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Couvin (Municipality, Province of Namur, Belgium)

Last modified: 2015-07-28 by ivan sache
Keywords: couvin | piron brigade |
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Presentation of Couvin

The municipality of Couvin (13,449 inhabitants on 1 July 2007; 20,693 ha) is located in the south-west of the Province of Namur, on the borders with France and Hainaut. The municipality of Couvin is made since 1976 of the former municipalities of Couvain, Aublain, Boussu-en-Fagne, Brûly, Brûly-de-Pesche, Cul-des-Sarts, Dailly, Frasnes-lez-Couvin, Gonrieux, Mariembourg, Pesche, Pétigny, Petite-Chapelle and Presgaux.

Couvin was already settled in the Prehistoric times; Roman coins and the remains of a Merovingian necropolis show that Couvin was also an important settlement in the early ages. The oldest mention of Couvin dates back to 872, as Cubinium.
In 1096, the town and its dependencies were purchased by the Prince-Bishop of Liège and became a bonne ville (Good Town) of the Principality. The town was burned down and sacked several times, for instance in 1408 during the revolt of the towns against Bishop Jean de Bavière; in 1554, it was seized by the French troops, who kept it for the next five years. Condé seized it again in 1653; after another seizure, the French suppressed the fortress in 1673 and occupied the town from time to time (1696, 1707, 1711, 1747).

The main activity in Couvin was iron working, already mentioned in the Middle Ages. In 1795, the forges of Couvin supplied the French canon factories, therefore contributing to the economic development of the town. The first coke furnace in Europe was set up in Couvain. In 1814, Couvain remained French, but the second Treaty of Paris, signed on 20 November 1815, transferred Couvain, Mariembourg, Fagnolle, Bouillon and Philippeville to the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

On 28 May 1940, 28 villages of the region of Chimay and Couvin were evacuated by order of the Germans. The villagers were allowed to come back in July, but they were told the origin of the evacuation only in April 1941. After the invasion of Belgium in May 1940, Hitler's staff looked for a safe place to build a new command post. A small clearing of the big forest of Couvin, located near the village of Brûly-de-Pesche, was selected. On 23 May, Dr. Todt, responsible of the fortifications for the Third Reich, ordered the building of three houses there, a house for the Führer, a canteen and a bunker. The site was surrounded with barbed wires and protected by anti-aircraft defense, not to mention the 80 hostages jailed in Dinant. Hitler arrived in Brûly-de-Pesche on 6 June and nicknamed the site Wolfsschlucht, the Wolf's Ravine. The church tower was taken down and transformed into a water tank. The armistice imposed to France was written in the church, whereas the presbytery and the town hall housed the staff. Keitel, the commander of the army, stayed in the village school, a henhouse was transformed into a hairdressing salon, a pasture was transformed into an airfield and a small swimming pool was built for the Führer. The Bavarian house where Hitler stayed has been suppressed, but the bunker, where he never stayed, and the swimming pool are still there.

The cyclist race Brussels-Couvin was run from 1949 to 1957. As usual, only Belgians were allowed to win the race.

Mariembourg has the last traditional locomotive repairing workshop (rotonde) still active in Belgium. Mr. Ghysen, from Thuin, helped by a few trainspotters, purchased locomotives and cars abandoned by the Belgian National Railways (SNCB) and hired the decommissioned railway line Mariembourg - Olly-sur-Viroin - Treignes (the latter two villages are now part of the municipality of Viroinval) to operate the locomotives. The Steam Railway Museum is located in Treignes, showing King Léopold II's personal locomotive, an old locomotive dated 1894, a collection of station master's kepis and (of course) a big electric model railway.

The Neptune Caves in Pétigny, a village once famous for its lacemakers, were discovered at the end of the XIXth century; they are considered as among the oldest and the most interesting caves in Belgium. They are watered by the river Eau Noire, that eventually disappears in a sump that nobody has been able to cross yet, and reappears 48 hr later in Nismes. The name of Neptune Caves seems to be fairly recent (1972), whereas the caves were locally known as Adugeoir.

Couvin is the birth town of General Jean-Baptiste Piron (1896-1974). Piron served during the First World War as Lieutenant, then a Captain. After the capitulation of Belgium, the Germans grouped the Belgian officers in Maria-ter-Heide but Piron decided to escape. On 12 April 1941, he left Belgium and went to Britain via Marseilles, Nîmes, Montpellier, Tarragona and Gibraltar. Piron eventually landed in Greenock (Scotland) on 6 January 1942, where he joined the Belgian Fighting Unit, set up in June 1940. On 4 June 1942, the Belgian forces, including Major Piron, were officially put at the Allies' disposal. On 30 December 1942, Prime Minister Pierlot appointed him Commander of the 1st Army Group, set up on 21 January 1943 in Clacton-on-Sea; Piron was later made Lieutenant-Colonel and Colonel, on 4 August 1944. On 7 August 1944, the Piron Brigade landed at Courseulles-sur-Mer (Normandy) and took part to the liberation of France and Belgium; the Piron Brigade also took part to the two campaigns of the Netherlands. In November 1946, Piron was appointed Commander of the First Occupation Army Corps in Germany. Piron ended his military career as aide-de-camp of King Baudouin I and President of the Committee of the Heads of Staff. He retired on 1 July 1957 and died in Uccle on 4 September 1974.


Ivan Sache, 9 June 2007

Municipal flag of Couvin

According to Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones, the Heraldry and Vexillology Council of the French Community proposed a flag for Couvin as:
Écartelé jaune et bleu, chargé au centre d'un écusson noir à la croix latine rouge chargée elle-même d'une tête de léopard jaune, la gueule ouverte (Quarterly yellow and blue, in the middle a black escutcheon with a red Latin cross charged with a yellow leopard's head with open mouth.
The flag is (would be) a banner of the municipal arms.

According to Servais, the arms of Couvin were granted by Royal Decree on 3 February 1950 (and have been therefore kept by the new municipality of Couvin). The quartered shield already appeared on a colour seal of Couvin dated 1789. The escutcheon shows the badge of the Piron Brigade.

Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 9 June 2007

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