Archive for WW I

trip to the past

Posted in Books, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 6, 2019 by xi'an

When visiting my mother for the Xmas break, she showed me this picture of her grand-father, Médéric, in his cavalry uniform, taken before the First World War, in 1905. During the war, as an older man, he did not come close to the front lines, but died from a disease caught from the horses he was taking care of. Two other documents I had not seen before were these refugee cards that my grand-parents got after their house in Saint-Lô got destroyed on June 7, 1944.

And this receipt for the tinned rabbit meat packages my grand-mother was sending to a brother-in-law who was POW in Gustrow, Germany, receipt that she kept despite the hardships she faced in the years following the D Day landing.

military records of two great-grand fathers

Posted in Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , on December 15, 2018 by xi'an

 

Here are the military records [recovered by my brother] of two of my great-grand-fathers, who both came from Western Normandy (Manche) and both died from diseases contracted in the Army during the first World War. My grand-father‘s father, Médéric Eude, was raising horses before the was and hence ended looking after horses in the Army, horses from whom he contracted a disease that eventually killed him (and granted one of my great-aunts the status of “pupille de la Nation”). Very little is known of my other great-grand-fathers. A sad apect shared by both records is that both men were retired from service for unfitness before been redrafted when the war broke in August 1914…

the end of the war

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , on November 11, 2018 by xi'an

16 avril 1917

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , on April 16, 2017 by xi'an

Today is the Centenary of the battle of Le Chemin des Dames (April 16-25, 2017) during WW I, which ended up as a slaughter (271,000 French casualties and 163,000 Germans casualties) and a complete military disaster. Which led to a significant rise in mutinies (pretty much disconnected from the starting Russian revolution) and to British divisions taking over this district. While there are many other examples of an insane disregard of infantry troops by the war commanders, this place stuck in the French collective memory. I remember as a kid listening to my neighbour telling me about this place as his worst experience during the war. (While never mentioning the mutinies, which remained somewhat shameful for most of the Century.)

Fear [book review]

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on October 18, 2015 by xi'an

Last time I was in Edinburgh for an ICMS conference, I bought this book, Fear by Gabriel Chevalier, from the nice nearby bookstore, out of a pile of novels about World War I. This was in 2014, “celebrating” the start of the “Great” War… Although 1914-1918 is a century ago, WWI was quite a presence during my childhood, from official ceremonies to history books, to neighbours and relatives who had fought in the war. Like my old neighbour who had been a sapper, fought at Chemin des Dames, and had some schnarpel left under his skin that he would keep till his death. And I somewhat picked this book by chance for its back-cover summary, its tale of plain honesty about the meaningless war in the French trenches, surviving as a “poilu” for the four years the bloody was lasted and facing fear and pitiful superiors by accepting death as a most likely outcome. I had not realised then that the book was actually written in French by a Frenchman and recently (most beautifully) translated into English! And that it was the same writer who had written the arch-famous Clochemerle novels.

“We all have a fund of luck (we like to believe) and if you draw on it for too long there will be nothing left. Of course there is no law to this and everything comes down to probabilities.”

I think it is actually better I did not realise this until late, because I did not particularly like Clochemerle when I read it (close to 40 years ago!), with its easy jokes and caricatures. This novel is just fabulous and I am surprised it is not more well-known in France. The reference novel for the “Grande Guerre” is usually quoted as being Wooden Crosses by Roland Dorgeles, even though it is much less critical of the establishment than the vitriolic Fear which often adopts anarchist tones to analyse this bloodbath from another era (?). Just as in Wooden Crosses and the fantastic Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, the book insists on the intense camaraderie between base soldiers, against superiors and suicidal missions, but, as suggested by its title, it also digs very deeply in the psychology of the foot soldiers when faced with almost certain death. And acknowledges from the start the constant fear, which would make the book quite controversial when it got published in 1930. A truly remarkable book I wish I had read years ago, when my old neighbour was still alive. (The New York Times published a much more interesting review about a year ago.)

Le premier homme [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 16, 2015 by xi'an

I read this book by Albert Camus over my week in Oxford, having found it on my daughter’s bookshelf (as she had presumably read it in high school…). It is a very special book in that (a) Camus was working on it when he died in a car accident, (b) the manuscript was found among the wreckage, and (c) it differs very much from Camus’ other books. Indeed, the book is partly autobiographical and written with an unsentimental realism that is raw and brutal. It describes the youth of Jacques, the son of French colons in Algiers, whose father had died in the first days of WW I and whose family lives in the uttermost poverty, with both his mother and grandmother doing menial jobs to simply survive. Thanks to a supportive teacher, he manages to get a grant to attend secondary school. What is most moving about the book is how Camus describes the numbing effects of poverty, namely how his relatives see their universe shrinking so much that notions like the Mother Country (France) or books loose meaning for them. Without moving them towards or against native Algerians, who never penetrate the inner circles in the novel, moving behind a sort of glass screen. It is not that the tensions and horrors of the colonisation and of the resistance to colonisation are hidden, quite the opposite, but the narrator considers those with a sort of fatalism without questioning the colonisation itself. (The book reminded me very much of my grand-father‘s childhood, with a father also among the dead soldiers of WW I, being raised by a single mother in harsh conditions. With the major difference that my grandfather decided to stop school very early to become a gardener…) There are also obvious parallels with Pagnol’s autobiographical novels like My Father’s Glory, written at about the same time, from the boy friendship to the major role of the instituteur, to the hunting party, to the funny uncle, but everything opposes the two authors, from Pagnol light truculence to Camus’ tragic depiction.  Pagnol’s books are great teen books (and I still remember my mother buying the first one on a vacation road trip) but nothing more. Camus’ book could have been his greatest book, had he survived the car accident of January 1960.