EXTRACTS OF LETTERS SENT BY ANDRE TO HIS WIFE HELENE DURING 1914-1918 WAR
Declaration of war and mobilization of 36th Caen Infantry Regiment
Letter 1. August 41914
...posted at Caen. Arrived safely. Very good journey; everybody is on the move. Everyone is cheerful, we are welcomed all along the line. The carriages are covered in flowers.
Left Caen 5 or 6 August to go northeast.. Charleroi region. Battles around the Meuse River, then retreat as far as the Marne.
Letter 12. August 271914
I warn you that it may be several days before I can write again, as we spend days and even nights out of doors and we don't often find mail boxes. Apart from that, for the time being everything goes well, we are a bit tired as we have marched so far
September 3 he was wounded at Chateau Thierry and evacuated to Bordeaux, but he didn't talk about it.
Letter 19. no date
I am at Caen after a short stay at Bordeaux (for a light wound). I didn't write to you before getting to Caen, as I wanted to be sure that the wound was not serious.
Letter 20. September 171914 Caen
It's my left hand. I was hit by one of their damned shell bursts, but I probably moved my hand in time, as it is only a light wound. So I left by train and we arrived (after three days) at Bordeaux. There I was treated in a field hospital, set up in a school,
and I was certainly well looked after. Madam B told me that she hasn't heard any
more news, but now I think you'll understand that I'm anxious to hear...
They were awaiting the birth at the beginning of September, but Jacques didn’t arrive until 21 September
Letter 24. 23 September 1914
I received the telegram from Alice last night. I was happy to have your news, and to receive a few lines, the first for a month. Your little Jacques has at last arrived...
Letter 25. 24 September 1914
You can't have received my letters as I warned you that I am growing a beard, I
wouldn't have dared to do it without letting you know You must tell Jacques that
his father (It seems strange to be a father) tells him to be good...
Letter 26. 25 September 1914, Caen
You also told me that you would very much have liked to come and see me, but be reasonable, it wouldn't have helped you very much, as we are keeping in touch. The main thing is that we are both well, after that we need to be patient, and now you have our little child to keep you occupied. We shouldn't be too sorry for ourselves, when you think of all those families who have had to leave their homes. That's what I've found so sad, wherever I've been, to see carts full of linen, household effects, children and a few men (mostly old people) who drove them. They left behind their farms with all the animals, furniture etc... most of which won't be there when they return.
They left Caen October 13 to rejoin the regiment outside Reims.
Letter 46. October 201914
...now you mustn't count on having a letter every day, there will be times when I won't be able to write, and other days when the letters are not collected. So far, I haven't done anything except return to the regiment on foot, and now my company is having two rest days. This is how it works out; we have one or two days in the trenches and one or two days of rest, a little behind the lines. In the trenches we have to be on the look out. Sometimes not one shot is fired ...I suppose that Jacques is still growing fast... he will be one month old tomorrow.
The Germans having been driven back from the Aisne and the Vesle (Rheims), after the battles at Yser and Ypres, the front was more or less established from the North Sea to Alsace for about 750 km. Between Nieuport and Belfort, the front passed through Arras, Lassigny (IO km to the north of Compiegne), Reims (5 km to the north), Verdun, St Mihiel (a sort of salient was formed here, which was not changed until 1918) Pont a Mousson and St Die.
Letter 53. 7 November 1914
I'm still leading the same life.. it's mostly the artillery which makes a lot of noise. They take potshots at each other. There's no doubt that it's going to take a long time with this method of fighting, but it's probably better to take a bit more time and that there are no deaths... you are right to think that I envy those who are still at Versailles, I have no burning desire to get my stripes, my patriotism isn't that strong. I would much rather that we no longer needed to promote anyone, that would prove that our regiment had few losses..
Luckily we take everything in our stride here and now I'm going to do some sewing, I have to renew the lining of my greatcoat. It will be hard work, I wish you could do it for me, but I will manage it all the same.
21 November 1914, Roger Decoujlet, son a/Suzanne and Arthur, died.
Letter 66. 30 November 1914
This morning, in the trench, I received your two letters of 25th and 27th, containing very sad news. Although you had written earlier, saying there was no hope, I still found it hard to accept, it happened so quickly. I know very well that with children, we can't avoid such tragedies. It must be very hard on Suzanne, every time she sees our little boy... I think, under the circumstances, there is no question of having a party to celebrate the baptism, I feel that Jacques should be baptized without a big ceremony, what do you think? It's not worth waiting until my return.
Letter 75. 13 December 1914
We are now near Craonne... in a wood... the ground is very damp and clayey. The very day that we arrived, there was a downpour, if you had only seen us, you would certainly not have recognized me. We passed through at least 4 km of woodland at night. It was very dark and on that terrain we couldn't go forward five steps without falling, and to crown it all we ended up in water filled trenches. There was at least
1/4 meter of water in places, what a foot bath!
Letter 88. 5 January 1915
At rest we are very happy here, we can take off our shoes to sleep, you can
imagine how good that feels, after such a long time without removing them, and also we can only hear distant canon fire, which is a relief.
Letter 93. 15 January 1915
...no, I haven't received the parcel, which you mention the one with the slippers I
don't know whether I'd have much opportunity to wear them, as now I can easily go a fortnight without removing my shoes, even with wet feet... it's all a question of
habit and you can see that it's not affecting my health.
Letter 94. 17 January 1915
I've just had my hair cut, I feel much better - nevertheless I still have my beard....
Letter 101. 30 January 1915
I received your letters of 23rd and 24th. I liked the photos of Jacques very much
I've always liked photos which are slightly out of focus, from the point of view of
portraits, it's always better. As for Jacques, he is a handsome child and has a pleasing face, in other words, he is very appealing.
We are resting until tomorrow night... billeted in a house where there are no doors or windows, but we sleep well all the same. Once we are well covered (with our blankets and our greatcoats) we huddle up together and keep warm. You tell me that mother is tired, that there are many children at the creche, but there will be less, soon there won't be any more children. You must not take too much notice of what Adolphe says about Madeleine, as I realize he must be bored, but he is always ready to put things at their worst.
Madeleine and her daughter Georgette stayed in Lille, which was occupied territory
It's started raining, and the footbaths are here again. Last night it was pitch dark, we couldn't see a meter ahead. I had to position some sentries at some distance away. I'm beginning to find my way through the woods, but there are some who cannot orient themselves. Also a sentry was lost last night. I had to go and find him. The poor thing, he had fallen into at least three or four holes (which, naturally, are full of water). We had a good laugh when I got him back, as the more muddy we are, the more ridiculous we look. You know how much I like walking in the woods, I always go when I can, to check out the surrounding area, so that when it is dark, I know the paths, also I have my stick, I always take it with me, its very handy and I feel like a woodsman.
Letter 113. 3 February 1915
...as from today, we're again in the front line trenches, we don't know how long for, but I certainly hope that in four days we'll be sent to the rear, it won't be before time, as we've been here nearly a month and time begins to drag. Also, its becoming necessary, as our clothes are beginning to get a bit dirty, just as well that you can't see my shirt. Luckily we don't undress at all, so it's not so obvious. I'm still very well, the open air life suits me well.
Letter 124. 13 March 1915
I have been recommended for a promotion course for platoon leader - can you see me as Warrant Officer? The Lieutenant who commands my company asked me whether I felt I had the skills for leading my platoon. I declined, but he said that I was very suitable, and anyway he was proposing me - my own feeling is that I don't very much want to be an officer, but if it's necessary, there's nothing I can say (except that it's an honour). I enclose some flowers which I picked in the woods.
Letter 126. 15 March 1915
The Colonel told us that I already have the right attributes to become platoon leader, sangfroid - in fact all sorts of qualities which I didn't know I had - especially cheek! If the war continues long enough perhaps I'll return as a General, whilst waiting for
that day, I'm still the little corporal (as that's what they often call me) but I would much rather the war would end.
Letter 132. 26 March 1915
Today the regimental band came to give us a concert, it's seven months since I've heard any music, and it seemed very strange. It was almost like a dream and affected us oddly. No wall I need is yourself and Jack to be totally happy. Whilst the music was playing we forgot all about the war. Sadly the dream is over and I saw that I was alone...
Letter 143. 14 April 1915
I returned to the trenches yesterday, I'd forgotten what it was like, as it's a month since we left them.
Letter 147. 23 April 1915
I've moved yet again. I've been isolated since last night and this is why: I think I told you that there were some cases of measles in the regiment, and yesterday an infantryman in my squad had it. As soon as the Major came to see us, he checked us all, found several suspect cases including myself (although I assure you I'm not infected) I left with what was left of my squad, to the middle of the wood, where we were totally isolated and parked like dangerous beasts. Personally, I'm not complaining, as we'll probably be able to rest for 10 days.
We're behind the lines naturally and we have nothing to do, as we mustn't make contact with anyone. They bring us all we need, and we only have to do the cooking. You can see that this will be a rest which I'm glad to have, and which I certainly wasn't expecting. We've had to set up camp and have the "leafy arbors" - but perhaps you don't know what "leafy arbors" are. It's the hole which is used as a water closet. They need to be in a specially designated place. It's very important, you see, as we daren't infect the others.
Next we dug another hole, for rubbish and food scraps etc., I even had to have it enlarged as it had to measure Im50 in every direction and it wasn't quite big enough, you can see how serious we are and above all very regimental.
Letter 148. 24 April 1915
We have also set up our cookhouse and our beds, I made a superb one. This is how we make a bed: we start by making a hurdle (again something which you don't know, a hurdle is made of small interwoven branches, like willow baskets ). We place the hurdle on four stakes, so that we are off the ground and better still, it is springy, it's almost like a box mattress. Then we make the sides, again with small hurdles and finally we spread straw on the framework. With the kit bag as a pillow, I can assure you, one can be very comfortable.
...it's been raining since this morning. It didn't stop me from walking in the woods, as here, we can walk as much as we like. It's a real rest. There are several amongst us who are beginning to be bored. I don't think it will happen to me, as I always find something to do, on the contrary, this kind of life suits me well. I go for walks, I chop wood for the cookhouse, I've started a small garden in front of our hut.
Letter 153. 3 May 1915
We have to leave this evening. It's very likely that we will pass through several towns. Last night I was thinking that it's seven months since I've seen any form of lighting other than candles. I'm afraid I won't be able to cope with electric light. I've not yet finished my garden.
He rejoined his company 9 May and went into the trenches immediately on arrival
Letter 159. 11 May 1915
I believe I forgot to put the lily of the valley which I was telling you about in yesterday's letter. So I'll send it to you today.
Yesterday we were fairly busy - there was a heavy bombardment all the day and even at night (nevertheless it didn't stop me from sleeping). It wasn't quite in our sector, but one of our battalions has left as reinforcements. We, who are in reserve, haven't moved. We've been advised to hold ourselves in readiness and be prepared for a heavy barrage. Today all is calm - I don't know whether I've mentioned the chapel which was being built in our wood. It is finished and was consecrated whilst I was in isolation. Naturally all the construction is of wood, it is very effective. Nothing is missing, there is the altar, the steeple with it's bell which is made out of a shell case, the basins for the holy water are made from the bottoms of shells.
We took the paths of the cross from a small church which was in a totally devastated area. Finally, the Commandant (who gets on well with the regimental chaplain) brought in some religious pictures and all that is needed to hold Mass.
Letter 162. 16 May 1915
... at the moment I am at Fismes, a small town about 20 km behind the lines. What a difference! I walked along paved streets, with pavements and shops. I haven't yet seen the gas lights on, but will see that this evening. I feel revived. We'll certainly take the train from here - but we don't know what our destination is - we always see more soldiers than civilians, and also many deserters, you can imagine how we feel about them.
They left via Amiens and Dou//ens, to reach the frontline, at a village (Neuville Saint Wast) which was partly occupied by another unit, in the middle of a short but violent offensive (at Artois)
Letter 172. 3 June 1915
For several days we have been topsy turvy. To start with we were supposed to be relieved, so we got ready to leave. The baggage masters had already left, and then there was a counter order, we had to finish taking over the village. Everything was changed. What a job! I can assure you, I had an awful night. I won't go into details, it's too upsetting, except for the acts of heroism that we saw, it was the only good thing about it. I was proud to witness it. There really are some courageous people. Finally, we didn't capture the village, only several buildings.
The company suffered quite a few losses, they sent us to the rear trenches, it didn't worry me as I was beginning to get tired. We've only been there seven days, but we haven't once changed clothes, we sleep on the ground, whatever state it maybe in. To add to that we haven't shaved, so that we all look like brigands.
We've collected all the fleas which the Boches (Germans) left in their cellars ... when we have some spare time, we entertain ourselves by hunting fleas and the one who finds the most is the winner.
I forgot to tell you that I'm safe and well, not a scratch on me.
Fighting was as heavy at Labyrinthe (a few kms away) during which Arthur Decouflet was killed, 2 June at Ecurie.
The offensive started again 5 June. On 6 June the Germans counterattacked, without result. On 8 & 9 June Neuville was retaken by the French
Letter 178. 12 June 1915
Ah! I'm beginning to feel better. I've at last slept the whole night. I can assure you that yesterday I was at the end of my tether. The small advance we have made, to get here, just about finished us.
What a life we've had during the last two weeks! I think that we weren't totally sane by the end, we were more like robots; every day we thought we would be relieved and even then we had a surprise right at the end. We had to totally destroy the village. No doubt you've seen all the details in the papers. What they didn't mention, was that it was very hard, and although it was a success, it cost us dearly.
I've not yet seen many Boches, as we're fighting with hand grenades, from behind walls, and we are attacked without knowing from where the attack comes. We have to rely on shells which turn up irregularly. The regiment has been decimated, but it's not obvious. Today we will get reinforcements and the gaps will soon be filled.
Sent to rest at Yvergny (28 km from Arras). Promoted to Sergeant J 4 June J 9 J 5 The battles at Artois cost the French and the British 500,000 lives - for the gain of a few kms of ground.
Letter 188. 30 June 1915
Last night I received your letters of 25 and 26 June. Yes, Louis told me that he had a letter from his mother, telling him that Arthur was fatally wounded, and as you didn't mention it, I wondered what had happened. Yes, it's very sad, but don't worry about mentioning it. After all, when I see my comrades fall beside me and all the frightful things that happen during this war, one is no longer easily upset. I think that day by day, we become less human - poor Suzanne certainly has a lot to come to terms with, but I think she's done the right thing, she'll have less time to think, which is most important at this stage. As for me, as soon as I get bored, I get my kitbag or my rifle and I polish them, and as I told you earlier, we talk about mates who are no longer with us, but when our rations arrive, the subject is changed and we don't dwell on it.
Nevertheless, when we see all this, it's not surprising that we complain about the deserters.
Concern over leave, the first for a year, is beginning to affect everyone.
Letter 193. 8 July 1915
There's one important question which occupies our thoughts, you must have read about it in the papers - it's the question of leave. I'm not banking on it, as I can't see that it's possible for everyone to go on leave. We'll see, but above all, don't raise your hopes - you could well be disappointed.
In your last letter you talk about the 36th Regiment having been mentioned in dispatches, in fact we saw it in several papers. I think the heading was "a handful of brave men". Don't attach too much importance to this, it's all exaggeration, it's the way journalists write, that's all. We did no more than anyone else, but as the regiment had had quite a lot of experience in battle, it was a good idea to boost their morale by complimenting them, but it doesn't stop one from remembering those who were left behind.
Right! I must stop again. Another inspection - they're beginning to keep us on the go with their inspections, we'll soon be having them every day - so I leave you - I must get ready. Au revoir, my dear Helene, I embrace you and Jack - embrace Mathilde, Marcelle and all the family for me - and a handshake with your father Andre
Letter 206. 31 July 1915
I received your letter of 27th, where I see that you've made some calculations to see when I will go on leave. It's not worth upsetting yourself, as since the war started I've never found any calculations or forecasts to be correct. Also I never plan anything in advance now. Nothing stays the same - so you see there's no point in making any plans, especially for leave, it's more likely to be changed than anything else. The best is to wait, and when my turn comes, I still won't be sure of going on leave.
Letter 214. 14 August 1915
I've just remembered that this time last year we were apart for your birthday and looking at the calendar, I see that it's nearly the 18th. So that my greetings arrive in good time, I'll send them today, but I hope to be able to wish you a happy birthday in person. Last year, on that date, I hoped to see you again soon, and yet here's another year gone by and it's the same story. Anyway, I now think that we can hope to see the end of the war before next year. So I send you birthday greetings the only way I can, and within the means at my disposal, that's to say, in sending you many kisses and a flower which I'm going to pick for you.
Letter 215. 16 August 1915
I won't be going on leave on the 19th. Like you, it begins to seem a long time, as it's already quite a while that they've been talking about it, but there's nothing I can do about it. As for Jack, don't be frightened, I'm not worried about him as you tell me that he is keeping well, that's the main thing.
He probably received a letter telling him of Jack's measles. But Jack died on 15 August. He was born 21.9.1914, so his father never saw him
Letter 216. 18 August 1915
I received the short note from Charles, as well as yours. I hope to hear better news this evening, as you tell me that despite everything Jack is not too weak. Nevertheless I know that with children one must take care and things can happen very quickly. Write to me as often as possible and don't hesitate to ten me all about it. No news about leave.
Probably notified of Jack's death by telegram, he went on leave the 19th or 20th August. They spent 8 days together. On his return he was transferred to a construction corps still in the same area, near Neuville.
Letter 220. 2 September 1916
I'm almost a civilian again, as from yesterday I've been in charge of a work party, and this time the work is not easy, it's real masonry. Although we're not in the front line, we still have to work all night.
You can imagine how difficult it is to take measurements on a dark night, although they've given me a measuring tape. I have a fair number of kilo meters to cover every day, in the trenches. Anyway, I just have to get accustomed to seeing in the dark, and all will be well. The most important thing is that you don't get bored, try to find something to occupy yourself and to help pass the time.
Letter 221. 4 September 1915
I received your letter of 29th yesterday - yes, the seven days we spent together seem a bit like a dream. We must certainly not forget our little boy, but whilst you remember him, you must be brave and come through this difficult time. So far, the work which I'm responsible for seems more interesting than being on sentry duty in the trenches, as there's plenty to do.
Letter 234. 27 September 1915
I told you that our concreting work has been postponed, whilst we helped with fatigue duties, principally rations and munitions. Also I have to go many kilometers through the trenches. But that doesn't bother me, I'd rather be there than with my company at the 36th. I think they'll be relieved tonight, once again: they've been put to the test. I don't know for sure, what happened at the front, we haven't seen any newspapers for several days, but from the rumours one hears, things are going well, but at what cost! Still, it might lead to better things.
Letter 235. 29 September 1915
A quick note to assure you that I'm well. I'm still occupied with rations and munitions - the 36th which was relieved recently, returned yesterday with reinforcements, they will probably continue the attack as there's still strong opposition here. It's going well, but not without problems, it's really hard for the poor lads. To make it worse, it's raining cats and dogs. Those who are in the trenches have good reason to complain.
Battles 01 Vert-Halo and Bois de la Folie
Letter 241. 10 October 1915
I'm back with my company. I've found my mates again, but sadly some are missing. The company lost half its strength, killed or wounded. I'm back to being a infantryman. At present the regiment is resting, which is good. I don't think that the 3rd corps will repeat the previous push forward just yet.
Letter 250. 26 October 1915
We've reached a country area outside Amiens. The locals are friendly... I sleep in a bed... It's the first time I've done that since the start ofthe campaign... however, I can only go to bed on one condition (you'll recognise the customs of the North) as at Adolphe's when he lived at Lambersart (Lille) he had to take off his socks and shoes before going upstairs.
We'll take the trenches in this area, it'll be better than Neuville.
Ailly sur Noye
Letter 252. I November 1915
There's not much to tell you and as I'm not good at flowery phrases, like those I
saw yesterday on a card - as follows: "I kiss your lips and eyes with passion darling". I hope it'll be enough for you to realize that I find it difficult to write like that, but at least those are my sentiments.
I have to finish my letter there and in the absence of passionate kisses, I send you a big hug. Greetings to all the family, Andre.
Letter 280. II December 1915
That's it, we're in the trenches. We left yesterday morning and arrived last night, mud all the way! We stayed three hours in a zig zag trench where the mud was up to our knees. We'd never seen anything like it before. Luckily for me I have a fairly comfortable dug out, at least I'm in a dug out. But the infantry men who are in the trenches, feet in the mud, and only a canvas cape to keep the rain off, you know, they really have plenty to complain about.
I won't tell you where we are, as it is forbidden, but what I can say, is that this sector is very quiet and for those of us who have come from a war zone, it's hard to believe that we're still in the trenches, especially in the front line, if there's no mud. We hear very little, except a few gun shots...
Dompierre sector (west of Peronne)
Letter 284. 19 December 1915
I've been on watch in the trenches since last night - we have a four day roster. It's disheartening, the longer we're here, the more water and mud - it's not always easy to move in this mud. When it's liquid, it's alright, but it's chilly to have constantly wet feet. On the other hand, when the mud is thick - well, we're stuck in it! There have already been several who were engulfed in mud and it took several men to pull them out.
As for leave, I anticipate it will be in a month's time, the main thing is that it's getting closer every day.
Letter 286. 23 December 1915
We're still in the trenches, a stretch of eight days this time We'll be relieved on
Christmas Eve... We're still in the mud... it's hard work all the time, we can never get rid of this damned mud. Anyway, we've done our bit, and we're beginning to get used to it. We paddle in it as though it's always been like this.
I don't think I mentioned the rats before. We're infested with rats, all the bunkers are full of them. They are almost tame and when we're lying down, for example, they run over our stomachs, it's something else to entertain us. Wherever we put our
bread, or whatever else we have to eat, the rats will find it. But it's like the mud, it's a matter of habit, and I think we'll find a way to live with them.
Letter 291. 31 December 1915
I received your letter of the 27th, as well as your parcel for the New Year... we're leaving for the trenches tomorrow... we celebrated New Year today... we were issued champagne and jam... what a party!
Hopefully this period in the trenches will soon come to an end, as we should have a break round about 15 March. Luckily there's always leave. But time goes slowly, less and less people are going on leave
Letter 309. 3 February 1916
Today's news is that I'm wounded. This time I'll tell you straight away. But once again it's not serious, the proof is that I can write to you although the wound is on my right hand. You can see that they are after my hands. It was a piece of shrapnel which entered my hand between the thumb and the index finger, the wound is insignificant but it's because the shrapnel hasn't come out, that I was evacuated. At present I'm in an ambulance waiting to go to Amiens.
This is how it was. Nothing much had happened in our sector since we'd been in the trenches, but last night I went on patrol at 6.30, behind the lines, and those!! Boches sent a shower of shells exactly at the time and place where I was passing. I was with four infantrymen, only one of the men and myself were hit ... I'm not complaining, as it could have been much more serious.
Wounded in the right hand at Dompiere, evacuated to Amiens hospital. Helene visited him at Amiens Hospital 6 & 7 February 1916
Letter 313. 8 February 1916
I hope you got home safely. Sister told me that you were very nice, she was most complimentary. I'll try to be nice to her, so that she keeps me as long as possible. But you know that's not my way, especially with a nun. Anyway, I'll do what I can. Besides, she's not my type, you saw that for yourself.
Helene returned Sunday 20 February, and from 3 -14 March he was on convalescent leave. He returned to his unit 15 March, near to Thourotte, 8 km from Compiegne
Letter 352. 26 March 1916
We've left our village. Orders arrived this evening and we'll be leaving at 7 o'clock. We've done 20 kms and I don't think we'll stay here. To tell the truth we don't know where we're going.
Letter 354. 27 March 1916
This time, I've resumed a real soldier's life. I've slept on straw and my word I've slept well. It's true that I was very tired - We had marched almost 25 km - in appalling weather.
Letter 355. 28 March 1916
I'm writing to you in the train, I don't know where I'll post my letter, but I'll keep it handy and post it at the first opportunity. Once again, we're off into the unknown.
Letter 358. 2 April 1916
We need to be patient and to be hopeful. It certainly can't last much longer as the soldiers themselves believe the war will end soon. They're beginning to have had enough and if the situation isn't soon resolved one way or the other, there'll be trouble. So be brave and....
6 April 1916. They were at Verdun, combined with the 2nd Division. On 8 April, the 3rd Battalion was held in reserve at the Vaux race track. Heavy fighting at Fort du Vaux. On 9 April the 3rd Battalion is at the front, they repelled the German counter attacks between 11 & 12 April.
Letter 367. 14 April 1916
We will be relieved tomorrow or the day after. We can't wait to leave this hell. I still wonder whether you get my letters
On 16 April the 3rd Battalion repulsed another counter attack. Losses were heavy. Snow and rain.
Letter 369. 17.4.1916
...at last - we've been relieved and once again I've come out safe and sound.
Letter 370. 18.4.1916
What a relief1 We're not very far from the line, but it doesn't matter, we're fortunate - I had the opportunity to join the battalion which was in reserve, which meant that I was only one day at the front. Nevertheless we have had some deaths, as so many shells have fallen, that wherever we are, we are not safe. In some areas, all one can see are shell holes - an incredible sight. There's not one meter of ground without a hole.
If you read yesterday's paper, there was an official communication about several
trenches which were taken outside Douaumont, and it was the work of the 36th.
Naturally, there were quite a lot of deaths amongst the companies which took part. We have been very involved with replenishing the stocks of munitions... it was worse than at Neuville as we had to cross the woods and the flat country, there were no trenches.
On the last day we reinforced the front line. My section was ordered to reinforce a company which had to recommence an attack which had failed, but finally we saw that there was no point and stayed put. Never have I been so exhausted unfortunately about 15 of the company were killed.
Letter 371. 19.4.1916
...it's beginning to go better today. I had a good rest, I really needed it. We've just received the colonel's congratulations on our last encounter. That's all very well, but we'd rather hear peace declared.
Letter 374. 23.4.1916
We're resting in the Meuse area. The countryside is very pretty. What a relief to know that we're out of reach of the cannons for a while. One feels revived - you say that my letters are too short, but what do you want me to tell you, when we're in such a place. I don't see any point in telling you about it. War has nothing to recommend it, especially at times like this. Also we have neither the time or the inclination to write. As for deserters, we have those too, it's not surprising.
Letter 375. 25.4.1916
I've just been to see the boats, or rather the barges, as there is a canal close by, It's one of my pastimes, to see them work the locks.
He was at Tannois, by the canal from the Marne to the Rhine. The river is the Omain.
Letter 381. 3 May 1916
The weather is not so good - but it didn't stop me swimming again yesterday and I hope to return again, although there is a commander who doesn't allow us to, on the pretext that it's dangerous to swim - Isn't it petty, in wartime, to be afraid of the soldiers going for a swim. It wouldn't have occurred to me!
Letter 391. 12 May 1916
I was decorated yesterday, or rather I have the Croix de Guerre, as it was just handed over without ceremony. The worst thing is, I've no idea what it is for. I told you that this would happen some fine day. As it was labeled Corporal Guerard, I doubt whether it's very recent. I did hear, over a year ago, a suggestion that the wounded of the 236 Battalion should be given the Croix de Guerre. Anyway, it was another chance for a little celebration, naturally. So we emptied several bottles. The daughter
of the house, where we are doing the cooking, gave me a magnificent bunch of lilies of the valley - I send you a few sprigs with the ribbon.
May 1916 the regiment returned to the trenches at Verdun. 19 & 20 May, the Mangin Division occupied the trenches ahead of Fort du Douaumont. The 3rd Battalion of the 36th RI (Infantry Regiment?) is in place. 22 May came the assault and success, alas not for long. 23 & 24 May the Germans counter attack
Letter 401. 25 May 1916
We're going back. Yet another attack is over and that could count. I'll write to you when I can - Much love - Andre.
Letter 403. 26 May 1916
Yet another heavy attack is over, it wasn't very long, we stayed six days at the front, but they were six significant days. You have seen the papers - the result of those days: the retaking of the Fort de Douaumont! This time my company spearheaded the attack, what we call the first wave, and I can assure you that no one was laughing.
As for me, I think, I had once again the good fortune to find myself in a corner where the Hun's resistance was weak. They nearly all gave themselves up. Also this time again, I didn't have the chance to run anyone through with my bayonet, but you know I don't hold with it. We had to suffer a terrible bombardment and in some places the Huns resisted for a long time.
I've just received your letter of22 May, it certainly brightened my day, it was the day of the attack, and if you thought of me, I can assure you, I thought of you too, I also thought of our little Jack, you told me once that it was he who would protect me.
Anyway, I've never given up hope and I'm determined to return home, but when one sees so many comrades dying around one, there are nevertheless many dark moments to pass through. The company has lost two officers and two more are injured. The lieutenant commanding the company is wounded too. Amongst the non-commissioned officers, we've been lucky, there have only been four wounded. As for the soldiers, there are only about half of them left. Some companies have had even greater losses.
We have had good weather, mostly very hot, and we have suffered from thirst. Our only drinking water has been the water in the shell holes, if we can find any - we were forced to leave our packs before the attack, and they all disappeared during the bombardment.
Letter 405. 29 May 1916
... concerning the decoration, I've been put forward for a mention in dispatches to the Division. It's taken a long time and now it's all happening. I'll have too many
decorations! I recollect that you asked for another photo of me with my helmet and my decorations. You have such a passion for photos, it's unbelievable! Anyway I'll see if there's an opportunity to have one taken.
Letter 418. 10 June 1916
I've just received your letter of 7 June. I thought as much, now that I'm not going on leave, you're depressed. What's this idea of wanting to come here? I think you're over-reacting, you must be reasonable.
Think of the others. I agree that there are some more fortunate than us, but many have far worse to contend with. Just now, I was talking to a sergeant who is with me. He has not seen his wife since the beginning of the war. She is in occupied territory; he isn't even sure what's happened to her, as he has not had direct communication with her. I think that they have more to complain about than we have. We have seen each other three times, and the last time was barely three months ago, and at least we can keep in touch by letter.
Letter 425. 18 June 1916
Wonderful! I declare that you still have courage. We mustn't complain too much, when every day I see the letters which arrive asking for details of those poor souls who have disappeared (and one can't give exact details as we don't know how they were killed). I realize full well that I'm one of the lucky ones.
It's all set for my citation, I was not put forward for a mention at Division level, but only at Brigade level, it's not important, the star is bronze instead of being silver that's all. The only interesting thing is that I'll have two extra days added to my next leave. Referring to your letter, I notice that you started it at 2.30, then you went for your tea, and then you continued to write to me and you end by saying that time
passes! Agreed - but you don't seem concerned that it's your employer's time which
Letter 426. 19 June 1916
I have been mentioned in dispatches - this is what it says: "Excellent non-commissioned officer, during recent engagements, always set a good example of courage to his men, and by his own initiative, helped repulse several enemy counter attacks. "
I send this to you, but don't attach too much importance to it. There were some medals to distribute, and I had the good luck to have one, that's all. There are others who haven't any medals and deserved them, and vice versa.
Letter 449. 13 July 1916
Here I am, since last night, installed in my new dugout. I'm fine. It's not big, it measures about 2mx1.5m, but that's sufficient for two sergeants. There are two wire wove beds, a little table, a set of shelves, and even a mirror, it's luxury. The main thing is, it doesn't leak. We're not in the front line, but in reserve. As it's in a wood which has not been thinned out, we can walk unobserved without continually going into trenches, it's a bit more interesting. This morning I checked out sites which we could use if under attack, it made a short walk, and it was then that I found the violets which I send you - they are scarce at a time like this.
Letter 462. 26 July 1916
What's all this anger, once again, in your letter, which I received yesterday? Anger against soldiers away from the front. I'm afraid that you are losing your mind. As far as I'm concerned G... did well to prolong his convalescence, why shouldn't he? Calm down and don't read more into a situation than is warranted! It's perhaps because I'm not in the rear, but from here I see more important things than "shirkers".
Nine days leave from 18-27 August 1916. Return to Mouilly
Letter 484. 29 August 1916
I'm back with my company - I hope you weren't too upset at not being able to accompany me as far as Paris. You wouldn't have been able to stay long with me, and at the station you would have seen everyone crying, there's no point in that.
Letter 500. 14 September 1916
It's no longer raining, I don't know if the weather will hold, in any case, I hope it does. It's not as important as if I was in the front line, as I can stay in my bunker. There are still several leaks, but nothing like many others, where it's as wet as out of doors... I still have the company of many rats which eat everything. We have to find all sorts of ways to keep our haversacks safe, otherwise the rats soon eat the contents. We've made a contraption for hanging everything from wires, so the rats can't get at our bags.
Letter 508. 22 September 1916
Winter is coming and the bad weather isn't over. I've already spent two winters at
war, I'll no doubt survive a third. As long as it finishes before but I'm less and
less hopeful. Now I must prepare myself, I must sort through my pockets. I have letters in all of them, I will burn them.
Letter 517. I October 1916
Once again, we're preparing to leave, we're leaving this evening and we will go to an
area which is new to us. We'll see what it is, some say it's a very busy sector, others
say it's not too bad - who knows. I must also write a note to Maurice Brunot (Charles' head clerk). He wrote to me, he seems contented; it's true he's not at the front and also he's in the heavy artillery.
Letter 525. 1 October 1916
I've just spent two days in the strangest way. Once we were at the front, we spent 48 hours without moving in a shell hole. There aren't any trenches as the area has been totally destroyed, it reminded us of Verdun. We are covered in mud. We couldn't stop laughing. This morning, when we saw each other. some of us had capes, which were so muddied there was no blue showing. One would have thought they'd been through a bath of yellow paint. Now we've returned, we can laugh about it. But I can assure you that those two days seemed very long. As for the sector, it was not attractive, as the Boches were shelling it day and night. For this reason, we had to lie low, because as soon as they heard or saw us, we were shelled. By keeping still, and as there were no trenches, they didn't know where we were. Besides the shelling, the Boches had mined the whole area and we were constantly expecting mines to go off. All in all, it was a terrible sector to be in.
We were relieved at 11 pm, and had to march all night to get behind the lines - so in the morning I was exhausted. Mind you, it was preferable to Verdun or the Somme.
Nevertheless there were moments when we would have preferred to attack rather than stay in the same place in the mud. The main thing is that there were fewer losses than if we had attacked.
I must tell you that all this time, while we were living in the most primitive conditions, we had the most beautiful view in this part of France. I could see the Woevre plain, it's superb, and yet I would have given so much to be far from there.
Anyway, it's all over now and I must put it behind me. But it would be a good thing if those who want "to fight to the end" came and spent 48 hours such as we've just had; they would soon change their minds.
Letter 543. 29 October 1916
A peddler has just sold me this oak leaf - it's a soldier who makes these leaves, and he goes through the huts, selling them - it hasn't as much value as if I'd made it myself, but it will be a small souvenir, all the same.
Grenadier Training Course Somedieu
Letter 552. 8 November 1916
Today, I'm writing to you after the evening meal, as training lasted longer than yesterday. As for the oak leaf which I sent you, I'm surprised that you thought I'd
made it. Didn't you notice that the letters were not very artistic. I would have done better than that.
Letter 562. 18 November 1916
That's it, the course is finished, I'm now a grenadier! I'm not one of the elite as I can't throw grenades very far
Letter 584. 11 December 1916
We hear (from those who have been on leave) that those in the rear are beginning to complain quite a lot. Perhaps they will refuse to fight?
Letter 587. 15 December 1916
I think you're in too much of a hurry to spring clean our house, you've still plenty of time, now you'll be bored, waiting for my return.
I saw a newspaper which said that Germany talks seriously of peace, but I doubt very much whether we'll accept, although it would be a good opportunity.
19 December 1916 he was seconded from the Regiment to organize the construction of trenches and shelter. He went on leave from 9-18 January 1917.
Letter 608. 21 January 1917
I'm nearly home. Since I wrote a short note to you from Revigny, here is what I've done. From Revigny, 4 hours travel in open railway wagons, it was not warm. There is a lot of snow and a hard frost. Following that I marched 15 kms, and after taking my pack to the regimental depot, I went to the company depot where I slept.
This morning I was lucky enough to have a lift which took me part of the way, and now I'm going back on duty.
Letter 610. 23 January 1917
It's terribly cold today, luckily my work keeps me on the move the snow here is not
going to thaw. This time there's no mud. We can't keep upright in the trenches as it's so slippery.
Letter 622. 5 February 1917
...it's getting colder and colder, it was minus 23 degrees yesterday. I've never experienced cold like that before...
Letter 623. 6 February 1917
...it's still very cold, everything is frozen, the bread, the wine, even the cheeses, I've never seen that before. I don't know how they're coping at the front.
They leave for a camp at Gondrecourt
Letter 627. 12 February 1917
We left on 11 February, I walked, rode in a wagon, a car, and then by cart and finally from 5 pm yesterday until this morning, by train. We did at least 8 km per hour, I can tell you it was cold.
Letter 638. 22 February 1917
This morning I prepared the area for the afternoon exercises. It seems to surprise you that we are in training. It's not a bad idea, as after seven months in the trenches, we need to improve our maneuvers, especially for the advance, as they've told us again that we'll be pushing forward this time. We don't want any more trench warfare. What they need is a break through, but I can't see it happening.
Letter 658. 19 March 1917
Good news this evening. I was telling you that I didn't believe we could break through, and yet it's started. But it's only because the Boches have decamped that we are able to advance. Where will they stop? That's what we need to know.
It was due to the German retreat along the St Quentin - La Fere line that the Allied offensive line was not broken.
Letter 660. 20 March 1917
War news is sti1l good today. I don't understand why the Germans are running away, what are they up to? We'll soon see.
They set up camp near Chateau Thierry
Letter 676. 8 April 1917
We've had a complete rest for Easter, so I started the day by going to mass, there was the regimental band and a superb singer. It was not an ordinary mass. Picture a very small dilapidated church; I don't know how many centuries old, full of soldiers, a military band and a piano. The mass was taken by the regimental chaplain - it was very well done; in the afternoon we had permission to go to another area several kilometers from the camp, where there was a grand concert given by the four divisional bands. You can see that it was a really musical day.
16 April 1917 The beginning of the big offensive at Nivelle on the Aisne. Thirty French divisions were on the attack between the River Oise and the Montagne de Reims. They seized the first positions on the Chemin des Dames, but fell back at the second which was strongly fortified by the enemy who were well prepared Very large losses.
Letter 686. 19 April 1917
I don't understand the reasoning - after having been really close to the front, now we're 30 km behind it. I can well believe that we didn't gain what we'd hoped for from the offensive. At least whilst we are here, we aren't under shell fire and although the route marches are fairly strenuous because of the bad weather, I would rather march in these conditions than be at the front. Those who are there must be very unhappy.
Letter 687. 20 April 1917
We've returned to Roncheres. I think the offensive has failed again. We were well on the way to breaching the line to chase the Boches, but as the line was not breached, we could not go on.
Letter 693. 26 April 1917
I think we can mount as many offensives as we like, but it won't do any good. Whether we advance 3 km or 30, it won't end the war. So, as we can't end the war in this way - it's of no importance. Despite all this, we'll be ordered to mount another attack and we'll be told again that it's the last one! It would be better if the war finished some other way, although the most important is that it finishes.
I am the thirtieth on the list for leave. It won't be long!
Letter 695. 28 April 1917
Good news! I'm getting a rise in pay, I franc a day, it will be so wonderful, that I won't want the war to finish - at least they're thinking of us. Are they afraid that we won't co-operate anymore? As far as I'm concerned, I wish that they would talk less about pay and more about peace.(Play on words - Un peu moins de pai, un peu plus de paix)
Birth of JEAN 10 May 1917 Went on leave 16 May 1917 Put forward for promotion to company sergeant major 19 May 1917 Returned from leave 1 June 1917
Letter 710. 2 June 1917
At last I've arrived at the division's depot. No one knows where the regiment is, that's to say that they don't want to tell us. There's no doubt something went wrong, we've a rough idea of what happened, but we don't know the details.
I find myself in an odd situation, nearly everyone here knows I've been put forward for promotion but I've no official confirmation, so I am still a sergeant, until I hear otherwise. It's all the same to me. Every person gives a different reason for the delay.
May/June. Mutineers in French Army affected 16 army regiments. Calm only restored thanks to Petain 's unyielding authority.
Letter 718. 9 June 1917
I'm taking advantage of soldiers going on leave to give you the details which I could not include in my letters. This is what happened: The regiment and the division drew closer to the front, probably to go towards the notorious Chemin des Dames, but they were still well back when the incident occurred. They were going to send the troops forward several days later, when one beautiful morning, everyone refused to go on exercise. During the night some agitators had talked them into striking. They discussed this with several officers, demanding leave and particularly a cessation of hostilities. There wasn't much commotion, although some of the hotheads were threatening to shoot those who wouldn't go with them (as they wanted to go to Paris).
Naturally the officers couldn't do more than look on. In the end everybody was, with great difficulty, transported to the area which the Boches had evacuated. It was there that I found my regiment (near Noyon).
The regiment is dispersed between several widely spread villages, like that there'll be no possibility of the mutineers getting together. Also, many soldiers have been imprisoned and will be court matiaIled. Others are on leave, which means that the company numbers are greatly reduced. All this is very annoying, as there are all sorts of TurnOUTS, and above all, it's nothing to be proud of It's not the time to call ourselves heroic! There'll be many changes in the regiment. Luckily, in my case, I don't think I'll be affected, as I'm well enough known not to be suspected as a revolutionary! To tell the truth, I don't go along with it. I know that if it had not happened, we would be under fire, and it also shows that the men are getting battle fatigue, but it is still not up to us to rebel. It doesn't improve anything. Finally I hope that calm will return to the 36th brigade.
Letter 719.10 June 1917
I'm gradually settling in. I've at last got my stripes for master sergeant. I had to order yellow stripes with a red thread. I'm sergeant major, not just a sergeant. It doesn't bother me, the main thing is the promotion. The captain drew it to my attention and I had to change my stripes. I hope that Jean will continue to sleep well at night. You must train him now that he is older! Sergeant Major of the Battalion (3rd Battalion) A. Guerard. Hey! It looks good!
Letter 734. 27 June 1917
I'm writing from the trenches, where I arrived this evening. Here 1 am, back in one of those infamous shacks, which I haven't set foot in for five months. And yet I mustn't complain, as I'm in one of the better ones. I have a desk and a bed. I've not often had it so good. Also I'm not in the front line, but despite that, it's hard to get back to this. The sector is fairly quiet. I'll be able to sleep a little, as last night I had less than 2 hours sleep.
You ask whether I've handled any weapons, how can that be of interest to you? Still, here's some information. 1 arrived with my sword belt and my gas mask. That's all, you see, it's worse than an ambush. They haven't given me anything, and as I don't believe in firearms, I don't ask for them.
Letter 739. 2 July 1917
1 see that Jean is growing and gaining weight, but you don't tell me whether he's of average weight, I seem to remember that he should weigh more than that, as he'll soon be two months old.
Letter 754. 18 July 1917
What are you talking about "an officer's uniform", first of all I'm not an officer, and as it would cost at least 150 francs, you will understand why I won't buy one. No, what I could do is just to have my jacket and trousers tailored. After all, you know, I'm very comfortable as I am, and as I haven't got a smart outfit, let me know whether or not 1 should apply for leave. If not, I'll stay here!
15 July 1917 the French seized part of the Chemin des Dames.
Letter 770. 14 August 1917
Today, I was obliged to take part in an inspection. So I got out my saber for the first
time, but I hope that I won't have to use it often. 1 find it very embarrassing. But it's better than a rifle! Now we're going to be busy with moving on. It will probably be the day after tomorrow. Naturally we don't know where we're going, but I suspect that we're going to return to places we passed through near the end of 1914
Letter 773. 19 August 1917
This time we travelled by car, we stayed a night and a day at a little village, and this
evening we're off again, we'll probably be at the front by tomorrow night. It's not
paradise where we're going. We've not far to go now.
Chemin des Dames (Cerny)
Letter 776. 21 August 1917
Once again I'm installed in a German hut, as we are in the trenches which were
recently recaptured. But as many of the huts were destroyed by our side during the
offensive, we'll have to make do with what is left. We saw a paper in which the news
was good. We've been waiting several days to have rumours confirmed. All the
better, perhaps they'll take the pressure off this area.
20-24 August 1917. The French under command of Guillaumet took Ie Mort Homme and area 304. The whole left bank of the Meuse is re-occupied
Letter 780. 24 August 1917
I still see no signs of an end to the war. Certainly the news is good at the moment, but
it's a pity that the Russians aren't fighting as hard on their side, as at this time a united attack would have forced the Germans to retreat on all fronts. Then we could
have talked of peace, but I don't think that the latest maneuvers will have changed
the situation very much. Still, one must hope it helps to ease the situation.
Letter 794. 9 September 1917
Send me as soon as possible, something which I can share with my soldiers, as they
often offer me things which are sent to them. Also it would be a small return for the
person who brings it to me. You know, the parcel, when it arrives here, is worth a lot,
as the provisioning is a difficult job, for one thing they have to come a great distance
and they're often shelled.
Letter 806. 19 September 1917
I received your letter of the 15th which is not very happy. That poor woman. I didn't
know her very well, but it's still very sad. You make me shudder when you say that it
could have happened to you. I'll repeat again that we're luckier than some and if we hadn't lost our little Jack, we could say that we were very lucky in comparison with so many others.
Letter 812. 28 September 1917
We're at Fimmes, for at least 3 weeks - as for the sector - it's not marvelous; it's Cerny, Ailles-Heurtebise. But despite that we haven't had too many casualties and I am a privileged person now, having had the very rare moments when I have been outside. I only have to fear the time when I travel between here and the command post, once in the bunker, it's quite simple, I stay under cover. The commander is in much more danger, as he has to visit his sector.
Letter 815. 2 October 1917
You wrote to me today, to say that you've hardly earned anything. Well- what luck, I've just sent you some money. I took a money order to the regimental postman; it will probably cross with your letter to me. I've kept what I need, but you know that I have more than enough for my own needs with my present salary. What I hadn't taken into account was the allowance of I franc per day for being in the trenches. I have put aside 0.22 Francs per day for the mess, but on the other hand the mess is worth at least 10 Francs to me. Don't worry if you haven't time to work, it's better to spend your time with Jean. It's not worth economizing in war time. With all that I'm
earning, you will be tempted to become a "jusqu'auboutiste" (fight to the ender) you won't want the war to finish, and I'll be obliged to re-engage for military service!
Letter 820. 7 October 1917
Winter's arrived. At the moment news from the front is better than that from the interior. The English again are doing well. But what are all these rumours about Bolo and company's treachery? It's disgusting and I don't think it will help to raise the soldiers' morale. But perhaps that's the unexpected action which will help finish the war. In the long run, when we see that we're fighting for people like that - it's of no interest.
Letter 829. 16 October 1917
We're getting ready to leave. We should leave tomorrow evening, so that we can be guided towards the lines.
Letter 838. 26 October 1917
It's going well on our left, it's a success. Unfortunately I still don't think that it will be enough to end the war. Anyway, it gives us the chance to say that we're on top!
From 23-26 October 1917 the battle of Malmaison. The French commander put an end to the wars of attrition for the Chemin des Dames, aimed to conquer and occupy the Fort de la Malmaison. The assault was launched on 23 October, after a month's
preparation, which paid off by being a complete success. The enemy was pushed back to the north ofl'Ailette
Letter 844. 31 October 1917
It now seems quite normal to be in an area where there isn't a soul about. The countryside is so beautiful - from here we can see a valley superb with autumn colour.
Letter 846. 3 November 1917
We've been on the move since last night because of the damned Germans who have decamped, we're obliged to follow those who are still on the line. I don't think the Germans are too far off, but for now, we don't know.
Letter 854. 10 November 1917
Now that I have no need to go outside, I'm almost afraid to because of the mud, especially when I see those who are in my company (it's true that they keep going fairly well) who return with mud up to the waist, on the hands and even on their faces, because of the difficulty in crossing the uneven ground, especially at night.
Letter 859. 15 November 1917
We'll be relieved tomorrow evening and we will have a break. As it happens this time it's a short leave, and now it's only a question of days.
Letter 875. 14 December 1917
I've settled into my new Command Post since last night. I'm very well. It's in the middle of a wood, it reminds me of the winter of 14-15. As it happens we're quite close to the place where we were then.
Letter 878. 17 December 1917
Nothing new here, except for the snow which started falling this morning. The woods are a wonderful sight, it's quite beautiful. I'm speaking personally, of course, firstly because I love the snow and because I have a good fire in my office. I wouldn't say the same if I was at the front. We're mounting an attack tomorrow night, but again, I've little to complain about. The Command Post is in a tunnel, 1'll have to put up with being eight days in the dark, but one can't have everything, besides I think we may have electric lighting, so already it's not too bad.
Letter 881. 20 December 1917
We're in a tunnel. It's just like a small town, there are tunnels reserved for traffic (with one track of 0.60m. for the tip trucks which service the transports, and other tunnels which form rooms. I think I told you that this tunnel is 800m. long, but with all the branches it is double the length. It's lit by electricity almost all the time. It’s a superb installation.
It's sad to think that such work is futile, as it's good for nothing except the war, and a tunnel of that magnitude represents in material alone perhaps I million francs. Just think how many beautiful houses one could have built with that money, without taking into account once again, the labour. Half of it was done by us and the rest by the Germans
Letter 886. 24 December 1917
I didn't expect to be aware of this Christmas Day, by contrast I was aware of it in previous years as there was mass at this hour of writing (it's 12.30 a.m.). The chaplain has found a small corner, still in the tunnel, to take mass. Only two more days. It'll pass, but I'm not awaiting the relief as impatiently as previously - it's not so bad here.
Letter 887.28 December 1917
Snow has fallen very heavily today - the countryside is very pretty at the moment. It is a rough hilly area, so with the snow the effect is delightful. The evening that we were relieved, 1 went for a good walk (rather too long, it was 13 kms) at the moment the moonlight is magnificent, and the nights are beautiful. It seems so good to go for a walk. It's a wonderful feeling to go out after eight days below ground. Only it's very cold -I think that this letter should reach you on New Year's Day, so 1 wish you a happy New Year, and you can guess what is the best wish of all, that the war should end. We must hope for a change in 1918. Naturally, I'll ask you to pass on my good wishes to all the family, also to Jean, although I don't think that it will mean much to him as yet....
Letter 899. 10 January 1918
Tomorrow we return to the front. I'll find my tunnel again... I'll be in the dark for eight days once again - the captain has just returned. He went for a walk in the Beau Maris woods, where we spent the winter of 1914-15, you can imagine how we reminisced about those times and he told us what he had seen and what was still there from that time.
Letter 919. 2 February 1918
So the Gothas bombers have shelled Paris, and they've left their mark. It's sad that there have been casualties, but the papers have headlines which are much longer than if there had been a battle where there would have been many more deaths. Every day there are as many killed on the front, and no one mentions it. At least I'm reassured that all is well at Versailles. It's too far from Paris, and I hope that they won't go that far.
Letter 927. 10 February 1918
I received your letter of the 6th; it's a long time since you've been down in the dumps like that! If it's because of my leave, I don't really understand. It will be less than four months since my last leave; surely you can wait till then. I might even be able to go on leave before then.
Letter 933. 16 February 1918
I've just been jabbed (against typhoid) I couldn't avoid it, although I know the doctor who does the vaccination (we share cooking duties in the field mess (faire popote!) but he's not alone, there's another of a higher rank. All the same, I was given
preferential treatment, he gave me the smallest dose possible, I even think that
he didn't have anything in the syringe, but he did prick me and swabbed me with tincture of iodine, so honour is satisfied!
Letter 935. 18 February 1918
I hear the planes flying overhead, they are perhaps Gothas which are heading for Paris, as there is brilliant moonlight. We fire at them, but it doesn't stop them.
Letter 939. 23 February 1918
... for the moment our area is still very quiet, I hope that it will continue that way.
Letter 955. 11 March 1918
I'm going on leave. It'll be in 24 days time and this time it's certain, unless there's an upset, which would put our leave back. As I think that the situation is stable, I expect to go on leave on 3 or 4 April.
Letter 959. 15 March 1918
I received your letter about the Gothas bombers. I think that you've never been so scared - and as for Chatebeck who had to wait for a lull before being able to go outside!!! I think that what frightens you the most, is our cannons, rather than the
bombs your letter amused me, and I don't agree with you, I'd very much like to
experience an air raid whilst I'm on leave, as it must be entertaining too.
Letter 965. 23 March 1918
Good news, my leave may be put forward. Rumour has it that I may be able to leave round about 28 or 29 March. P.S. Bang (Bourn!) My letter's finished, but I've heard another rumour, or rather two. 1st - the Germans will have launched an offensive.
2nd - Leave will be reduced too so what I have just written is no longer valid. Oh
well, we'll see.
21-22 March 1918. After 5 hours bombardment 65 German divisions launched an attack from Arras to La Fere. The British received the brunt of it. St Quentin is taken. The German objective is to seize Amiens and to separate the French forces
from the British forces.
Letter 967. 24 March 1918
The Germans are no longer bombing us - it looks as though it's heating up on the British sector ... so far, it's not been too bad here.
First shelling of Paris by the big "Bertha" cannon. The Germans are at the Somme. Petain is sending 20 divisions to reinforce the English.
Letter 979. 4 April 1918
There's nothing to be worried about. The Germans are keeping up the offensive. It probably won't stop there, but I don't think they'll be able to advance much further.
We're waiting to see whether they continue in the same area, or if they try somewhere else. To my way of thinking nothing will change, they will be stopped. After all we've told them: "They will not pass", and without exaggeration, I believe this. We're going to the front in 2 or 3 days, and whilst waiting for this, I'm keeping calm.
Letter 982. 8 April 1918
You don't seem to like the Americans. However you say "They make love to other men's wives." I hope that is not how it is with you! As for the war, wait a little, until they are ready, as whatever they say, it takes longer than one realizes to form an army. They've said "In the spring", and it seems that they'll be ready by then. We still have some of their officers (U.S.) who are coming to learn from us.
Letter 1009. 10 May 1918
Still on the way - I'm in a little house (if we can call it a house) covered in thatch, and with a beaten earth floor, you see, I've achieved my dream! Without saying that it
reminded me of my house, it still gave me some ideas At present, all these houses
are empty, that's why we've been able to stay in them. I think that Jean will be one year old today, he's beginning to grow up. I should have had leave to celebrate his birthday, but so be it, I'll be there in a fortnight. We mustn't complain too much. I've just found in this house, a letter which is probably from the original owner. He is a prisoner now and his wife and children have abandoned their house - it's sad. They have more to complain about than us.
Letter 1012. 13 May 1918
We're going to the front tomorrow evening - it seems that it's not wonderful- we've got an idea of what it will be like, as we all we can hear is gunfire. I look forward to leave in ten days.
Letter 1015. Telegram dated 19 May. Arriving on leave 20 May, around 8 p.m. Andre
Leave from 20 May to 2 June, 1918.From 27 May to 3 June German offensive at Chemin des Dames. The Germans threw 30 divisions at a 50 km front between Laffaut and Craonne. Soissons is taken and they reached the River Marne at Chateau Thierry
Letter 1017. 4 June 1918
I've just rejoined my battalion, which has been resting for three days. We're off tomorrow.
Letter 1019. 6 June 1918
There have been some losses in my regiment, not many, but it's always too many. As for those who have returned, they are all unwell, whether because of gas, or exhaustion from the notorious Flanders fever. They've all had it.
9 June. German attack from Montdidieu to Noyan 13 June. The Germans were stopped south west of Soissons.
Letter 1023. 17 June 1918
This time I'm installed in a hole in the middle of open country, where it is too cold at night and too hot during the day. Anyway, that's a mere detail
Letter 1038. 2 July 1918
I'm not too badly off in my new abode. Only partly under cover, but at least I've got a small niche (about large enough for a dog) hollowed out of the bank beside the road. For writing I have a table, but it's used for many things, desk for the officers, dining table, and when it's free I can use it for writing
Letter 1043. 7 July 1918
I'll return your letters, as I only have my pockets in which to keep them, and my pockets are always full. That's why I burn everything, otherwise I'd have quite a collection.
Letter 1046. 10 July 1918
In the end, everything went fairly well, especially for the 3rd battalion whose losses
were small, although however few there are, it's always too many, but I was afraid
that there would be more. The results are good, there are quite a few prisoners.
Ferme des Portes and Ferme des Loges
Letter 1048. 12 July 1918
The German offensive! We're still talking about it a lot, and every day we learn that an attack has been launched in one area and that the line is breaking - and as for us,
there are quite a few men who have been mentioned in dispatches. These citations
leave me cold now, you can see what a shirker I am. I'm not one of your heroes, and I don't believe in being one.
15 July 1918. German offensive in Champagne
Letter 1053. 18 July 1918
We've just heard that as well as the German offensive, we have launched one too, it's a good sign. It seems to be going well, the Germans are not succeeding and if we
attack I hope it's because we have a chance of success. It's become very quiet here. I
wasn't involved in the offensive, despite this, would you believe that the commander
wanted to put me forward for a mention in dispatches, although I'd been staying in a
cellar for three days. I refused it, as there are many more deserving than I. But that
shows the way in which one is rewarded, one only has to be known, those who are not
known can do anything, and it's not noticed. I didn't enjoy being in the cellar,
especially as I was with the first aid post (where I saw all the wounded - it was
harrowing) but in comparison with those who were fighting I was very fortunate.
Counter attack of the 10th Army at Mangin south of Soissons. The Germans were withdrawing and retreated behind the Rivers Aisne and Vesle.
Letter 1068. 4 August 1918
The news is still very good, there's no doubt that all is going well, although I never expected it. First of all our offensive, then the results achieved and we haven't finished yet.
8 August 1918. Franco British offensive
Letter 1073. 11 August 1918
No time to write, you must know why. Let's hope I survive the next few days.
Lassigny retaken by the 3rd Battalion
Letter 1077. 14 August 1918
We were detailed to chase the Huns, but we reached them at the worst possible time, that is, when they had stopped and made a stand. It cost us a lot. It was very hard - I managed to survive once again. Apart from losing my voice because of the gas and being a bit tired, I'm alright.
Fighting continued in Lassigny area, which the Germans didn't leave until August 21
Letter 1084. 20 August 1918
Yes, I understand, don't hesitate, if it helps Jean's health, take him. It wouldn't do you any harm either, as this "little affair" (war, illness?) will have been a big strain on
you too as for my permission, don't worry about that for the time being, as I'm not
ready to go on leave just yet - there's no mention of leave, there's still plenty of activity here. Those who are at the front are exhausted, poor lads. It doesn't stop the newspapers talking of our amazing successes! But they are all fabrications, one more ridiculous than the next and they're written for those behind the lines.
Letter 1091. 26 August 1918
I'm glad to hear that Jean's health is improving. With your short stay in the country, I hope that he'll be back to full health.(Helene and Jean stayed at St. Germain [Toiley]
The Germans were being driven back to the north
Letter 1095. 30 August 1918
We marched a long way, but it wasn't too much for us. Everything is going well, if anything it is going too well, as we have had several days in one place, at least we have had a rest.
Letter 1102. 7 September 1918
We've been on the move since this morning. It's a lovely day, but too hot for marching, so we're sweating profusely. Still at least they're in retreat - it's one consolation.
Letter 1106. 11 September 1918
At last, reinforcements will arrive tomorrow. At least, at the end of all these trials there's something to look forward to. That's what keeps us going despite all that we're going through. I can't remember having ever experienced such a long, hard time.
Letter 1116. 23 September 1918
You can expect me to have two days leave. Have just seen my name mentioned in dispatches.
23 September 1918 Mentioned in dispatches Special assistant to the Battalion Commander "During the fighting in August and September, he organized and directed communications calmly and efficiently. In these particularly difficult circumstances he displayed sang-froid and the highest devotion to duty"
Letter 1122. 30 September 1918
our peaceful rest has abruptly ended, it's all the fault of the boches who are still
retreating, we have to follow them.
Letter 1129. 7 October 1918
What do you think of the sensational news which was in yesterday's papers? It looks as though peace may be within reach. Nevertheless, I don't think it will happen overnight. For one thing, it would be too good to be true, and I don't think it would be possible. They're going to have discussions, but I doubt whether they'll come to an agreement, we'll have to wait several months at least. At least the situation is
better than it was last year and we can say that the end is in sight.
5 October 1918. The new German Chancellor asks the President of the United States what the conditions will be for an armistice. 5 - 15 October 1918 - The Allies continued their offensive on all fronts and are driving the Germans back.
Letter 1130. 8 October 1918
Leave is being granted again. I'm No. 16 and I guess that it will be about a fortnight away - I wonder what the newspapers will tell us this evening, we're waiting
impatiently for their arrival and yet we're all of the same mind "It's not possible that
it will finish", or at least it seems impossible.
Letter 1133. II October 1918
We've been off chasing the boches again, it's beginning to be annoying, we can never be left in peace.
Letter 1135. 14 October 1918
This morning we passed the 3rd line - anyway it's going very well, everyone, whether civilian or military, is happy, and that's an unusual thing during a war, to see everyone happy. There's another group going on leave. I'm now 8th on the list, but they're talking of sending a large contingent off tomorrow or the day after - it's good news.
On leave 16 - 30 October 1918
Letter 1136. I November 1918
I'll soon be home, it's all fallen into place, I caught the metro then the train at 6.20, arrived at Soissons at 10.30 and travelled from Soissons to Laon by lorry and found my regiment, still in reserve, it couldn't be better.
Letter 1137. 2 November 1918
I have a different job. The battalion now has a section for armoured support. It has to be commanded by an adjutant, and I have the job. I know nothing about these cannons, but the commandant told me that it is of no importance.
Letter 1143. 9 November 1918
We're on the move again, and I'm taking advantage of a short break to write a short
note whilst we march in front, it's not too difficult, the civilians are very kind to us
Letter 1144. 10 November 1918
...everything is still going well as they are talking about relieving us. We still haven't moved as we have reached the 3rd Line.
Letter 1145. II November 1918 Rocroi 'Ca y est!! - It's over!!!! Andre
Letter 1146. 12 November 1918
I hope you received my note from Rocroi. It wasn't long, but at least it let you know that on the 11th at 11 o'clock I was still alive and uninjured. Yes, the day we've been waiting and hoping for, has actually arrived, and I still couldn't believe it when I woke this morning. We've reached this day which I can now tell you I often thought I would never see. I've always been optimistic, but at certain critical times, I've been afraid of not surviving. There's only one dark cloud, it's those who have died because
of this war, apart from that, the rest is best forgotten. No more aeroplanes, no more guns, the bullets, night marches through the trenches, etc, etc.
Letter 1156. 23 November 1918
Yesterday I received your letters of 18 & 19 November. I had plenty to read and quite a lot of it was foolishness. For instance your idea of coming to find me! So you've started that again, it's true that you haven't talked about it for a long time. Anyway, as you ask me "not to reply immediately". NO, you would think that I don't want you to come, but I can tell you that you mustn't count on it. It doesn't make sense to come with Jean, especially at this season. Even in Alsace it's too much. I realize that it's your fear of the Alsatian women which gives you such ideas. You know very well, that for us, it's always the same (even though the war is over). We can stay in one place for a week, or two days, we never know and we can be ordered to move at a moment's notice. Finally, even in the countryside where there are still civilians, it's very difficult to find quarters for the soldiers, it's not a good time to come. As for transport, do you think that railways are going to be running just yet? Perhaps you are thinking of walking? I can't promise to feed you or Jean, as I can only give him wine! No, don't think of coming, it's not worth it.
As I told you yesterday, it's been four years already, surely you can be patient for a few more months. Au revoir, my dear Helene, don't be depressed by what I have just told you (besides which there's no longer any need to be depressed). Remember, I didn't say No to you.. I promise that I will seriously consider the question of your coming, if the possibility arises, but I would be very surprised if it did.
Letter 1168. 6 December 1918
I'm busy packing as we're leaving tomorrow. This time we probably won't stop until we're in Germany. We'll be able to see something of the country.
Letter 1193. 3 January 1918
We crossed the frontier this morning (trumpets sounding and drums beating) tonight I'll sleep in Germany, actually it's France now, as it is Lorraine (Alsace Lorraine). The inhabitants speak French and apart from a few Germans, there's not much difference.
From 25 January to 19 February 1919 on leave. Returned to Landau 21 February
Letter 1228. 9 March 1919
Tomorrow is the great departure, all goodbyes have been said. I gather from the most recent rumours, that it will take us three days to reach Paris. I will try to go straight away to Versailles.