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Correspondence from a World War I soldier

Correspondence from a World War I soldier

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Memories of a soldier in the trenches during World War I, in Verdun, France.

39 letters and drawings by French army captain Léon Rohlfs De Sussex recounting his daily life as a soldier in the trenches during World War I, in northeastern France, near Verdun. 1914-1915. Excellent condition. Single set.

The recipient is his sister Marie. The general condition of the documents is good, only a few letters are undated or difficult to decipher because the soldier wrote in very small letters.

The lot also includes Léon's birth announcement written by his parents in 1875, and two letters he wrote while a student at the prestigious Saint Cyr military school. In French. Good state. Single set.

Translated extracts

1895 - Léon explains the discipline imposed by the military school: "I've been in this new type of pension for fifteen days (...). We must make the bed very well, to give it the shape of a rectangular parallelepiped, then shine the boots , clean the upper part of your closet, arrange it well so that we don't see any creases in the clothes (...). Then we go to training or to classes (surveying, fortifications, literature, law) depending on the week."

09/02/1914 - Léon thinks that victory will not take long: "The Bavarians have been decimated."

09/21/1914 - Léon ponders: "I'm fine, but my battalion suffered a lot of losses."

11/16/1914 - Léon recounts the routine and the combats : "Our men are in the trenches up to their necks by day and work at night, digging, to advance. It is the war of position; we bomb the German camps and they fight back. Yesterday afternoon, their first bombs knocked down the belfry of the northernmost village (Malancourt) and killed 3 men from battalion 173."

11/21/1914, night - Léon suffers from the cold : "My dear Marie, I thank you very much for the balaclava you sent me. (...) But it's the feet that I can't keep warm, until someone invents warm shoes. I freeze when I do nothing, even though I dress like an Eskimo. You must have seen in the papers that the Germans blew up St Michel's barracks and killed 1683 men."

11/25/1914 - Léon explains, with a drawing, a mission he took on: "Yesterday I went with General Berg to the trenches of Béthancourt which had been attacked during the night. Dead Germans were still on the ground."

12/26/1914 - On his birthday, Léon thanks Marie for the letter of congratulations and writes that he is very busy : "My job is to have 6 guns fired at once, by a single man, at certain points, crossings, water points, etc... This is called gun piles and draws criticism from me and little regard: the world is no better off in war than it is in peace."

01/13/1915 - Léon's morale is low: "The environment in which I live is not friendly, with a few exceptions. I'm fine physically, my mood is not (...). The war is now not very interesting, things are we are at a standstill and we are despondent. There are many frictions between us, the conversations are stupid or ill-meant; there are few such calamities as this."

13/02/1915 - Léon's morale does not improve: "The general discouragement affects me more than the fights, I'm depressed."

05/25/1915 - Wounded, Léon writes a last letter : "I have suffered too much since you saw me; this is beyond anything I could have imagined. The doctors say my leg is fine, but I still have a fever . The continuous pain I feel in my wound makes me scream in front of anyone."

The First World War (1914 - 1918) is the most important tragic moment in European history. Its result - the humiliation of Germany - partly motivated the Second World War and, finally, the construction of the European Union to put a definitive end to Franco-German rivalry. The Battle of Verdun is particularly emblematic of that horrific war that killed millions of terrified soldiers and innocent civilians on both sides.

This exchange of letters between Léon, the captain, and Marie, his sister, is both moving and educational. Many of the human feelings are expressed by the hand of this soldier: fear, pride, anger, sadness, love, longing, friendship, contempt, optimism, pessimism, loneliness, solidarity, suffering, compassion, etc. Reading these lines by Léon in the trenches, we try to imagine the hell this young, brilliant man went through. A man feels utterly powerless in the face of climate, history and human nature.

The famous Brazilian philosopher Antonio Candido was a student in 1929 of Marie Rohlfs De Sussex, sister and main recipient of the soldier's letters. I then contacted one of the scholar's daughters, Marina, a professor at USP, who replied:

Hello Mathias, I called my father just now and he was amazed ! He said that Madame de Sussex was very important in his life, a person for whom he has veneration. She was his teacher in 1929 and had a brother, a lawyer, who was a major war casualty, as they were called then. She doesn't remember exactly, but she thinks he was missing an arm or a leg. What a coincidence ! A hug, Marina.

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