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Thursday
Aug142014

The Coffins

The day had come to bring the martyrs home. Places in the common grave had been chosen, and the men's remains were brought from Chenebier by truck. One was still unidentified: that grim task fell to his mother.

Saturday, December 9

At daybreak, I limp across the village.  The trenches aren’t finished, the labels not yet done.  They won’t be finished until the moment we leave for Chenebier.  We have to satisfy everyone.  After Gilbert Goux will be the Perrets.  There are eight of them.  Jacques will be between Pierre and René.  Uncle Alfred and his Samuel, with all the older men, are across from the Perrets.  The two Bauer sons across from their father, the two sons of Louis Nardin and the two sons of Guémann in the transverse trench.  One half meter between coffins, except for brothers, who rest side by side.

When I come back to the house to get ready, I find two pastors, M. Poincenot and M. Netillard, who are waiting for me with their car.  That was fortunate, because I couldn’t walk all the way to Chenebier.  We’ll have to leave the car by the cemetery, because the bridge was blown up.  We pass over wooden planks.  We’re among the first to arrive at the school.  What a sight!  In front of us, in two rows, all these coffins, and these names, these names …

We step forward, Jeanne and I, we search.  In the second row, on the left, the Perrets.  In front of them, in the first row, I read:  Alfred Pochard, Samuel Pochard.  A little further to the left:  Jacques, René, Pierre, all the others.  What sadness!  It’s very cold.  And there, in front of us, our children, our children … Poor little Philippe, you look here and there without understanding that it’s your papa who is in front of you …

Bouquets of flowers arrive from everywhere, covering the coffins.  Rosettes, palms, tricolored ribbons.  FFI from Belfort, from Fougerolles.  It’s so cold!  The speeches are so long!  Please, not so many words, so many patriotic frills.  My eyes can’t leave the factory where they experienced such cruel moments.  The snow starts to fall, mixed with rain.  Gusts of wind.  We’re transfixed, we feel nothing.

This roll call is mournful.  “Perret, Jacques”  Lieutenant Pernol’s voice responds:  “Shot by the Germans.”  Thirty-nine times.

Is it over?  No.  A truck brings three more coffins from Banvillars where our own are laid out:  Marcel and Albert Nardin, Pierre Prosper.

Coming back in the car, we arrive at the cemetery a little before the trucks.  The weather is still terrible.  How can I write of what happened?  Men of Belverne, Chenebier and Echavanne, a few from Etobon, take the coffins, carry them, and line them up on the ground while the snow stings their faces.  The whole field is covered with coffins.  It’s snowing so hard that the names are covered, and we aren’t sure we’re crying in front of our own children.

Among all these coffins, there in one of an unknown.  M.P. opens it and asks several people to come forward.  This unknown holds his handkerchief in front of his face, in his right hand, as if to hide from the approach of death.  Berthe Croissant approaches.  Suddenly, a cry, so frightening, as if she thought he were still alive:  “It’s Roger! … My son, my son …”  Next to him, Albert Nardin clasps his hands, as if he were praying.  Of the group of four houses around the Cornée, there are eight dead.

We couldn’t stand any more, so we went back to the house for a hot drink and went out again when we heard our beautiful bells begin to ring.  Their voices pierce our hearts.

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