Albert Geouffre de Lapradelle.

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And so we did. At the price of great pain and
sufferings, and always under steady bombardment,
we took our position behind the crenaux waiting for
the worst. It was not twenty-five minutes since the
attack had started. I was feeling much better,
although shivering from the cold, my clothes being
all wet through, my face and hands being covered
with mud, which also filled my eyes and ears.

Suddenly we heard a great noise behind us, a noise
of chains, irons, wheels, of horses pulling hard and
in great number, and of swearing, hurrying men.
Before we had time to realize what had happened,



a thunderbolt rent the air. We could feel the heat
of it. A deafening roaring shook the earth, while
the displacement of air was so great that we were
thrown against the forward wall of the trenches.
One of our famous "75" batteries had just arrived
upon the ground and had started to make the Boches
(name by which we call the Germans) dance!

Oh, how I wish you had been there ! It was most
wonderful. I had heard a great deal about the
superiority of the French artillery, but the most
eulogistic compliments are not enough to tell the
truth. Within ten minutes, one single French bat-
tery had silenced the six German batteries, and with
such a maestria ! ! The German obuses are certainly
very redoubtable, they make a terrific noise and work
destruction ; but ours ! It is frightful. They explode
dryly, brutally, as if with anger. They seem hardly
to have left the mouth of the gun when they explode
with a dry quick effect, and for five minutes one
can hear the debris they have created falling down
upon the ground.

One can hear the German obuses coming and
whistling through the air for thirty seconds. Ours
seem to get there ten times as quickly, and to go
straight to their objective.

To make a long story short, after it had silenced
the enemy's guns, our battery directed its fire against
the German trenches with remarkable effect.



By that time a battalion of chasseurs, who are the
best men of our infantry, had also arrived upon the
scene. They made a wonderful charge a la bayonette
and drove the Germans back to their trenches, mak-
ing many prisoners. The next day when we buried
the dead, there were three thousand Germans and
our loss was but two hundred. Such a disparity in
losses is accounted for by the fact that they had to
swamp our first line of intrenchment to get through.

I was told the next day by a man who was in the
first line that it was a question of shooting fast
enough to kill them all! The Germans came to the
assault of our first line in such great numbers that
our men did not have time enough to shoot and kill
them all, and thus were finally swamped.

The whole attack lasted about an hour. After
it was over our artillery bombarded the German
intrenchments for over an hour, causing them, no
doubt, further losses.

I had to resume my function as a sentry until
eleven p.m., but I enjoyed it, I assure you, watching
our big obuses fly through the air, and witnessing
the destruction they made.

When I went to bed — of course there is no bed —
I was so exhausted by the terrible moments I had
lived through, that I hardly took the time to take
off my wet clothes.

I rolled myself into a blanket and fell upon the


earth of our shack in a slumber so deep that nothing
could have awakened me.

Since then I have been in three more attacks, so
I am getting used to it now and hold my own better.
However, I shall never forget those anxious moments
of the first attack.

Letter of First Lieutenant B. of the Alpine Chas-
seurs, describing his first battle. He was but twenty-
one years of age. He has since been killed in Alsace
after having obtained two mentions in the Orders
of the Division and the Army for his bravery.

My very dear Mother:

You must have been much surprised latterly to
have had so little news of me. Now that the storm
is over, I can tell you that I spent five days within
thirty meters of Mm. les Bodies and that this prox-
imity prevented my sending you any news. Here is
what happened : On the sixteenth we found ourselves
in the trenches of the third line, eight hundred meters
from the Boches. The Major assembles the com-
pany commanders ; Lieutenant M. returns and taking
me by the arm, leads me up a little slope, indicating
a wooded ridge about four hundred meters away, and
says to me: "The battalion is ordered to take that
ridge; the third and fourth companies will attack.
The affair is for tomorrow afternoon."



At that moment I had a chill, and all day my
heart was troubled. I prayed as I had never prayed
before in my life, and in the evening my courage had
come back. I slept all night. The next morning we
were to be in the trench ready to move at half-past
eleven; we ate rapidly and at five minutes before
eleven I started to assemble my company.

All the men were together and we were about to
start, when directly over our heads an enormous
bomb exploded, then a second and then a third. The
Boches had found our point of assembly and were
giving us a heavy bombardment. The men showing
some nervousness I brought them back under shelter ;
then turning about I found M. deadly pale, and he
said to me : "I am wounded in the leg ; take the com-
pany to the point of departure for the attack and
report to the Major." I can assure you that at this
moment I did not feel very heroic. Outside the bombs
were exploding with a horrible noise, and the moment
of attack was approaching. I marched my men along
and halted them in a place of shelter. I then went
to find the Major and reported to him. He said:
"You are in luck to find yourself at the very outset
commander of a company; to be acting captain at
your age is splendid." I answered: "Major, I am
not sufficiently experienced; I beg you give me a
company commander." He replied: "Come, come,
a little courage, you will see it is not difficult. The


signal for the attack will be given you by Lieuten-
ant S."

I could but obey. I advanced the men as far for-
ward as possible in the trench, and passed the word
that I was taking command of the company.

The French artillery was firing on the ridge which
we were to attack. It was a fantastic sight. The
220's went whistling over our heads and exploding
over the Boche trenches within a hundred meters of
us, making a horrible noise and thick black smoke.
At half-past one the 75's began to fire. Two thousand
bombs were thrown against the Boche position. It
was an infernal din; uprooted saplings were car-
ried a hundred meters away and thick smoke covered

Our machine guns began to take part. Suddenly
the voice of Lieutenant S. called: "Ready! Third
Company, forward!" Without a moment's pause I
sprang out of the trench, shouting: "Come on, boys,
forward !" The 75's had then increased their range.
All the men followed me, and shouting, we scrambled
forward at double time towards the Boche trench.
I had my revolver in my hand. In the heat of the
attack, I had distanced all my "poilus" and found
myself thirty meters ahead of them. Suddenly, I saw
a mound. It was the Boche trench, and at the same
moment a bullet whistled by my ear. I leaped for-
ward and I find a Boche, his gun still smoking in his



hand, with the Red Cross brassard on his arm; he
drops on his knees, crying, "Pardon, kamarad" and
showing me his brassard, says: "Sanitat, sanitat".
[Hospital Corps.] I go on with my men. We pass
over the ridge, and we stop at two hundred meters
from the crest as I had been ordered to do. The
Boches were bolting on every side. Our artillery fire
had so demoralized them that they had abandoned
everything. We occupied all the Boche positions,
picking up quantities of material, guns, machine-guns,
tools ; here and there dead Boches blotted the land-

But it was no time to jest. I get my men together
and tell them : "Get to work and dig a trench there."
I was astonished' to find myself so calm. In front of
us fifty chasseurs guarded the construction of our
trench. Up to that moment I had had one man killed
and twenty wounded. Suddenly, right in front of
us a violent fusillade began; bullets whistled on all
sides, and I saw the "poilus" ahead of me return,
calling, "Lieutenant, they are coming." It was the
counter-attack. We jump into the trench scarcely
yet outlined, and I command the men to fire. Two
hundred meters from me I see the Boches coming in
masses, shouting; I even heard the cry "Vorwarts,
vorwarts!" All of my men begin to fire; the fusillade
resounds; the Boches, throwing themselves on the
ground, return our fire ; thousands of bullets go whist-



ling by our ears, but I pay no attention. Suddenly
the Boches rise and continue to advance ; we continue
to fire; the Boches, in panic, run away at full speed,
leaving behind them quantities of dead and wounded.

My men continue to work at the trench. I have
them place in front of the trench a barricade of
barbed wire taken from the Boches, and we spend
the first night there. Note that I had with me only a
sergeant. I did not feel very big. The Major had
sent me a note in which he warmly congratulated me,
and expressly forbade me to give up the position. I
think that all my life I shall remember that night.
The Boches were constantly firing on us, while dig-
ging their own trench sixty meters from us. My
men were on edge and I had a hard time to keep them
from firing. In the night the Boches came again,
but again were quickly repulsed. What a night!
Frightfully damp, a flurry of snow and terrible cold,
and overhead the sounds of the whistling bullets
mingled with the strokes of the spades and picks of
the Boches. The whole thing was impressive.

Daylight came, and with it a frightful fusillade
from the Boches. One of my men was killed ; another
wounded. I had in all ten killed and some thirty
wounded. We kept on working at our trench and
connected it with the trench of the neighboring com-
pany. During the morning someone comes through
a connecting trench telling me that the Maj or wished



to speak to me. I arrive at his headquarters. He
shakes my hand, saying : "My boy, I am going to see
what I can do for you; but I promise you, anyhow,
to have you mentioned in the Orders for the Day,
which will give you a right to the Croix de Guerre"
and he adds : "All the officers of the battalion admired
the way that you conducted yourself during the
attack, and I am happy to congratulate you."

You can imagine if I was excited! I assure
you that it is easy to do one's duty, and I was
not at all expecting to be congratulated. All the
officers came to shake my hand. I felt covered with

Now for something else. We spent the next four
nights in the trench, and this morning I had my feet
swollen and hurting horribly. I went to the relief sta-
tion, where they found that my left foot was frozen,
and my right was frost-bitten. They sent me to the
rear, to a village, three kilometers away. I shall be
here, it seems, for eight days.

You see, dear mamma, everything went well. It was
surely your thoughts and your prayers that watched
over me, and kept away the bullets. You can say
that your son did his duty as best he could, and if I
am happy to be named in the Ordre du Jour it is
principally because of the pleasure that you, as well
as papa, will feel.

The battalion is now going to be relieved. I hope


that my frost-bite will be cured when it goes on duty


1. In Alsace, we have taken the ridges which com-
mand the "Sudel" farm, and we have held all the
ground taken.

2. In Alsace, further details inform us that the
south ridge of the "Sudel" farm, taken by us on
Wednesday, constituted a formidably equipped re-
doubt. We took there one bomb thrower, five
machine'-guns, some hundred rifles, shields, bombs,
tools, and rolls of wire; telephone apparatus, thou-
sands of cartridges and some sand bags.

Here is another picture of the front, a picture of
Christmas day, the anniversary of Him who said,
"Peace on earth, good-will to men." A young theo-
logical student in the ranks writes :

December 25, 1914.
I do not know how this day has passed with you,
but here it has been somewhat sad; the nostalgic
temperament of our Celts [he is a Breton among
Breton soldiers] has got the upper hand to-day.
Our cannons might thunder as they would and our
mortars vomit their fire, all the noise failed to waken



our soldiers from their dreams. They were all think-
ing of their dear ones left behind in the gray, sweet
Armorican country. They were living over again the
happy Christmas days of the past, the midnight
masses celebrated with such warmth and spirit in
spite of rain or snow, the return home to where the
huge log was flaming on the hearth, the gay awaken-
ing in the morning, and the joy of the children when
they found that the little Jesus had visited their
wooden shoes. All of this has been like an uneasy
troubled dream. Still the Christmas Eve was beau-
tiful. The rain had stopped and dry weather came
on. The sky was sown with stars and the ground
covered with hoar frost. At midnight the German
soldiers sang in the trenches. One of our lieutenants
stood up and sang, "Minuit, Chretiens." Our
Bretons chanted their Christmas carols in the rude
sweet tongue of Armorica, "Tarram Mandeleck"
"Sing Noel." After the singing one of the Germans
came out of the trenches with a lantern in one hand
and a box in the other, shouting, "Don't shoot, com-
rades, cigar — cigarette." He came halfway to our
line and stopped. One of our officers replied that
we were well supplied with cigars and cigarettes and
that he might make other use of them. He returned
to his trench and a little later the firing began.

Don't be downcast thinking of us in the snow and
rain, it's all part of the game. War is a test of



character like others, and nations need suffering to
keep them from the thoughtless life that lets the day
slide by in ease. We know what it is to suffer here,
but if we know how to bear the suffering, to receive
it as God wills, we shall come out the stronger for
it, tempered the better to meet all the tests of life.
And if we must come to the supreme test to give
our lives for France, believe me, not one of us will
hesitate a moment. For myself since the beginning
of the war I have held my life cheap; they call me
reckless, but until now I have not received the slight-
est scratch. Perhaps God doesn't want me yet, but
if death is to come my prayer is, "Thy will, not mine,
be done."

Don't reproach yourself that you are too happy.
You have a good soul and are doing others good.
God made you that way, you should thank Him
for it. You may rest assured that I do not forget
you in my prayers, and I ask you, too, when you
kneel at the altar to think of me and commend me to
our Saviour, that He may make your friend, the
little corporal, a willing victim if he is destined to
die and a good priest if he is destined to live.

A French jurisconsulte who has recently pub-
lished an article in the Revue Generate de Droit
International Public on Anglo-American arbitra-



tion, is now on the firing line. With his great
technical competence and with the moderation and
solidity of character which is well known to all his
friends and to specialists in his subject in every
country, he writes under the date of May 4, 1915:

At the front we certainly feel that we are in
danger. We hear the rifle bullets whistling and
sometimes we are spattered with mud from the burst-
ing shells, and even if we are called on to do little
in reply, all that has a moral value. Still it is sad
to have infinitely less asked of you than you could
do. Think of it, for more than a month I have
been helping build roads. My men work hard, but
my own role is at present almost nil. Formerly I
worked on fortifications. It was more dangerous,
but much more of a military job, and I felt that
my labor was much more useful.

All this is enlarging the foundations of my ex-
perience and jurisprudence and I think that my
next course on the Rights of War will be one of
unusual originality (if the German rascals allow
me to give it). You know what reorganization of
the material will be necessary. You know also how
little regard the German military leaders have for
the rights of nations or for the conventions signed
by their government. I had an example of it the
other day. The little town in which I am staying
(I can't tell you the name of it) was bombarded.



Perhaps the Germans thought that they had good
military reasons for the bombardment, but in defi-
ance of Article 26 of the Regulations of The Hague
they did not give any previous notice of bombard-
ment. The noncombatant population, surprised by
the rain of shells, had no time to seek refuge. The
effect of the bombardment was almost nil. An old
man of seventy and a soldier were killed, one or two
others wounded, some pieces of masonry knocked
down, and holes plowed up in the air. But in spite
of these slight results, it was deplorable as an ex-
ample of the brutal method of the Germans in
attacking without warning and in direct defiance of
the international agreement which they made.

These are facts which the jurists ought never to
forget. I am collecting only those of which I have
been the witness, knowing how careful one must be
in accepting testimony. Well, I have in my pocket
incendiary pastilles of the Boches, bags of which
were found everywhere after the Battle of the Marne,
and I also have seen a German bullet with the end
cut into a cross with a very neat incision so as to
make it into a dum-dum ball.

The war lengthens, but the morale of our troops
is unimpaired:

Those who return from the war will be so sick
of it that they will never fight again. I speak of



the Germans, for as to Frenchmen, liberty will always
find plenty of defenders. They (the Germans) have
left thousands of corpses on our line of march in
Champagne, corpses mutilated in every fashion, arms,
heads, remnants of human bodies, lie scattered about
unburied, and those that are buried are so near the
surface that the shells dig them up again.

Still the morale of our men is good. When the
moment for attack comes, young and old rush for-
ward like tigers. When the battle is over they come
back "all in," and two hours later you would find
it hard to believe that these men who passed you
nonchalantly with their pipe between their lips have
so lately been heroes. Their conversation is typical:
no fine phrases, no lyric passages, no boasting; their
language is the simplest form of expression filled
with common slang and diminutives ; and this is true
of men of all classes of society.

Yesterday a comrade whom I had lost sight of
since December, met me. He is thirty-eight years
old and married. I asked him for news of this or
that captain. "Killed," he said of one. "I saw him
blown into the air in bits," he said of another. "He
was plucked by rifle ball," of another. Of another,
"He's gone dippy." "And you, my friend?" said I.
"Oh, the humming-birds [bullets] don't find me at-
tractive enough to light on."

The man who would start to discourse on the jus-


tice of our cause in fine language would be sent to
the devil. We don't think about that any more. We
have got used to living out of doors, to being ex-
posed. Our bodies are accustomed to it, and our
minds, after vainly seeking to estimate the duration
of hostilities have grown resigned. When we get
orders to move, we move without a word. We are
equally confident of victory whether time or action is
to decide the issue of the war.

All said and done our morale is on a par with our
task. We have bent to the task partly through
necessity, partly by intuition. In either case it spells

A letter of June 24, 1915, from an artillery man
tells how the enemy's trenches are taken:

We are very busy at this moment. My poor
captain spent last night (the fifth in succession)
out of doors. He has not been at the cantonment
since the eighteenth. As for me, it's the same old
jig, as we say in military slang. We live a queer
kind of life. Take yesterday for example; at six
in the morning everybody was sleeping soundly in
the safe shelter of the trenches, in spite of the firing
nearly all night. At nine o'clock the whistles
sounded, everybody was routed out and the firing
began, with intervals of three to ten minutes between
shots. This irregular fire is harder to conduct, but



it is very effective in demoralizing the enemy. The
shots now coming close on each other's heels, now
separated by several minutes, keep the whole zone

The difficulty in this irregular fire lies in the fact
that the irregularity is deliberate, and the men point-
ing the guns have to be ready at any moment to
sight the exact spot that the commander of the
battery wants to reach. It's tiresome because we
are all keyed up from the commander down. The
slow firing lasts sometimes for two hours at a stretch.

At half-past eleven it began to rain. We all lis-
tened to the patter of it in our shelter. At neon
we were eating our soup when all of a sudden the
orders came and ninety shells were dispatched into
the enemy's lines to paralyze an attack which had
already begun. The attack ceased and we went on
with our soup.

Then we worked at the screens and the observa-
tory. At three o'clock we were allowed some sleep.
At six soup arrived, but with it an order to meet
an infantry attack. We fired one hundred and twenty
shells at regular intervals. A shot every ten seconds
from each battery. The shells fell in the trenches
as though dropped from a spoon and tore them
badly. Three cannons of Battery 155 were trained
on a blockhouse, which soon disappeared from view
in a cyclone of fire and dust. Then we extended



the fire and formed a barricade of cannon, under
the protection of which the soldiers sprang forward,
not one of them falling. One hundred, two hundred,
three hundred meters and they were at the Bodies'
trench and the blockhouse. A bewildering scrimmage,
and half the men came back dragging some gray
bundles of rags, which we recognized as prisoners.
Later we heard that we had taken two trenches and
two forts with seventy-five prisoners. The German
trenches were filled with corpses, swimming in blood
and mud.

The firing was continued until eleven o'clock in
the evening in order to prevent a counter-attack,
but in order to save ammunition we fired only one
shot every three minutes for the whole battery.
Everything was calm and we were sleeping when at
one o'clock in the morning the counter-attack came.
It lasted twenty minutes and the Boches withdrew,
leaving a number of corpses on the field as a result
of the storm that they had the impudence to draw
down on themselves. We went back to bed and slept
peacefully until eight o'clock. Finally the relieving
party came and we got back to the cantonment for
a breathing space.

You can understand that in this kind of life we
don't have much time for anything. Firing, working
on the intrenchments, eating, sleeping, these are our
main occupations, with a little washing and writing


on the side. We hardly have time to think, for our
whole being is totally fixed on the single end of vic-
tory. And it seems as if our end were reached. The
Boches are melting away under our fire, for they
will be massacred, but will not surrender. Above
the aviators are flying incessantly, hindering any
rush of the enemy on our position and keeping us
informed of his position all the time. We have some-
times six aviators in the air to one German who
hovers at a distance, not daring to advance in the
face of such superiority. At that there is almost
nothing going on in our section. It is on the left
that the real action is taking place.

Louis G.


A card from M. L., July 14, 1915 :

We have all the rain that you could want in the
sky and all the water you could want in the trenches.
It's the regular fourteenth of July wetting. There's
nothing extraordinary to report — we are beginning

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Online LibraryAlbert Geouffre de LapradelleWar letters from France → online text (page 3 of 6)