List Of Contents | Contents of The New Book Of Martyrs, by Georges Duhamel
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clothing and all, in the hollow of the stretcher, which was stiff
with blood. When I called the stretcher-bearers and contemplated
this picture, the big man raised himself on his elbow and said:

"Please give me a cigarette."

Then he began to smoke, smiling cheerfully and telling absurd
stories. We took off one of his legs up to the thigh, and as soon
as he recovered consciousness, he asked for another cigarette, and
set all the orderlies laughing.

When, on leaving him, I asked this extraordinary man what his
calling was, he replied modestly:

"I am one of the employees of the Vichy Company."

The orderlies in particular, nearly all simple folks, had a desire
to laugh, even when they were worn out with fatigue, which made a
pretext of the slightest thing, and notably of danger. One of
them, called Tailleur, a buffoon with the airs of an executioner's
assistant, would call out at the first explosions of a hurricane
of shells:

"Number your arms and legs! Look out for your nuts! The winkles
are tumbling about!"

All my little band would begin to laugh. And I had not the heart
to check them, for their faces were drawn with fatigue, and this
moment of doleful merriment at least prevented them from falling
asleep as they stood.

When the explosions came very close, this same Tailleur could not
help exclaiming:

"I am not going to be killed by a brick! I am going outside."

I would look at him with a smile, and he would repeat: "As for me,
I'm off," carefully rolling a bandage the while, which he did with
great dexterity.

His mixture of terror and swagger was a perpetual entertainment to
us. One night, a hand-grenade fell out of the pocket of one of the
wounded. In defiance of orders, Tailleur, who knew nothing at all
about the handling of such things, turned it over and examined it
for some time, with comic curiosity and distrust.

One day a pig intended for our consumption was killed in the pig-
sty by fragments of shell. We ate it, and the finding by one of
the orderlies of some bits of metal in his portion of meat gave
occasion for a great many jests.

For a fortnight we were unable to go beyond the hospital
enclosure. Our longest expedition was to the piece of waste ground
which had been allotted to us for a burial ground, a domain the
shells were always threatening to plough up. This graveyard
increased considerably. As it takes a man eight hours to dig a
grave for his brother man, one had to set a numerous gang to work
all day, to ensure a place for each corpse.

Sometimes we went into the wooden shed which served as our
mortuary. Pere Duval, the oldest of our orderlies, sewed there all
day, making shrouds of coarse linen for "his dead."

They were laid in the earth carefully, side by side, their feet
together, their hands crossed on their breasts, when indeed they
still possessed hands and feet. ... Duval also looked after the
human debris, and gave it decent sepulture.

Thus our function was not only to tend the living, but also to
honour the dead. The care of what was magniloquently termed their
"estate" fell to our manager, S----. It was he who put into a
little canvas bag all the papers and small possessions found on
the victims. He devoted days and nights to a kind of funereal
bureaucracy, inevitable even under the fire of the enemy. His
occupation, moreover, was not exempt from moral difficulties. Thus
he found in the pocket of one dead man a woman's card which it was
impossible to send on to his family, and in another case, a
collection of songs of such a nature that after due deliberation
it was decided to burn them.

Let us purify the memories of our martyrs!

We had several German wounded to attend. One of these, whose leg I
had to take off, overwhelmed me with thanks in his native tongue;
he had lain for six days on ground over which artillery played
unceasingly, and contemplated his return to life and the care
bestowed on him with a kind of stupefaction.

Another, who had a shattered arm, gave us a good deal of trouble
by his amazing uncleanliness. Before giving him the anaesthetic,
the orderly took from his mouth a set of false teeth, which he
confessed he had not removed for several months, and which exhaled
an unimaginable stench.

I remember, too, a little fair-haired chap of rather chilly
demeanour, who suddenly said "Good-bye" to me with lips that
quivered like those of a child about to cry.

The interpreter from Headquarters, my friend C----, came to see
them all as soon as they had got over their stupor, and
interrogated them with placid patience, comparing all their
statements in order to glean some trustworthy indication.

Thus days and nights passed by in ceaseless toil, under a
perpetual menace, in the midst of an ever-growing fatigue which
gave things the substance and aspects they take on in a nightmare.

The very monotony of this existence was made up of a thousand
dramatic details, each of which would have been an event in normal
life. I still see, as through the mists of a dream, the orderly of
a dying captain sobbing at his bedside and covering his hands with
kisses. I still hear the little lad whose life blood had ebbed
away, saying to me in imploring tones: "Save me, Doctor! Save me
for my mother!" ... and I think a man must have heard such words
in such a place to understand them aright, I think that every day
this man must gain a stricter, a more precise, a more pathetic
idea of suffering and of death.

One Sunday evening, the bombardment was renewed with extraordinary
violence. We had just sent off General S----, who was smoking on
his stretcher, and chatting calmly and cheerfully; I was operating
on an infantryman who had deep wounds in his arms and thighs.
Suddenly there was a great commotion. A hurricane of shells fell
upon the hospital. I heard a crash which shook the ground and the
walls violently, then hurried footsteps and cries in the passage.

I looked at the man sleeping and breathing heavily, and I almost
envied his forgetfulness of all things, the dissolution of his
being in a darkness so akin to liberating death. My task
completed, I went out to view the damage.

A shell had fallen on an angle of the building, blowing in the
windows of three wards, scattering stones in all directions, and
riddling walls and ceilings with large fragments of metal. The
wounded were moaning, shrouded in acrid smoke. They were lying so
close to the ground that they had been struck only by plaster and
splinters of glass; but the shock had been so great that nearly
all of them died within the following hour.

The next day it was decided that we should change our domicile,
and we made ready to carry off our wounded and remove our hospital
to a point rather more distant. It was a very clear day. In front
of us, the main road was covered with men, whom motor vehicles
were depositing in groups every minute. We were finishing our
final operations and looking out occasionally at these men
gathered in the sun, on the slopes and in the ditches. At about
one o'clock in the afternoon the air was rent by the shriek of
high explosives and some shells fell in the midst of the groups.
We saw them disperse through the yellowish smoke, and go to lie
down a little farther off in the fields. Some did not even stir.
Stretcher-bearers came up at once, running across the meadow, and
brought us two dead men, and nine wounded, who were laid on the

As we tended them during the following hour we looked anxiously at
the knots of men who remained in the open, and gradually
increased, and we asked whether they would not soon go. But there
they stayed, and again we heard the dull growl of the discharge,
then the whistling overhead, and the explosions of some dozen
shells falling upon the men. Crowding to the window, we watched
the massacre, and waited to receive the victims. My colleague M----
drew my attention to a soldier who was running up the grassy
slope on the other side of the road, and whom the shells seemed to
be pursuing.

These were the last wounded we received in the suburb of G----.
Three hours afterwards, we took up the same life and the same
labours again, some way off, for many weeks more. ...

Thus things went on, until the day when we, in our turn, were
carried off by the automobiles of the Grand' Route, and landed on
the banks of a fair river in a village where there were trees in
blossom, and where the next morning we were awakened by the sound
of bells and the voices of women.


We had had all the windows opened. From their beds, the wounded
could see, through the dancing waves of heat, the heights of Berru
and Nogent l'Abbesse, the towers of the Cathedral, still crouching
like a dying lion in the middle of the plain of Reims, and the
chalky lines of the trenches intersecting the landscape.

A kind of torpor seemed to hang over the battle-field. Sometimes,
a perpendicular column of smoke rose up, in the motionless
distance, and the detonation reached us a little while afterwards,
as if astray, and ashamed of outraging the radiant silence.

It was one of the fine days of the summer of 1915, one of those
days when the supreme indifference of Nature makes one feel the
burden of war more cruelly, when the beauty of the sky seems to
proclaim its remoteness from the anguish of the human heart.

We had finished our morning round when an ambulance drew up at the

"Doctor on duty!"

I went down the steps. The chauffeur explained:

"There are three slightly wounded men. I am going to take on
further, and then there are some severely wounded ..."

He opened the back of his car. On one side three soldiers were
seated, dozing. On the other, there were stretchers, and I saw the
feet of the men lying upon them. Then, from the depths of the
vehicle came a low, grave, uncertain voice which said:

"I am one of the severely wounded, Monsieur."

He was a lad rather than a man. He had a little soft down on his
chin, a well-cut aquiline nose, dark eyes to which extreme
weakness gave an appearance of exaggerated size, and the grey

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