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A wounded NCO in the French Army

JPG, the initials of an NCO in the French Army is all that is known of this correspondent, wounded at the battle de l’Aisne (still in progress on 18 October 1914), who wrote from his bed in the Clinique du Dr. Raymond, Limoges.

18 October 1914

Many thanks for your kind letter; it brought some light in this dull place where I am rotting and longing to return to the front. I cannot understand how anyone who has once been to the front may not desire to return as soon as his wound is over. Who has seen those villages burning everywhere at night and colouring the sky all yellow and white; who has passed through villages, marched through towns and seen all children with the right hand cut right off, the women tortured and all their wealth scattered along; those who lived such things must have no sense of patriotism, of altruism, not to run and save their brothers and sisters’ countrymen. Everyone speaks of courage needed to go and fight, but one needs no more than one should need to protect one’s mother if one saw the murderer coming up to her. Here we have the murderer at home, he must be kicked out and people speak of courage to go and do so! Shame! I am glad to see that England and France, my two beloved countries, have at once jumped together at the murderer’s throat, they will fight together till the end, and hand in hand, they will stand on him and call out ‘Ve victis!’

Our Army has often been ill-judged lately by the lack of courage of some officers and under-officers; their behaviour I must say, was of great prejudice to our troops, but happily good example has improved them and in my company I had not too much to complain about it, though often the captain gave me the command of troop a lieutenant ought to have taken simply because he would never dare accomplish the mission. I had been so often near men who fell dead, I had seen so many shots fly through my sleeves, cut the strap of my map case or even take off my cap, that I really thought that I should do the whole campaign without being hurt. I only suffered from having no news from my brothers and I knew in what a dangerous position Max is. Till now he is safe! I am glad to think that before being wounded I had killed a few Germans, amongst which a Lieutenant of Uhlans, in a rather funny way. It was a few days before I was injured, near Reims, beginning of September, our Company was spread on one line along a railway; we were fired on from a wood about 1400 m. from us. The Captain called me: Germans are in that wood, but what about those woods 4.6 and 800 m from here? Will you go and see? He gave me 9 men and off I went. Four men and I returned as we reached the first wood, the others from the second, keeping only two men decided to go with me till we found the enemy and bring back a full report. We reached the last wood, I made the men keep up to me, and pointed out some Uhlans in the wood; we had to fire on them, and run away. We fired two or three hasty shots each, and flew; so did the Uhlan without noticing that I remained hidden in a bush. A Uhlan lieutenant left alone looked for me, came up to me, and with my blessing I shot him in the chest, he fell, and I heard (a) wounded Uhlan creeping up to me, so I quickly took his glasses, papers, maps, wrist watch and helmet, led his horse out of the wood, jumped on and flew, shots whistling all round me, one got in my elbow and through my wrist, tearing my shirt, but not even scratching my arm, another cut the strap of my water bottle. In the pockets of the saddle, which I carefully visited, I found 50 English cigarettes and a bottle of Champagne! enough to please a king!

Some other adventures occurred to me as interpreter; as we reached a village I had to run to the post office and search letters and papers. One day I found a Captain’s letter (he was just killed) to his wife; the whole regiment has retired far away, we are only 1000 in the village and must appear to be at least 4 or 5 times as much. If we retire from here before day fall, we to N. and if we must retire farther! Heaven’s knows where! I immediately ran to the colonel, and we all ran to (the) next village 4 km. distant, and charged, then ran again through the woods and field after that devastated troop which was soon prisoner, and without any warning, the German Army found us next morning at 8 a.m. bombarding exactly the very place where their staff was resting. The certainly never guessed how we had so exactly found out the village they had retired to.

In those post offices my revolver was of great use, as men often made irruption from a cupboard, or little dark rooms while I was reading letters. One must keep cool, shoot and get to work again.

When I got wounded I was at the battle de l’Aisne, not yet over, and leading a section of 30 men to organize the protection of a road leading to a railway station, and hide the men as much as possible and secure them a way for retreat I was wounded just as I went off and had the elbow broken I thought as my arm was hanging and bleeding hard, so I tied a string round my arm to stop my blood running, and with my tie, tied my wrist to my neck. I kept it like that one and a half hours till my mission was fulfilled, but the pain was horrid; I was only too glad to find and officer, pass the command on to him, say good bye to my friend and go back to find the doctors.

As you may see by my new address I was taken to a surgeon’s clinique to undergo a small operation. In three weeks I will start exercises and electric massage to try and get my arm in order, but some movements are forever impossible, happily very unimportant.

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