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’Neath Verdun

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’Neath Verdun
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Author(s): Maurice Genevoix
Date Published: 2010/06
Page Count: 176
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-207-9
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-208-6

The war of the French volunteers

This book does not concern the Battle of Verdun in 1916--widely considered to be the largest battle in world history, rather it positions the action geographically for the reader. Written during wartime this account concerns the personal experiences of a young officer of the French infantry from the earliest days of the Great War through a period of comparative fluidity of movement before the stalemate of trench warfare. The fighting concerns the actions about the Meuse and the Marne in the first year of the war from a French perspective and concludes as the 'armies go to earth' in the early part of 1915. Genevoix takes the reader into the heart of his enthusiastic young group of comrades and soldiers on campaign to provide valuable insights into the opening phases of the great conflict the French infantry knew. Available in soft cover and hard cover with dust jacket.

How does he manage not to hear it? I am more certain than ever now that I am not mistaken. That sort of crackling, distant perhaps, but nevertheless continuously audible, is the battle towards which we are marching, and which is being waged away over there beyond the hilltop. Let us hasten! It is imperative we should fling ourselves immediately and without hesitation into the midst of that fight, face boldly the bullets streaming and striking. Hurry we must, for wounded men are coming down towards us, followed by others in an endless file, and it is as if merely by showing themselves with their wounds and their blood and their appearance of complete exhaustion, with their anguished faces—it is as if they said and repeated again and again to my men:<br>
“See, there is a battle raging! See what it has done for us; just look upon us returning. And there are hundreds and hundreds more who cannot follow us; who have fallen as we did, who have striven to rise, but could not, and who are lying about everywhere in the woods, dying. There are hundreds and hundreds of others who fell dead where they stood, struck in the head, in the heart, in the stomach, who have rolled over on to the moss, whose still warm bodies you will find lying about everywhere in the woods. You can see them for yourselves if you go there. But if you do go, the bullets will kill you also, as they killed them; or they will wound you, as they have wounded us. Do not go on!”<br>
And the living flesh, shrinking instinctively from death, recoils.<br>
“Porchon, watch the men!”<br>
I have carefully lowered my voice and he, replying to me, does the same.<br>
“Things look bad: I am afraid we may have trouble in a bit.”<br>
In one backward glance he has seen the faces of the men, anxious, lined with dread, distorted by nervous grimaces, every man in the grip of a tempest of fear, wide-eyed and feverish.<br>
Still, without faltering, they march behind us. Each step forward they take brings them nearer that corner of the earth where death reigns today, yet still they march onwards. Each one with his living flesh is about to enter an inferno; yet the terror-stricken body will act as it should, will perform all the actions of a man fighting a battle. The eyes will aim and judge; the finger on the trigger will not fail. And so they will go on for as long as may be necessary, despite the bullets flying about them, whistling and singing without pause, often striking with a queer dead noise which makes one turn one’s head quickly, and which seems to say: “Here! Look!” They look and see a comrade fall, and say to themselves: “In a little while perhaps it will be my turn; in an hour or a minute or even in this passing second, it will be my turn.” And then every particle of their flesh will shrink and know fear. They will be afraid—that is as certain as it is inevitable; but being afraid, they will remain at their posts. And they will fight, compelling their bodies to obedience, because they know that that is what they should do, and because—well! because they are men.<br>
By fours, through the wood and up the slope. I cannot overcome the forebodings aroused by the nervousness of my men. I have complete confidence in them and in myself; but, that confidence notwithstanding, something warns me instinctively of the presence of a new element, of a danger I cannot define even to myself, of—can it be panic? What an age we are in going up! My pulses are beating violently; the blood is rushing to my brain.<br>
“Ah! . . .”<br>
The instant we reach the top of the slope a volley, hissing, tearing and spitting, is directed at us. A common impulse causes the men to throw themselves flat to the earth.<br>
“Up you get, nom d’un chien! Regnard, Lauche, all the N.C.O.’s . . . (Censored.) . . . Make them get up!”<br>
The fire is not yet heavy. A few bullets only come seeking us, shattering the branches about us. I call out at the top of my voice:<br>
“Let it be clearly understood! All N.C.O.’s are responsible for seeing that no man falls out. We are about to cross a copse where it is very easy to get away. You must keep a very sharp lookout.”<br>
Two men rush into the clearing where I am standing. They run so quickly that they appear to be flying from the foe. Their faces are bloody and no merciful bandage conceals the wounds which they are coming to show to my men! As they come up, the first man cries:<br>
“Get out of the way! Make room! There are others following us!”<br>
That man no longer possesses a nose; in place of it there is a hole which bleeds and bleeds. . . .<br>
His companion has had his lower jaw blown off. Is it credible a single bullet could effect such a shocking injury? Almost half his face is no more than a soft, hanging, crimson piece of flesh, from which blood and saliva trickle in a viscous stream. Above this horror peer out two round, blue, boyish eyes; they stare at me, eloquent with unendurable distress, in mute stupefaction. The sight shakes me to the very depths of my being, to the point of tears; then the unmeasured rage of a madman against those who caused this war, who set all this blood running, who massacre and mutilate, sweeps over me like a storm.<br>
“Get out of the way! Get out of the way!” Another man is crying out the words now. Staggering and livid, he presses both his hands to the lower part of his abdomen to hold in his intestines, bulging in his crimson shirt. Another is desperately clutching his arm, from which large drops of blood drip constantly. A fourth suddenly stops running, kneels down before us, with his back towards the enemy, opens his clothes and deliberately withdraws from the inner side of the groin a bullet, which he carefully places in his purse.<br>
And so endlessly they stream past us, each one with the same staring eyes, following the same stumbling and zigzag course, panting, obsessed by the thought of the hilltop behind which lies safety, burning to get out of this ravine where death whistles amid the leaves, in order to recover their nerves down there, where their wounds will be dressed, where they will be cared for, perhaps even saved.