From the Diary of Pierre Minault translated by his granddaughter Gail Minault
Full Diary at Not Even Past
|Pierre Minault, 43rd Fr. Colonial Infantry|
31 October 1914
This morning we started out and crossed the main road from Doullens to Arras, by which the German invasion would take place, if ever our northern army were defeated. On the rail line which parallels the road there is a lot of train traffic. In the distance, large caliber guns thunder ceaselessly. We stop at Hambercamp, another muddy village where we will undoubtedly encamp. The fullness which we have experienced since we left our trenches has given us back our morale. We joke, and our Parisian jokers have rediscovered their priceless ability to wisecrack. There’s no more quarrelling.
Our cooks use their ingenuity to improve the cuisine, and we are eating like Gargantua. At night, in the barns, the stories go on and on. Most of the men tell of their exploits at the beginning of the war, the noted retreats of Neufchâteau, of Morhange, of the Marne, where men marched heedlessly forward only to be mowed down by German machine-guns. Others, according to their trade or profession develop theories about work, pay, or the effect of their work on their existence. Among us farmers we discuss the various crops, harvests, livestock. And thus time goes by and we forget a little our past suffering and the separation from our wives and our children.
But always, the uncertainty of tomorrow weighs on us. These moments of wellbeing appear only as preparation for the ills that await us, to death which can come upon us at any moment. It is wartime, and nothing can take away from that fact a small fraction of the dangers that are contained therein. Again we are to go back to the trenches this evening. It is said that the spot is “hot.” The General commanding the 2nd Army Corps came to visit us this afternoon. He questions each of us good-humoredly. For us this form of humor is of questionable taste. All day, our planes have crisscrossed the skies, miraculously evading the black bursts of German shells. It is marvelous how they escape. Yet, I have seen them doing reconnaissance each day from the beginning of the campaign and return each day to their departure point, apparently unscathed. Shelling in space [anti-aircraft gunnery] apparently poses exceptional difficulties. This morning we find ourselves at 300 yards from one of our large 155 mm. guns; its detonation was incredible. I could observe the maneuvering from a distance: after charging and aiming the gun, a soldier came forward with precaution, and pulled on a cord; immediately an enormous explosion of smoke and flames surrounded the battery, and a second later, the air was torn by a deafening noise.
|Mobilizing in Paris|
|French Infantry 1914|