Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, November 4, 2019

A Letter from a "Blue Devil" in the Vosges

Robert Pellessier was born in 1882 in France. He grew up, though, in the United States, and when war broke out he returned to France to serve. He joined the Chasseurs a Pied, elite mountain infantrymen who carried the nickname "Blue Devils".  He served most his time in the army in the Vosges Mountains in eastern France. In 1916, his unit was transferred to the Somme, where he died in battle. His collected letters and diary entries were gathered by his great nephew and  published in 2003 by Texas A&M Press with the title A Good Idea of Hell: Letters from a Chasseur à Pied. This letter is from the collection.

Robert Pellessier

Weiler, 1 February 1915
To Beatrice Tower (Fiancée)

Your last letter (6 January) came right after I had written to you on coming down from the trenches for a rest.

These days I am leading a perfectly animal life.  It so good to be able to warm oneself à volonté [at will; anytime one wants to], to eat warm things, and to sleep twelve hours at a lick after nine days in and about the trenches and under a shower of shot averaging from 1,000 to 1,500 shells a day.

We had a scare the day after I reached here.  I was asleep when I thought I heard the too-well known hissing of a shell.  When I woke up fully they were bringing in two men, one hurt in the foot, the other in the side.  In addition a woman had been killed behind the house.  That shell came from the other side of the range.  It had gone nearly ten miles to do the mischief.  We expected a regular bombardment, but that was all, and that was enough.  That's the most disgusting thing about war, the killing of civilians.

We with uniforms expect trouble, but who can become reconciled to a state of affairs that kills blindly? A German aero flew over Thann yesterday, threw a bomb casually and killed women and children. The more I see of war, the less I respect it.  It is fundamentally inane.  That does not mean that I regret that France pitched in.  Quite to the contrary.  It was high time for her to do so.

Only it's idiotic to allow the development of conditions which gradually bring on war.  I do hope that your country will be able to check the wave of militarism which the Republicans, I believe, are trying to set going.  If you start fooling with that kind of nonsense your are sure to develop a wrong kind of patriotism and end up in bloodshed.

Well, good-bye for today.  Keep up good courage.


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