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We Spend Child-Like Days

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

December 24, 1914

Our first day in the outpost passed away in the calm of a country awaiting snow. It came in the night.

In the back gardens, which lie in sight of the Germans, I went out to see it, where it emphasised and ennobled the least of things. Then I came back to my candle, and I write on a table where my neighbour is grating chocolate. So that is war.

Military life has some amusing surprises. We had to come to the first line before two non-commissioned officers found a bath and could bathe themselves. As for me, I have made myself a water-jug out of a part of a 75.

. . . I will not speak of patience, since a reserve of mere patience may be useless preparation for the unknown quantity. But I must say that the time goes extremely quickly.

We spend child-like days; indeed we are children in regard to these events, and the benefit of this war will have been to restore youth to the hearts of those who return.

Dear mother, our village has just had a visit from two shells. Will they be followed by others? May God help us! The other day they sent us a hundred and fifteen, to wound one man in the wrist!

A house in which a section of our company is living is in flames. We have not seen a soul stirring. We can only hope that it is well with them.

I am deeply happy to have lived through these few months. They have taught me what one can make of one’s life, in any circumstances.

My fellow-soldiers are splendid examples of the French spirit. . . . They swagger, but their swagger is only the outer form of a deep and magnificent courage.

My great fault as an artist is that I am always wanting to clothe the soul of the race in some beautiful garment painted in my own colours. And when people irritate me it is that they are soiling these beautiful robes; but, as a matter of fact, they would find them a bad encumbrance in the way of their plain duty.

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