Friday 11 November 2011

Le Poilu

Flanders poppy from our garden
One of the wonderful things about moving to France is the fact that we are living in a property which has at least two centuries of history. The graffiti we found on the rafters and in the barn [see here] led us to wonder about previous residents. Our neighbour, Alexandra kindly gave us a collection of past copies of 'Charnizay: A travers les Siecles' the publication of the local historical society: Liaison et d'Amitié de Charnizay, son passé et la Nouvelle-France. Not only were these good for our French, but they provided loads of historical information.

One of the articles recounted the effect 'La Grande Guerre' [World War I] had on our village.

French flower of remembrance
The war memorial in the centre of the village cemetery lists 57 men who died in the 1914 – 1918 war. At first we thought this was rather a high number for such a small rural community; especially as the parish population in 1914 was just over 1,000. However, compulsory military service was used in all European countries pre-1914; with the exception of the United Kingdom. In France those men who had completed their compulsory military service in the years 1912/1913 [class of '12 and '13 as it were] as well as those recently trained in the first half of 1914 were called up at the outbreak of war on the 2nd of August, 1914. This meant that even in a small community like Charnizay quite a number of men were called up. Among these was Firmin Georges Chilloux, who listed as his place of residence one of the four houses in our tiny lieu-dit.

On that morning, those called up were ordered to assemble in front of the Mairie. Here they listened to a speech by th Mayor about the peril to 'La France' following the German invasion and the patriotic duty of all Frenchmen to defend their homeland. They then marched to Preuilly-sur-Claise – as agricultural workers 10 kilometres would not have been a problem – where they entrained for their respective barracks. Chilloux, as a soldier in the 113th 'Regiment d'Infanterie', went to Le Blanc. Issued with their tradtional infantry uniforms of blue jacket and red trousers [these 'please shoot me' uniforms weren't modernised until 1915] they were dispatched off to the front. Many had probably never travelled this far from the Aigronne Valley in their lives.

At this point, with the paucity of records due to the frenetic pace of invasion and mobilisation, the sequence of events is hard to follow. Those called up first were initially sent to attack the 'lost provinces' of 1871: Alsace and Lorraine. However, when the true nature of the German's 'Schlieffen Plan' became clear there was a rapid re-deployment along the Marne to protect Paris. 
Chilloux remembered on the Charnizay memorial
The records show that 3 out of the 18 soldiers from Charnizay who were killed in September 1914 died in the region of the Meuse. Among them was Firmin Georges Chilloux. According to the documentation we have he is recorded as being killed on the 30th of September at 'la Haute-Chevauchee' in the commune of Chalade.

Firmin Georges Chilloux was 21 years of age.


Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Niall and Antoinette:
What a fascinating piece of history which goes some way to explain the disproportionate number of men from your village who lost their lives in the Great War.

As you will readily imagine, both world wars here are seen from a very different perspective.

hausfrau said...

The poppy brought me to you. You write a poignant story. As a relation of a number of military men across several generations I am a firm believer in Remebrance but confess that I am dismayed by the blanket wearing of poppies on TV and the flag waving of current conflict rather than the quiet thought for all persons killed on all sides in all wars.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Jane & Lance - yes Hungarians will have a very different perspective.

When we took school field trips to the WWI battlefields we always took the students to an Allied as well as a German WWI cemetary.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@hausfrau - welcome and thanks for stopping by.

We're not too comfortable either with the almost frenetic 'requirement' to wear poppies in the media.

It seems that in Britain there is undue pressure to wear one and, therefore, by implication something wrong with you if you don't.

Historically if one wore a poppy, [UK & Commonwealth] one only wore it on the 11th.

The Broad said...

I wear a poppy as a sign of respect to soldiers on both sides. It seems to me that this fragile symbol for each life lost was found growing on both sides of the blood-stained earth. I have never felt compelled to wear one. This year there is added emphasis on them as the British Legion is trying to raise 40 million pounds for the benevolent fund -- it seems the government of whatever day falls short when service men are no longer serving so its up to us to try to rectify matters.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@broad - Agree it is a sign of resepct to all. I have always worn one, as has Niall.

Just don't feel it is appropriate --as it is presented in the media-- that if one chooses not to wear one it means that one is somehow 'wrong'.

There are people who donate gladly & generously to the British Legion collection boxes but choose not to wear one.

GaynorB said...

We always wear one on Armistice day. Agree with your take on the media hype. I don't wear one as a glorification of war, or as support for political decisions that continue to take us towards conflict. It is for remembrance of those who paid the ultimate price, and their families who have to live with this.

I only wish the Government would 'put their money where their mouth is' to properly support our servicemen (and their families) who have died or been injured.

Interesting post.

Perpetua said...

A lovely post, Niall and Antoinette, and a reminder of just how much France suffered in WW1. I'll have to check next summer just how many names are on the war memorial in our little commune, but it's quite a few, including civilians killed during the fighting after D-Day.

On the subject of poppies, I always wear one because it means something important to me, with family members having served and sometimes died in both world wars. Wearing one for show or because it's the thing without taking on board the significance seems to me a hollow gesture.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Gaynor - do so agree with your comment on the support/lack of for servicemen.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Perpetua - thank you.
Niall had family members who fought in both WW. During WWII my father was interned in a camp; basically to try and keep my grandfather [judge in Rotterdam] "quiet". NL was neutral in WWI so that is seen completely differently.

For me one of the most moving things was to have the opportunity to attend the last post at the Menin Gate.


Perpetua said...

Antoinette, I hadn't realised that NL was neutral in WW1, but given what happened to Belgium, it's hardly surprising. I know your country and your people suffered terribly in WW2 with the occupation and the hunger winter. So much pain and sadness...

I would love to attend the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate, as my sister has done. Our great-uncle is commemorated on the memorial there, as I said in my post today.

Pollygarter said...

I'm always horrified by the number of times the same surname appears on a memorial. Our route back to the UK takes us through the Somme and Flanders. So many young men, an entire generation of a family wiped out.
But who were the two men named Prudent Metivier? Some older men volunteered as well as the young conscripts - could they have been father and son?

Niall & Antoinette said...

@ Perpetua - War memories cast a long shadow. We never ever had cabbage when I was growing up in the US as it reminded my mother too much of the hunger winter. [my parents met & married in the US]

Very much enjoyed your post on your grandad and great uncle Walter.

Can only try to imagine the additional poignancy of having the name of a relative on the Menin Gate when attending the last Post ceremony.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Pauline - it is sobering when one sees so many with the same surname.
As for the two men named Prudent Metivier, we don't know. Perhaps, more likely, uncle and nephew.

We attended the ceremony here in the village and there are 4 Villarets on the memorial. Our maire is Claude Villaret [he's about 65] and the Villarets on the memorial could easily be his great uncles. What ever the degree of relationship it certainly personalises the ceremony.

Diane said...

We attended the ceremony here on Friday and then went back to the village hall where they were showing some films of bits from WW1 and II. Our neighbour has his own private WW1 museum and he transported much of it to the hall for all to see. It was very impressive. Diane

the fly in the web said...

I do wear a remembrance of those whose lives were thrown away or destroyed to serve, in the most part, the interests of others.

While living in France, I was interested to see that in one village nearby there was the village memorial...the inevitable soldier attacking with his rifle...and another inside the church.
The list of names on the official monument was longer than that on the church monument....apparently the cure of the day thought it appropriate only to commemorate the faithful.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Diane - interesting to have an exhibition as well as the usual vin d'honneur after the ceremony.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Fly - our village monument is just a simple obelisk in the center of the cemetery. Remember seeing one somehwere in the north which had a chain link fence round it supported by giant shell casings.