Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

noon.

Dear beloved Mother,—It is mid-day, and we are at the forward position, in readiness. I send you my whole love. Whatever comes to pass, life has had its beauty.

It was in the fight of this day, April 6, that the writer of these letters disappeared.

Letters of a Soldier 1914-1915 was published in English in 1917. The letters were published anonymously but have since been attributed to Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier.

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

1 o’clock a.m.

Dear Mother and dear Grandmother,—We are off. Courage. Wisdom and Love. Perhaps all this is ordained for the good of all. I can but send you my whole love. My life is lived in you alone.

towards noon.

Dear Mother,—We are now to be put to the proof. Up to this moment there has been no sign that mercy was failing us. It is for us to strive to deserve it. This afternoon we shall need all our resolution, and we shall have to call upon the supreme Wisdom for help.

Dear beloved Mother, dear Grandmother, I wish I could still have the delight of getting your letters. Let us pray that we may be strengthened even in what is before us now.

Dear Darling, once more all my love for you both.

Your Son.

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

Darling Mother,—A time of anxious waiting, big with the menace of near things. Meanwhile, however, idleness and quiet. I am not able to think, and I give myself up to my fate. Beloved, don’t find fault with me if for a month past I have been below the mark. Love me, and tell our friends to love me.

Did you get my photograph? It was taken at the fortunate time of our position here, when we were having peaceful days, with no immediate enemy except the cold. A few days later I was made corporal, and my life became hard enough, burdened with very ungrateful labours. After that, the storm; and the lights of that storm are still bright in my life.

April 4, evening of Easter Sunday.

Dear Mother,—We are again in the immediate care of God. At two o’clock we march towards the storm. Beloved, I think of you, I think of you both. I love you, and I entrust the three of us to the Providence of God. May everything that happens find us ready! In the full power of my soul, I pray for this, on your behalf, on mine: hope through all; but, before all else, Wisdom and Love.

I kiss you, without more words. All my mind is now set upon the hard work to be done.

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

(post-card).

Only a word from the second line. We are in the spring woods. Sun and rain at play in the sky. Courage through all.

(2nd letter).

I wish I had written you better letters in these days, every minute of which has been sweet to me, even when we were in the front line. But I confess that I was satisfied just to let myself live in the beauty of the days, serene days in spite of the clamours of war. We know nothing of what is to happen. But there is more movement—coming and going. Shall we have to bear the shock again?

Think what it was for us when we were last in the front line, to have to spend whole days in the dug-out that the odious bombardment had compelled us to hollow out of the hillside ten metres deep. There, in complete darkness, night was awaited for the chance to get out. But once my fellow non-commissioned officers and I began humming the nine symphonies of Beethoven. I cannot tell what thrill woke those notes within us. They seemed to kindle great lights in the cave. We forgot the Chinese torture of being unable to lie, or sit, or stand.

The life of a sergeant in billets is really quite pleasant. But I take no advantage. As to the front, I hope Providence will give me strength of heart to do my duty there to the very end. A good friend of mine, who was my section-chief, has been appointed adjutant to our company. This is all trivial enough; but, dearest, I am in a rather feeble state; I was not well after the events of last month. So I let myself glide over the gentle slopes of my life. Suppose one comes to skirt a precipice? May Providence keep us away from the edge!

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

A sun that lays bare the lovely youth of the spring. The stream of the Meuse runs through this rich and comely village, which the echoes of the cannonade reach only as a dull thud, their meaning lost.

We have had to change again, as the reinforcements are arriving in such numbers that our places are wanted; and it is always our regiment that has to turn out.

But to-day all is freshness and light. The great rich plain that is edged by the Meuse uplands has its distance all invested in the tenderest silver tones.

I am pleased with Gabrielle’s letter; it shows me what things will be laid upon the heart of France when these events are at an end. A touching letter from Pierre, cured at last of his terrible wound. A splendid letter from Grandmother. How she longs for our meeting again! I cannot speak of it.

I finish this letter by the waterside, recalling with delight the joys I used to have in painting. Before me are the sparkling rays of spring.

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

(on the heights; a grey Sunday; weather broken by yesterday’s bombardment).

We are again in full fight. A great attack from our side has repeated the carnage of last week. My company, which was cut up in the last assault, was spared this time; we had nothing to do but occupy a sector of the defence. So we got only the splashes of the fighting.

On the loveliest Saturday of this spring I had a distant view of the battle; I saw the crawling beast that a battalion looks like, twisting as it advances under the smoke of the guns. The chasseurs à pied go forward in spite of the machine-guns and of the bombardment, French and German. These fine fellows did what they had to do in spite of all, and have made amends for the check we had last week when our attack was a failure.

For a month past I have been living Raffet’s lithographs, with this difference, that in his time one could be an eyewitness in comparative safety at the distance where I stood, for the guns of those days did not shoot far. But I saw fine things in that great plain beneath our heights; a hundred thousand fires of bursting shells. And the chasseurs climbing, climbing.

 (2nd letter).

Dear Mother,—Radiant weather rose this morning. I have been a long way over our sector, and now the bombardment begins again, and grows.

And still I turn my thoughts to hope. Whatever happens, I pray for wisdom for you and for me.

Dearest, I feel at times how easy it would be to turn again to those pursuits that were once the charm and the interest of my life. At times I catch myself, in this lovely spring, so bent upon painting that I could mourn because I paint no more. But I compel myself to master all the resources of my will and to keep them to the difficult straits of this life.

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

Here I am living this life in the earth again. I found the very hole that I left last month. Nothing has been done while I was away; a formidable attack was attempted, but it failed. The regiments ordered to engage had neither our dash nor our perfect steadiness under fire. They succeeded only in getting themselves cut to pieces, and in bringing upon us the most atrocious bombardment that ever was. It seems the action before this was nothing to be compared with it. My company lost a great many men by the aerial bombs. These projectiles measure a metre in height and twenty-seven centimetres in diameter; they describe a high curve, and fall vertically, exploding in the narrowest passages. We are several metres deep underground. Pleasant weather. At night we go to the surface for our hard work.

Dearest, I wanted to say a heap of things about our joys, but some of them are best left quiet, unawakened. All coarse, common pleasure would frighten them away—they might die.

I am writing again after a sleep. We get all the sleep we can in our dug-outs.

I had a pile of thoughts that fatigue prevents my putting in order; but I remember that I evoked Beethoven. I am now precisely at the age he had reached when disaster came upon him; and I admired his great example, his energies at work in spite of suffering. The impediment must have seemed to him as grave as what is before me seems to us; but he conquered. To my mind Beethoven is the most magnificent of human translations of the creative Power.

I am writing badly, for I am still asleep.

How easy, how kind were all the circumstances of my return! I left the house alone, but passing a battery of artillery I was accosted by the non-commissioned officers with offers of the most friendly hospitality. The artillery are devoted to the Tenth, for we defend them; and as the good fellows are not even exposed to the rain they pity us exceedingly.

I must close abruptly, loving you for your courage that so sustains me. Whatever happens, I have recovered joy. The night I came was so lovely!

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

A splendid sun; looking on it one is amazed to see the world at war. Spring has come in triumph. It has surprised mankind in the act of hatred, in the act of outrage upon creation. The despatches tell us little, fortunately, of what is happening.

Being now these twenty-one days away from the front, I find it difficult to re-accustom myself to the thought of the monstrous things going on there. Indeed, dear mother, I know that your life and mine have had but one object, one aim, and that even in the time we are passing through, we have never lost sight of it, but have constantly tried to draw nearer.

Therefore our lives may not have been altogether useless. This is the only thought to comfort an ambitious soul—to forecast the influence and the consequences of its acts.

I believe that if longer life had been granted me I should never have relaxed in my purpose. Having no certainty but that of the present, I have tried to put myself to the best use.

Eugáene Emmanuel Lemercier

The Argonne, France

The Argonne, France

Dear Grandmother,—As the day of trial draws near I send you all my love. I can do no more. We are probably called upon to make such a sacrifice as forbids us to dwell upon our ties. Let us pray that the certitude of Goodness and Beauty may not fail us when we suffer.
Sunday, with lovely sunshine.

Dear beloved Mother,—I think that we may be kept here one day more, and that we shall leave on Tuesday. I don’t know where I shall rejoin my battalion, or in what state I shall find it, for the action seems to be violent and long. Rumours are very contradictory as to our gains. But all agree as to the large number of casualties. We can hear a tremendous cannonade, and the good weather no doubt induces the command on both sides to move.

I should have wished to say many things about the noble Nature that surrounds us with its glory, but my thoughts are gone on in advance, there where the sun does not see men gathered together to honour him, but shines only upon their hatred, and where the moon, too, looks upon treachery and anguish.

The other day, overlooking this great prospect of earth welcoming the spring, I remembered the joy I once had to be a man. And now to be a man——

Our neighbour regiment, that of R.L., has returned with a few of its companies reduced to some two-score men.

I dare not now speak of hope. The grace for which one may still pray is a complete sense of what beauty the passing hour can still yield us. It is a new manner of ‘living one’s life’ that literature had not foreseen.

Dear Grandmother, how well your tenderness has served to keep me up in my time of trial.