Author: T. Secretan (the grand-son of Robert Rey and great grand-son of Victor Rey)
World War I: my only source of history about this was is series of war movies: All Quiet on the Western Front, Atonement, War Horse for example.
It was time to do some research.
I stumbled across this new book while reading a Book supplement in Le Monde newspaper. The book itself is beautiful, filled with the letters of Victor and Robert Rey, but also wonderful photo’s to enhance the storyline.
Victor ( 62 years old) enlisted with his son Robert ( 26 yr.) and his main objective was save his son’s soul and his own while at the same time killing as many of the enemy as possible. Victor wrote to his son:
Above all, if you leave, I leave. We leave together we return together. (… sauve l’âme de Robert et la sienna tout en tuant le plus d’ ennemis possible… ..en principe et par-dessus tout si tu pars, je pars. Nous partons ensemble et nous restons ensemble.)
I was having trouble with the word Les Boches. The English equivalent would be “Krauts”.
Initially the Germans were called “Allemoches” (Allemand + moche, where moche = bad, ugly).Allemoche mutated to alleboche and was then shortened to “boche”. It was meant as an insult. Fortunately it is now a thing from the past, but 80 years ago there was a real feeling of hatred in France toward the “German invaders” of the 1870 war.
This book seems to go slowly because I have to get used to a new vocabulary: fantassin (infantry) – servant ( gunner) – guetteur ( lookout ) – pointeur ( timekeeper) .
Even more confusing are all the references to armaments during WWI. There is a website with photos of the shells and weapons used during the battles. It helps to see what Robert and Victor are writing about. http://warandmemory.free.fr/
I found another wonderful website www.firstworldwar.com with so much information that helps my reading: How it began, the battles and a timeline. This is essential to understand what was happening and why.
I seem to let out a deep sigh while I keep reading. This is not a good sign. This is a collection of letters to a wife and a “ very beloved” daughter-in-law. Perhaps I was expecting too much. I can practically skim over the begin and end of each letter because it is always the same: Ma petite Cherie….thank you for things you sent …weather is depressing…Je t’ embrasse fort , trop fort , tendrement de tout mon coeur.
I’m waiting for some text where I can discover more of the writer’s introspection… his soul searching.It seems the the worst things Robert Rey had to deal with were worry, boredom and memories. ( l’inquietude, l’ ennui et le souvenir….)
The correspondence is one-sided which is sometimes irritating. Victor and Robert Rey react to something said in Denise’s letter, but you don’t have a clue what it is! Father and son burned her letters so they would not fall into the hands of other French soldiers or the enemy.
This is not the book to read if you want more information about WWI. A better choice would be something written by an established historian. Letters are nice to read, but after 200 pages of the same “thank you for this or that, weather is terrible and I miss you so”…. I began to loose interest and read more about the WWI on the websties I mentioned above.
My thoughts while reading the book…
|WWI I know so little about this time in history. This collection of letters from the front starts slowly. Father and son are in the artillery and I know the worst fighting is yet to come. Fascinating to read soldiers receive mail/packages from home almost daily. Just doesn’t feel like the war seen in the movies. “cette guerre a un caractère extraordinaire. On a les journaux de jour…1200 metres de boches (enemy).
|These letters are personal referring to friends back in Paris, thank you’s for gifts sent and how important lady luck (La Chance) has been: ” je n’ ai pas une égratignure ( scratch) , alors que je pourrais etre en morceaux!” ( ..could have been blown to bits). Busy with “le dressage de Denis” , his war horse.Closing always with
” Je t’ embrace “.Still waiting for more info about the war itself.Very strange relationship between father Victor Rey, son Robert Rey and daughter-in-law Denise (Kikite) Rey. Victor refuses his leave from the front so his son can visit his wife Kikte for 4 days.Victor ( father) is now staying with Kikte while he manages an arms factory. Now we are entering the “falling in love” months b/t father-in-law and his son’s wife. Curious how this ménage à trois is going to develop!May 1916: Verdun. 300.000 shells fall on the trenches in 1 afternoon!“Nos obus(shells) n’avaient pas une minute cessé le barrage. Il’ n’y a pas de tactique, pas movement.
Il s’ agit de tenir. (it is a matter of holding on).
Moins, on est de monde, mieux ca vaut. (At least we are alive, that’s a good thing)Vivid account of the battle of Verdun 17/09/1917.It is a miracle that soldiers survived the constant wave of metal shells and blasts.
Ces ébranlements se répètent comme les secousses, nous brisent, délient nos volontés(These shocks keep repeating like temors, shatter us and weaken our will)
The troops are exhausted, thankful for break in the fighting. Men and artillery seek shelter in trenches sunk 1,20 meters in the ground. Victor and son Robert are reflecting on their love of Denise. Victor Rey’s love for her is platonic, but it is clear that Victor is deeply in love. Strange.
The Battle of the Somme started in July 1st 1916 It lasted until November 1916. For many people, the Battle of the Somme was the battle that symbolised the horrors of warfare in WWI This one battle had a marked effect on overall casualty figures and seemed to epitomise the futility of trench warfare.
December 1916: Father and son are weary and in every letter the weather is mentioned. Mud, wind, freezing rain are testing their determination : “on ne subit pas le sort, on l’affronte” ( one does not undergo fate, one meets it head on! 5-7 million horses were killed in this great war.
Read 27 pages today while we are in the middle of a freezing cold here in the Netherlands ( – 5 C wind ENE 5 and it feels like -15 C!!)
I’m just as tired of this WWI as is Robert Rey. “Si j’ai la veine de retrouver notre tiède chez-nous” ( if I’m lucky to get back home). He survived the Battle of Verdun 15 million shells were fired in 5 months on the Germans in that battle. Gen Pétain shouts “on les aura” as did Joan of Arc! ( We will get them!) .
Another marathon reading session today: Time to leave the “fantassins, servants en éclaireurs” ( infantry, gunners and scouts) in the middle of de battle Chemin des Dames. I feel up to my knees in mud just like the soldiers and horses. Mud in the trenches: it became an obsession for the soldiers. 20.000 troops suffered from “trench foot”. ( can’t put that foto on the blog, it was disgusting.)
Spring of 1918,the Germans knew that they faced a major problem on the Western Front. Since the American declaration of war, American soldiers had arrived in Western Europe in very large numbers. The German High Command knew that these numbers would only dramatically increase given time. The Spring Offensive was an attempt to defeat the Allies before the full might of the Americans reached Western Europe.”
After reading this book….the expression ” All quiet on the Western Front” has new meaning for me.