Albert Geouffre de Lapradelle.

War letters from France online

. (page 4 of 6)
Online LibraryAlbert Geouffre de LapradelleWar letters from France → online text (page 4 of 6)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

to live the peaceful life since the attacks of Q. We
have the cannons to amuse us in the daytime, and
the fuses to light us up at night, and with all com-
fortable apartments underground. What more
could we ask to make us happy?



A card from A. H. :

The action is lively in our region. The Crown
Prince sees that even if Verdun is not far away, the
road to it is utterly impossible to take. Let us hope
that he will be convinced of it before long.


And the commanders? Here is one of them
sketched in a lively fashion in the letter of a young
officer, L. G., lieutenant of reserves:

The general of our army corps has just made
an address to us. He is a tall, thin man, with an
alert expression, a round head on a long neck, short
hair, black but grizzled, a clear bright eye under
dark lashes and a prominent forehead. His nose
is straight above a heavy gray mustache, his jaw is
square and firm. In very simple words, he told
us the lessons he had learned from these seven months
of war. He spoke of the intoxication of victory,
and said that when two combatants faced each other
in a mortal conflict, both nearly spent with exhaus-
tion, the man who could hold out an hour longer
was sure of the victory, and this crucial hour, he
said, depended neither on munitions nor arms, but on
the moral factor alone. And the morale depended
on the officers. "Be optimistic," he said, "before
everything and in spite of everything." He told
us of an engagement in which his division alone stood



the attack of five brigades (two and a half divi-
sions), which threw themselves on him one after the
other. That his men were able successfully to repel
this attack, which lasted five days and five nights,
with the opportunity of only two hours' rest a night,
was due entirely to their morale.

He gave us a solid basis for our optimism too.
"Joffre will conquer when he wills and where he
wills, but he wants the victory to cost as little as

It was a fine lesson that he gave us.

And the men? A Frenchwoman writes on the
eleventh of August, 1914, after the furloughs were
granted to the men at the front:

The children are playing with their little friends
De B. under the surveillance of the orderly of Mon-
sieur de B., who fell in one of the first battles. The
orderly is a brave soldier from the North of France
who cannot pass his leave of absence at home because
the Boches are occupying his town, so he has come
to spend it with these children of Monsieur de B.,
to whom he is devoted. He wrote during the winter
to Madame de B.: "I have done my duty to the
utmost. I am sure that my general is watching me
from above and in doing my duty I am still obeying






SOLDIER writes to his aunt in Washington,
October 15, 1914:

I am writing from the house of the Sisters of
Compassion, where the wounded are cared for. Per-
haps you don't know that I was wounded. For more
than a month I was at Grenoble, where my regiment
was charged with the defense of a section against
a possible attack from the Italians. 1 I must confess
that it seems rather ridiculous to me to protect a
city that no one had any intention of attacking. A
ministerial circular called for the names of terri-
torial officers who wished to join the active regi-
ments. I had my name inscribed. I fought in the
Department of the Somme. On the morning of the
twenty-fifth of September in less than an hour's
time I was thrown into the thick of the conflict in

i The letter was written early in the war when it was by
no means certain that Italy would not be held by the terms
of the Triple Alliance to fight on the side of Germany and



the first rank, and for my baptism of fire was ex-
posed to a perfect rain of bullets and shells. I was
far less disturbed than I feared I should be, and I
explain it that on account of being an officer I had my
men to look after. I had about two hundred under
my orders, for the lack of captains set me in com-
mand of the whole company. We had to fight all
the following day too and that night repulsed a
counter-attack by the Germans. Four nights in suc-
cession we slept in the trenches or in ditches. In
spite of counter-attacks and continuous firing we
fell asleep as soon as we had a few free moments.
I have a rank which will waken all the strength in
me if affairs get worse. My insomnia of the old
days is completely gone.

In spite of our hardships great and small,
everybody is happy, full of enthusiasm, and pledged
in word and deed to the destruction of our enemies.
Wonderful spirit which lasts under fire for days and

You've heard of their marmites: there are two
sorts of them. One kind produces a whirlwind of
white smoke when it bursts at an altitude of about
twenty-five meters. They are not very terrifying,
but the other kind, much larger, burst often at the
level of the ground with a horrible effect, emitting a
cloud of yellowish smoke. Both of them sound like
rattling iron. You'd think they were coming at you



on a curtain rod. With a little experience you know
whether these shells are headed straight for you or
not. And you can even tell when they are headed
for you whether they will explode near you or far
off. It furnishes us with a nice little game of wager.
The twenty-eighth of September, at half-past two
in the morning, a villainous shell of the yellow variety
burst over our trenches less than a yard away. As
several shells had preceded this one, we were all
waiting in the proper position, huddled together as
much as possible in the trench, our heads protected
by a sack — like many of the officers I had a Tyro-
lese sack. The noise of the bursting shell was so
frightful that I thought I was cut in pieces. I found
out later this is the common experience of men when
a shell bursts near them. My part in the explosion
was six wounds, viz., a piece of shell in my left leg,
three pieces in my left thigh, a piece in my back,
and a shrapnel bullet just above the left knee. I
was carried by my devoted soldiers to the ambulance
more than four kilometers away, was treated and
then taken to the train. We were stopped at Montdi-
dier. I was losing a great deal of blood and almost
at the fainting point. I stayed in the ambulance
from September 28 to October 7. When I reached
Rouen I had a fever and could not move. But here
I am in a first-class clinic, scientifically and tenderly
cared for.



On November 15, 1914, from the Schneider Hos-
pital, far back of Laval, a brother writes his Odyssey
from the city of Romans to the Vosges with the Alpine
chasseurs :

My fortune was to stay for seventy hours in a
trench. Twenty-four hours of the time in the rain.
During the last afternoon we counted eight hun-
dred shells, and the strange thing about it was that
after such a pelting we had only one slightly wounded
man. That day, the tip end of a bursting shell
weighing about a pound fell just at my feet. I kept
it for a while in my kit-bag, but had to throw it
away on a forced march one day to lighten my load.
I have had at various times a number of trophies
taken on the firing line: German helmets, grenadier
cloaks, belts, guns, cartridges and so forth. But I
have dropped them all along the march rather than
carry them further. At Etial alone we found enough
material to equip five hundred men. There was a
pyramid of helmets and new shoes in front of the
church. We gave the shoes to the townsmen. Our
company was the first to enter Etial on the heels
of the retreating Prussians; and I had the satisfac-
tion of tearing down with my own hands the placard
bordered with the German colors which threatened
with death anyone who annoyed the German soldiers
or removed that notice.

But to return to the Vosges. After the glorious


Battle of the Marne the Germans retreated in haste
toward the frontier. Our hussars and chasseurs kept
only twenty-five or thirty kilometers behind them all
the way. The Germans on this retreat left an enor-
mous quantity of munitions behind them, and the
stragglers were made prisoners. One day while we
were halting by the roadside we saw two African
chasseurs bringing in two German prisoners. One
of them smiled and gave us the military salute.
When they reached the tent company all of a sudden
I saw a French soldier dart out into the street,
throw both arms around this prisoner and kiss him
on both cheeks. It was his Alsatian brother who
had been drafted into the German army. . . .

We have gone into action northeast of Rosieres
in the Department of the Somme. We are in the
midst of great fields of beets in the Picardy plains.
We had to march under fire from enormous German
guns which were beyond the range of our cannon.
The 22nd Regiment was a little ahead of the rest
to the right, when the Germans tried to turn us on
the left. It was a terrible moment; shells from one
hundred and twenty guns bursting over our heads,
bullets from the front and the left, and in case we
gave way, the 22nd Regiment would be cut off and our
artillery exposed. We lay down flat on the ground,
and while in this position I was struck by a bullet.
I threw away my knapsack and leaning on my gun,



crawled eight or nine hundred meters to find a
stretcher. If I met the soldier who gave me that
bullet I would salute him, for he was doing his duty.
In their rage at having to retreat they devastated the
region through which they passed with incredible
ferocity. I have no reproaches to make against
the Germans on the field of battle, but in their treat-
ment of our eastern and northern country, they
have forever covered the name of Germany with

A soldier writes from the Grand Palais the follow-
ing undated letter:

I have had four serious wounds and two accidents.
My left shoulder has been dislocated and my right
arm broken. I lay on the ground all night long
absolutely unconscious and losing a great deal of
blood. I do not yet know how I came to. We were
fighting like lions, we Zouaves of Tunis. Within three
hours we had made seven bayonet charges. Dirty,
unshaven, covered with mud, our white trousers
spattered with blood, we were handsome all the
same. For we had made these German barbarians
see the worth of the African soldiers, whom they
called "savages." We hated to retreat, but we were
proud to check their advance as we did. I was about
to be advanced to a lieutenancy when I was wounded.

Can soldiers who advance against us as they did


over the bridges of the Sambre behind Belgian women
and children as screens, still claim to belong to the
civilized world?

Well, I want that gold lieutenant stripe and I'm
going back to get it at the point of the bayonet.
I shall be proud to give a little more of my blood
and even my life, and with what joy, if I can only
help in punishing these barbarians !

P. L.

As soon as they are in the hospital, however wel-
come the rest, the one thought of the men is to get
well enough to join their regiments. J. T. writes
from Lyons on March 26, 1915:

I am starting for my depot and from there I shall
go to the front. I was wounded a second time in the
leg, as you know. The wound was quite slight, but
I have been very sick. My strength has come back
now completely and I have vanquished the acute
attack of bronchitis which I caught the day I was
wounded. I spent the following night on the battle-

So I am well again and going back to my place
in the orchestra. I hope this time to be in the grand
celebration. Are we downhearted? No! No!
Doubtless I shall be assigned to some new regiment,



and therefore I cannot give you my exact address
on the eve of my departure.

My days at Lyons have been melancholy ones.
The enforced repose of a long convalescence far from
the active scenes at the front has worn on my nerves,
but I got new energy the day I learned that my
return to the colors had been finally sanctioned.

Spring is coming. The trees are getting green
and already the last white gulls have left the banks
of the Rhone in their flight to Switzerland. One could
easily yield to the emotion created by the poetry of
nature if the thought of one's friends fighting there
at the front did not come to recall one to the tragic
but glorious reality.

Good-bye, I am returning to the fight filled with
new courage and new ardor. Good-bye, more heartily
than ever I say — till after the victory.

What word from those who nursed the wounded?
This from Lyons, from a hospital in which the great
surgeon Oilier worked once, and in which the great
surgeon Carrel has been working later :

The Americans would be still more strongly de-
voted to the cause of the Allies if they really knew
how the Germans are conducting this war. I was
astounded to see how the land for whose scholars



I have the greatest admiration can reconcile its won-
derful intellectual developments with a morality
worthy only of the most degraded barbarians. It is
certainly proven that intellectual and moral develop-
ment do not go hand in hand; still it is surprising
to see how a race that has produced such admirable
characters as Emil Fischer, Ehrlich and so many
others can remain morally at the level of the brutes
of the Stone Age. It is almost incredible. It shows
us that the Kultur which the German professes to
mediate to the world is only worth throwing away like
a rotten apple. I earnestly hope that with Europe
torn to pieces the United States will grow rapidly
enough to direct the evolution of the world toward
an ideal which shall satisfy not only our intellectual
and scientific demands, but our moral aspirations as

The author of these lines could not stay at Lyons ;
he went to the front bearing a message to general
headquarters in a region where the shells were still

Here the men who are really in touch with the
war behave admirably. The old valor of the race
comes out. One would think them the resurrected
soldiers of the Grand Army. I hope that the younger
generation will come out of this war completely



A little later he writes from Compiegne, a short
distance from the enemy:

Never have I had the opportunity of meeting men
of such varied types under conditions which brought
out their characters so sharply. Under such circum-
stances as these, one learns to appreciate the real
value of men, and it seems to me more and more
true that mere intellectual development is a very
insignificant part of an individual's life.

Just now my life is very interesting and not a
little difficult because of the number of roles I have
to play at the same time. I have to be director of
an organization which must function in actual prac-
tice better than any other of its kind, and at the
same time I have to be the experimenter in the labo-
ratory divining new things. These two occupations
are incompatible. Besides, I have to spend most
of my time traveling at express rates from place to
place. Sometimes I am at Paris in the quiet office
at the Ministry, and the next day I find myself in
a muddy ambulance of the advanced trenches, or even
nearer still to the firing line. Here it seemed as if
the whole character of the French race had been
modified. The men have recovered the warlike spirit
of their forefathers, they have the smiling courage
of the heroes of the First Empire.

The day before yesterday we lunched with


fifteen officers in a chateau within range of the Ger-
man cannon. The table was strewn with violets.
The dining-room was decorated with flowers. Wine
flowed freely and the guests were much more quiet
and contained than in the times of peace. Only
a few minutes after lunch we were standing on a
hill surrounded by the thunder of the French bat-
tery, which was answering the German fire. Every
man that I have seen seems to be in the finest
physical and moral condition. They are living in
trenches but in the open air. Their health is ex-
cellent, their organizations perfect, and every man
is confident that he is marching on to victory. . . .

Compiegne is tranquil only in appearance. The
barriers which surround us do not isolate us from
the outside world. I see about as many people here
as in New York. Furthermore, I am traveling about
a great deal in automobiles, either along the front
or back and forth from Paris. All that takes up
my time. Sometimes we meet with deplorable acci-
dents, for only a few minutes' ride from Compiegne
brings us out into the region of the shells. I have
lost my best chauffeur and one of the others is

Our hospital is full of wounded men. Thanks to
the surgeons of the ambulances of the advanced line,
I get the kind of patients I want. My colleagues
are all working hard and faithfully. Dr. D., of



whom I have spoken to you, has discovered some
substance which seems to be able to sterilize flesh
wounds. If our present experiments confirm our
former observations we shall have made important
progress in the treatment of wounds. D. is a re-
markable man, and I am in hopes that our researches
will result in important discoveries.

P. S. — I am sending you a copy of the report
from headquarters signed by General D. It will
give you a true idea of the way the Germans are
conducting this war.





Chambre des Deputes

Lamaguere- p. Labarthe-
Inard (Haute Garonne)

8 October, 1914.

YOU can imagine in what anxiety we are living,
but how could we be otherwise but firm and
courageous, my wife and I, when everyone, I say
even to the poorest peasant, is furnishing us a superb
example of self-denial and heroism? You who have
a soldier's soul would be rejoiced to see the calm
courage, the coolness and the zeal of the recruits
and the troops, whether in formation or at the sta-
tions. All through our cities of the South, which
are so ardent and often so excitable, there is not a
sign of excess nor a discordant note. It is truly a
fine awakening.

Our 17th Corps was decimated in the earliest bat-
tles of the war and our region here acquitted its
cruel debt to the country with noble generosity.
From the economic point of view our population



has not suffered much, neither have raw materials
been lacking. I am most happy to hear from you
that the sympathies of the American people are
with us. It is a great weight on our side of the

The world has been too patient with Prussia.
Read over again the speeches of Thiers, the Schles-
wig-Holstein affair and the history of the days of
1852. It is the same story over and over again of
cynical lies and brutality. I have had experience
with some of this policy in the Moroccan business.
And I assure you that at times the cunning rascality
of Berlin has perverted public opinion even in
France. But now the eyes of the world are being
opened, and civilized humanity realizes that the de-
struction not of Germany, but of the intolerable
Prussian hegemony is essential to the world's wel-

Jean Cruppi,
Former Minister.

A Frenchman writes to an American friend from
Paris, November 15, 1914:

Our France, our dear, beautiful France, has shown
herself wonderful in this war. Pardon my enthu-
siasm, but when one speaks of a mother one is
allowed to show pride in her. France has shown



herself wonderful because she has shown herself as
she is in reality, and not as she has allowed herself
to appear at times through sheer negligence. At 4
p.m. on the first of August the entire French people
were welded in a single hour into the most perfect
union. You would have to see it to realize it. There
are no more parties in France. The revolutionist
Herve, but yesterday a man without a country, is
shouting, "Vive la France!" The most rabid social-
ists of yesterday are at the front, dying under the
common soldier's cloak or the officer's uniform. Not a
newspaper indulges in partisan vituperation. In the
great committee which has charge of the interests
of the nation and whose members bring their private
resources to the altar of the country, you will find
side by side revolutionists and monarchists, radicals
and progressives, bishops, pastors, rabbis and free-
masons. There is only one bloc now in France — a
bloc much more solid than the ordinary political
one made of an amalgam of opposing wills and prin-
ciples reconciled in appearance only. This bloc is
one that has really existed all the time, namely, the
soul of France which we thought was divided be-
cause it was covered over with the veneer of politics.
The veneer disappeared on the first day of August,
and revealed the soul of France. Oh, how little the
people understand us who believe in the vanity, the
inconsistency and the volatility of Frenchmen !



Instead you will find here a cool, resolute, confi-
dent seriousness, a robust optimism pervading all
classes of society, sacrifices generously accepted, no
lassitude, an iron determination to have done with
the war, a loyal upright attitude towards our
enemies, as towards our dear friends of England and
Russia, a profound respect and an admiration with-
out bounds for heroic Belgium, a thousand examples
of private devotion to the fatherland in every form,
and back of it all, resting on the unshakable confi-
dence in our cause, the life of the nation goes on
calmly in its work and, more than formerly, in its
prayer too.

The German military machine, powerful as it is,
will not prevail against the allied forces, strong in
the conviction that their labors are founded on the
right. The struggle will be long, we know, it will
be hard too, but the German will break his wings
in it at last — that we know too. So we look forward
to the day of his exhaustion and defeat. I trust
that you will not doubt the outcome in your country
which has so freely given us its sympathy and shared
with us the love of the truth. Believe me, we recipro-
cate fully this cordial sympathy.

You will find Europe much changed and frontiers
altered, my dear friend. Believe with us that these
changes will be favorable to our cause. Let me
repeat again — certain that you will spread the truth



about if you hear any assertions to the contrary —
that France at this moment is perfect in union,
courage, strength, confidence, faith, truth and honor.
She has men, she has faithful allies, she has time,
she has heroism to spare — and she will conquer.

G. M.
* * * * #

From a Frenchwoman after the Battle of the
Marne, September 15, 1914:

The enemy is repulsed. He is in flight, God be
praised! Our hearts, so long filled with anguish
at the steady advance of the barbarians, are now
bursting with hope. The Germans have trodden
our soil, they have plundered it, devastated it. What
matters, now that they are departing, driven by the
French armies ! Our sacrifices will not have been
in vain. All the men who have fallen and who shall
still fall may rest in peace ; and those who weep their
loss will not have added to their grief the humiliation
of a France conquered, wretched and flouted.

Joseph T. has been wounded. He has borne it
with manly courage and is in hopes of getting back
to the army soon. Madame A. [a colonel's wife]
has cut short her vacation to the North and has
returned to Limoges to work for the Red Cross.
Marie de F. writes that her mother is dying and her
husband has gone back to the service. They have



had no news of their son, whom you perhaps were
the last one to bid good-bye at Paris, when he started
out in all the pride of his new uniform of sub-
lieutenant of Hussars. Captain R. d'A. and one
of the sons of General O. have died on the field of
honor. The list of our dead will be long.

France, dear France, so wounded, so cruelly
robbed of her soil and her sons, will yet emerge vic-
torious from this terrible crisis. We are under no
illusions, but have the greatest confidence. Without
doubt we still have a great deal to do to conquer
the invader and drive him from our land. But this
first success, the victory of the Marne, is a won-
derful start. It has given our soldiers a zeal and

1 2 4 6

Online LibraryAlbert Geouffre de LapradelleWar letters from France → online text (page 4 of 6)