The Ardennes, France: 1915 (after). 8vo. (186 x 120 mm). 68 pp. (manuscript text, approximately 18,000 words) + 67 full-page pen drawings. Contemporary home-made binding, carved wooden boards in relief with a depiction of a Gaul soldier with spear (point of tip and butt broken off) which also appears elaborately rendered on the title-page, which likewise reads: QUATRE MOIS DE CAMPAGNE, dated "Aout, Septembre, Octobre, Novembre, 1914." Item #2789
Important, elaborately illustrated manuscript journal, being the detailed hitherto unpublished account of a French Infantryman ("Poilu") during his four month campaign in the Ardennes, trapped behind German lines along the Northern Front. The present manuscript is distinguished by its 67 full-page drawings and sculpted wood binding that depicts a Gaul soldier (almost certainly created by the author / illustrator himself). This journal tells in graphic detail the disorganization of the campaign, the ravages of the war, and the cohabitation of the Regiment with the local population and the Allies. ¶ Our soldier, who has not yet been identified with certainty, belonged to the French 23rd Company of the 205th Infantry Regiment. His moving narrative begins on August 4, 1914, when he in Paris by train for Army mobilization. The journal gives a detailed account of the troop's movement through the Ardennes, both in and out of the trenches. After several gruesome battles, the Regiment was surrounded by the enemy in the woods of Signy-le-Petit. Facing the threat that the civilian population would be executed, the Regiment surrendered to the Germans on November 29, 1914 (see below). This is where the journal ends, the surviving soldiers of the 23rd Company having been taken as prisoners of war and marched into Germany. Many would not return. ¶ The manuscript is illustrated with 67 full-page drawings, naive but extremely detailed and evocative: some are sad, even pathetic, while others are full of G.I. humor. The journal itself is of particular interest in that the author was not a French officer, official, or professional journalist, but a lowly "Poilu" (literally: hairy or bearded one), the informal name for a French WWI infantryman. Poilu is still used as a term of endearment for the French infantry of the Great War, and the word carries the sense of the infantryman's typically rustic, agricultural background. The Poilu soldier was known for his love of rationed "military grade" pinard wine. The image of the dogged, bearded French soldier was widely used in propaganda and war memorials. The stereotype of the Poilu was of bravery, endurance, and unquestioning obedience. ¶ The journal is of genuine scholarly interest because the majority of the narrative describes events that transpired 150 km inside enemy lines. The four-month account describes the heroism of French partisans who inhabited the forest of the Ardennes where the 23rd Company 205th Infantry Regiment was trapped. Two partisans in particular stand out, namely Fernand Cretu, a farmer, and his wife Maria. From Sept. 13 to Nov. 28, 1914, they hid, fed, supplied, and protected the entire 23rd Company (more than 250 soldiers) on their farm near the village of Neuville lez Beaulieu (Signy-le-Petit). The captain of the company, de Colbert de Laplace, lodged at the farm and made it his headquarters. ¶ The longest and most compelling passages of the journal appear for November 28 and 29, which describe how the 23rd Company was surrounded by a thousand German soldiers. Fernand Cretu and his family were taken hostage by the enemy and his farm was burned. The entire village of Neuville lez Beaulieu was rounded up and taken into the church of Signy-le-Petit. There the German commanding officer informed Capt. de Colbert that if he did not surrender immediately, the church would be locked and then set on fire. The captain capitulated, and ordered that all weapons belonging to the 23rd Company be destroyed. These scenes are illustrated in the present manuscript, and which may be the sole surviving eye-witness account of these events. At the end of the conflict, Fernand Cretu and his wife were awarded the Croix de Guerre with a vermeil star. These partisan heroes are actually NAMED in the present Journal. ¶ EXTRACTS: "On the 16th [September, 1914]. Wake up at 6 o'clock. This morning we have coffee. Canon-fire, but not as close as yesterday. Today we have bread, and as always only 3 kg to feed 15 men. Meals are always the same and in small quantities. At 5.30 in the evening, the Company meets in the courtyard of the farm; Roll Call: there are 15 men are missing [AWOL]; they had simply marched away, some in plainclothes they bought from the farm workers. The AWOL soldiers are sentenced to eight days in prison. A pigsty is transformed for this purpose. A prison guard is appointed but he serves in this capacity only at night. At present he will live in a compartment of the pigsty; guardians and guardians will suffer equally [...]" ¶ Céry-les-Mezieres, August 30, 1914: "[...] In haste we move out. It's about time because the shells are getting closer to us -- it's complete music [sic], percussion, shrapnel; the 77th, the 105th, everyone does the dance [sic]. Where we are right now is not good. We are shelled section by section, and we hit the ground. The shelling falls on all sides at once; they explode so close to us that at times the movement of the air produced by the explosions our faces are concussed, we are splashed with earth and shrapnel. In my section two men were wounded simultaneously: one in front of the section, the other in the last row, pierced by the cans and bowls that were affixed to their packs. Under fire our impassive captain orders us to move right, left, forward, backward. Thanks to his coolness, we are doing well. Meanwhile, our artillery retaliates, but unfortunately 75 of our men are dislodged by 105 German soldiers [...] At 5am, the order is given to move forward. With three comrades and a sergeant, I go on patrol. We go to the end of the plateau that we occupy and from there, we discover the entire valley of the Oise river. The fight resumes at our very feet. This is a famous vista, but what is less famous are the bullets that whistle past our ears. In Berg-les-Mezieres, the machine guns issue forth from a bridge -- what a concert [sic]. In front of us, on the slope on the other side of the Oise, we see the Germans descend into the battle in a tight flank; so it begins!" ¶ Literature: "Historique du 205e Regiment d'Infanterie [1914-1918]" (Paris: Charles-Lavauzelle & Cie, Editeurs Militaires, 1922), p. 4. Georges Myrtil, "L'Odyssee de la 23e Companie" in: La Guerre par ceux qui l’ont faite. Historique du 205e régiment d’infanterie de 1914 à 1918. [Paris?]: E. Rochard, 1933, pp. 46-53, a copy of which is included in the present offering.