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French Blood Flows In 1914

From a letter of Eugène Lemercier, the French painter who fought and died in World War I.

November 19, 1914

My very dear Mother,—To-day I was wakened at dawn by a violent cannonade, unusual at that hour. Just then some of the men came back frozen by a night in the trenches. I got up to fetch them some wood, and then, on the opposite slope of the valley, the fusillade burst out fully. I mounted as high as I could, and I saw the promise of the sun in the pure sky.

Suddenly, from the opposite hill (one of those hills I love so much), I heard an uproar, and shouting: ‘Forward! Forward!’ It was a bayonet charge. This was my first experience of one—not that I saw anything; the still-dark hour, and, probably, the disposition of the ground, prevented me. But what I heard was enough to give me the feeling of the attack.

Up till then I had never imagined how different is the courage required by this kind of anonymous warfare from the traditional valour in war, as conceived by the civilian. And the clamour of this morning reminds me, in the midst of my calm, that young men, without any personal motive of hate, can and must fling themselves upon those who are waiting to kill them.

But the sun rises over my country. It lightens the valley, and from my height I can see two villages, two ruins, one of which I saw ablaze for three nights. Near to me, two crosses made of white wood. . . . French blood flows in 1914. . . .

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