Friday, 11 November 2016

Life in the Trenches


Last year a French reader got in touch with us to tell us about his grandfathers, both of whom were from Abilly. Quite by chance we had blogged about his paternal grandfather, but because we are always interested in local history he told us about his maternal grandfather too.

A local war memorial.

His name was Louis Bernier, and at the age of 28 he went off with the 68th Infantry Regiment to the trenches in northern France. While there he kept a diary. It was clearly an utterly miserable existance.

The remains of a large World War I crater in northern France.

Here are some extracts from the battle of the Somme (translated by me):

There is no way to give the ears a rest [with the cannons of the] 75th [with the] 75 [mm canon] spitting. There is nothing but flash and rumble. Everything merges.

Bad news. The regiment having suffered losses, we need reinforcements. Despite the length of my service at the front I am not able to escape from here.

A local Armistice Day ceremony.

Advancing the front line and crossing a desolate countryside he writes: 
Apart from some debris of bricks, stones [...] which are lying about here and there, all the houses were rased by shells. And it is sad to see a village annihilated in this way, with big craters which have replaced dwellings.  

Finally arriving at a former German trench:
With lovely shelters which were shellproof.

The remains of a World War I trench in northern France.

But there was never any time to take a breather:
We went to the trenches that very evening. [...] What a miserable journey! Walking 3 hours without rest, with a load on the back, bad weather and from time to time the glow of bursting shells.

Then there was the fighting:
Around 11 am we leave the trench. Bad day, from crater into shell hole. Under machine gun fire we move forward a few metres. My corporal, who I only met that morning, is wounded. I do him his first bandage in the shell hole.

He found himself on his own but managed to rejoin some comrades that night. They were short of food:
As brothers, we shared the food and the blanket.

They settled down for the long wait for relief, desperately short of food and drink:
Several of my comrades had to drink water which had accumulated in the shell hole, after eating a biscuit as hard as stone.

Update: Chm has emailed me to point out that the '75' that Louis Bernier refers to is a 75 mm cannon, not a regiment as I had assumed. I've corrected the translation to reflect this. He sent me a link to the entry about this type of cannon in Wikipedia. Originally used to fire shrapnel shells, they became the principle method of delivering poison gas. Both the French and British used these guns and they were still in use in World War Two, for example at the Battle of Bir Hakeim in North Africa. I must have seen the one in Les Invalides, but I found the WWI galleries so distressing that I hurried through and took very few pictures. I don't think I took one of the famous canon de 75.

Postscript to the Update: Chm has emailed me again to say that when he read the Wikipedia article on the cannon he recognised the family name of one of the inventors. It sent him on a genealogical quest and it turns out that his second cousin was married to the nephew of the inventor. He's very pleased with this piece of serendipity that allowed him to fill in another section of his family tree. Hurrah for the internet!

Further Update: Jlm, who is Louis Menier's grandson, emailed me to say he thought my translation of his grandfather's diary "conveys the spirit of the original text with great realism".

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Loire Valley Nature: A new entry has been added for Great Crested Newt Triturus cristatus, a strictly protected species.

A photo of a Little Egret has been added to the Herons and Bitterns entry.

A new entry has been added for European Chub Squalius cephalus, the fish you are most likely to spot in the local rivers.

Two photos have been added to the entry for Eurasian Crane Grus grus, showing them flying elegantly over Preuilly.

Some photos have been added to the entry for Hedgehog Erinaceus europaeus, mostly of one snuffling about in our driveway.

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Inverts Rule!: Simon Leather, who is a blogging entomologist and ecologist that I read, has just had some success with a tweet about how you don't need the charismatic mega-fauna to go on safari. Check out his post on Don't Forget the Roundabouts.

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A la cuisine hier: Some weeks ago I had quite a bit of veg to use up so made a batch of fridge soup. It turned out rather dull and unappetizing and I shoved it in the freezer. Yesterday morning we had an appointment at the bank so I pulled out the fridge soup as something quick for lunch and we dutifully but unenthusiastically ate it.

A few weeks ago I made crumbed chicken breast escalopes that Simon really liked, so yesterday I did turkey escalopes in the same crumb mixture (breadcrumbs seasoned with cumin, garlic powder, salt and pepper). The escalopes were served sprinkled with lemon juice and a salad on the side.

Recently we ran out of butter. We are currently on an economy drive, so instead of going out and buying more immediately we simply did without until the next supermarket grocery shopping day. As part of the economising we have also introduced a rule that dried fruit and nuts are not to be scoffed by the handful on their own as a snack. They are too expensive, and in order to extend them, they must be used as an ingredient in biscuits or something. Simon challenged me to make biscuits without butter and I've had a bit of a baking spree. One of the butter free nut containing biscuits that we really like is biscotti. At the moment we are munching our way through the batch of almond biscotti I made the other day.

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