On the Trail of the Great War: Letters from the Front (2)
During World War I, many letters were exchanged between the trenches and the home front. Preserved at Societe Generale's Historical Archives, this selection of written testimonials gives a faithful picture of the soldiers' mindsets and day-to-day lives.
Xivray, 24 September 1914
Though I haven't got the stripes, I am the head of the patrol. It's a dangerous job, but perfect for an athlete. Creeping is the only way to approach the Huns' sentries and get the drop on them. You can't make a sound or else you'll suffer the same fate.
We all know that the news is good, and that the German Empire shall see the French flag fly over Berlin. In this great and frightful contest, we have the upper hand. Confidence we have, what we're lacking is patience. We cannot wait to get this over with.
Despite several nights spent in the trenches, with water up to my knees, I remain healthy. […]
I will close by embracing you with great affection, for now we no longer shake hands, we embrace.
05 January 1915
Dear Mr. Allain,
Tonight I come home from a tour in the trenches. We are in a new sector, which is miserable and filled with bullets and water. I have some sad news to relate: our colleague Barbiche is dead, having fallen on the afternoon of the 3rd along with his captain. The explosion was tremendous. There was no time for them to suffer. I myself was only about ten meters away. I have not been hit, but yesterday I was holed up under a shelter for two hours; my helmet got a little banged up and my head was knocked about. Finally I made my way out and returned. I waded through water that went above my knees, which is what saved me.
In the end, it was another narrow escape!
Angoulême, 21 July 1915
I'm very fortunate to have been able to do my duty. I did my best in service. I have only one regret, which is that, due to my injuries, I cannot return to the front lines.
Liffol-le-Grand, 9 September 1915
After going through great hardship in Argonne and the Éparges, I made it out without a scratch, but I did suffer from dysentery, which got me sent to the hospital. I think that with the right care, I will be on my feet in no time, albeit in a weakened state. The campaign is becoming long and rather hard, mostly for those who like me were on the front lines.
8 December 1915
Dear Mr Daussy,
I am still alive! […] But I will not lie about how unhappy I am with how things are going. […] For eight days, we have been on leave and there is serious talk of moving closer to the capital. If this happens, I will come see you at the branch.
I am still in excellent health.
Eagerly awaiting your reply,
From left to right: Emile Quéruel, Joseph Bay and Emile Dutertre
11 January 1916
Many thanks. […] The news from our co-workers is a rare comfort in these trenches. […]
On to victory!
Salonika, 20 January 1916
My dear colleague,
What a stroke of luck! This morning at the dock, […] I came upon a young French soldier, his back to the wall, who was smiling as he read Sport-banque [Societe Generale's athletic newsletter]. […] As you can imagine, we introduced ourselves rather quickly! The young soldier (from branch A) and I (from the central office) had been working alongside each other for three months without really getting to know each other, exchanging nothing more than the usual pleasantries. […] Since then, I have felt less lonely under the Eastern sky.
Verdun, 8 September 1916
I have been honoured with an Army commendation for the events in Verdun. I am pleased to have this chance to contact you again.
At present, my days are quite troubled, and I am writing to you [...] from my combat station.
Here, as you know from the reports, we are the ones leading the dance, and what a dance it is! This above all is what comforts us through our troubles and miseries. I know of nothing that requires more physical exertion than a military offensive when one has the good fortune to be pushing forward.
I hope to have the chance to see you when I'm on leave, which may be fairly soon if our assigned task comes to an end.
Grafenwöhr, 9 October 1916
I am pleased to tell you that I received your excellent package dated 14 September, containing sundry provisions and boots, in perfect condition.
With all my thanks,
Bergen, Netherlands, 24 November 1918
The end of my captivity is approaching. My tour in Holland will last but a few days more, thanks to the great victory of the brave Allied armies. This victory is greater than any we could have hoped for. The immense joy I shall feel when I set foot on the soil of my dear homeland, ripped from the claws of its brutal oppressor, will compensate for all the pain and suffering I have endured over the course of my weeks-long campaign and my four years of internment.
At this time, I feel it is my duty to express my deep thanks to Societe Generale for the material assistance and aid that the company was able to give me during my lengthy internment.
If I leave this bitter ordeal sane in mind and sound in body, it is thanks to your help. I shall always remember it.
Van den Broech
Left: Charles Firquet - © Archives historiques Société Générale