WWI - 1915, June 20th - A 'Letter' from Bon-Papa Mathieu to his Adeline, Bonne-Maman Ménine

At war - Be happy when you read my letter - I love you with all my heart   

‘Sunday, June 20th, 1915

My dearest Adeline,

As usual, I do not want you to worry about me. I am well and alive. I do hope you will be feeling good too when you’ll get this letter.

My dear Adeline, I imagine that this week, you’ve been busy since I know that you were making hay. I feel so unhappy I was not by your side because I want so much to protect you. Even though I am so far away from you, I am always thinking about you and the family.
How I’d like to be close to you. This work is mine to do and it’s a great deal of trouble for you.

Nobody thought that we’d still be at war this summer.

Oh well, my darling Adeline, we have to put up with it and that’s it. It is very harsh for those who are at war. Some are even much more unhappy than we are - those who are risking their lives every day. Let’s hope that we’ll see the end to all this.

They [the Germans] won’t be able to hold out much longer. Every time the French army wants to capture a position, even though there are many enemy soldiers, we get it.

24 hours ago, we sent them 30.000 [shells] over Arras [a city in Northern France]. Just imagine. It truly was a downpour.

I cannot talk too much about it. But we are preparing something they won’t be able to run away from. All those [Germans] who are in France won’t be able to get out. A lot of them are hidden in trenches and they won’t get out of them. They will be buried alive there. Guillaume [Wilhem II, the German Kaiser] was the first one to be a barbarian. We shall get our revenge.

I hope that this week, the weather was beautiful. Alfafa should be growing well.

Give a kiss to the children from me.

Your loving husband who never stops thinking about you.
Pech Mathieu

I wrote you another letter on the 18th.’

I was sixteen when I stole this card (and many others). I found it at the bottom of a trunk in my grandmother’s attic. Nobody else was interested though. I loved history. And I loved my great-grandparents, Bon-Papa Mathieu and his Adeline, a.k.a. Bonne-Maman Ménine.

1949 - Adeline and Mathieu (and me)

My great-grandfather, Bon-Papa Mathieu, had made history by fighting during World War I. He never was what the world calls a war hero  but he did survive which in itself was a heroic deed. And he survived while working on a global view of things to come: peace and nature.

I found his army papers. He belonged to a special corps. He was a «chasseur forestier».

Before the war, he had been a forester besides running his farm. He belonged to the National Forest Service.

Since he was a very good horseman, he became a cavalryman in a ranger unit. Those rangers were in charge of seeing to the forests around the battlefields. It sounds a little bit amazing that right in the middle of such a bloody war, there were men trying to protect nature.

At the beginning of the war and because they were working very close to the action, those units were decimated until they started being protected for one good reason. The trenches needed wood but one day, peace would prevail and there would be generations to come. Those rangers kept on working as if there was no war. There were trees to be felled and trees to be protected. This was their job.

Then they would bring the wood from the chosen felled trees to the trenches where the entrenched soldiers were in dire need of supporting structures.

The first time I read this letter, I was shocked by the hatred he was expressing against the Germans. He had been such a kind and peaceful figure in my life.

I now realize that from time to time, enough was enough even for someone who was still taking care of woods and forests at the very heart of a slaughter.

I was very moved to read that he was pretty sure the war would end very quickly... in 1915. It took three more long years and a lot of lives on both sides.

I only found a handful of those cards and letters, all of them written in 1915. So I have no idea what he had been thinking about during those last terrible years.

He expresses a lot of concern about the soldiers in the trenches. Most of his cousins and friends from the village were entrenched. Many died.

He was keeping a clear mind though. He was alive at the end of the war probably because he had been luckier than others but also because all along, he had been able to keep his mind on nature.

Isn’t it wonderful that a man who thinks briefly of revenge after witnessing daily so much suffering, loves life enough to write: ‘I hope that this week, the weather was beautiful. Alfafa should be growing well.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*

No comments: