank you !!
Thanks for writing this S.J. I really enjoyed reading it. It was fun to learn about Jean. What a cool dude.
posted by Caryl (Short) Ruckert