1916. The bride wore black.

La mariée était en noir. The bride wore black.

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June 1916. Exactly a century ago. WWI had started two years before. Two years of massive slaughter. For nonsignificant gains in the front line in the north and northeast of France. My grandfather, Louis Prodault, his brothers, cousins and in-laws, had been fighting for two years now. Some had already fallen. Morts pour la France. Fallen for France. Some, like my grandmother’s little brother, Alexandre Després, in the first weeks of the war. More would die until the end, on November 11, 1918.

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Alexandre Després, my grandmother’s little brother, born in Piré-sur-Seiche, Brittany, died for France on August 22, 1914, in Charleroi, Belgium. WWI had started on August 3rd. Three weeks before.

WWI death count reaches 9 million dead. Plus 8 million wounded. Maimed for life. France paid the highest price with 1.4 million dead. A significant number from Brittany, where my mother’s family comes from.  There is a site, called “Mémoire des hommes” that scanned all the death certificates issued by the French army, between 1914 and 1918. A major effort. A few years back I was able to retrieve the certificates of most of my grandfather’s brothers or brother-in-laws. I understand that 6 to 8 brothers went to war, only my grandfather, Louis , and two of his brothers came back.

My mother, Renée, was born in 1926. Ten years later. She would tell me that as a child, all her aunts wore black. Their husbands, or fiancés had been killed at war. It was not uncommon then that a young woman whose fiancé has been killed in the trenches would never marry and wear black the rest of her life.

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My mother Renée, c.1928.

A few days ago marked the one hundredth anniversary of the decisive battle of Verdun, in Lorraine, the northeast of France. Lasting from february to december 1916, it resulted in about 700,000 casualties, dead, wounded or missing. Half French half German. Today, the morons who pretend to rule us, wanted to commemorate the battle with a Rap concert. Concert was cancelled. No further comment.

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My grandfather, Louis Prodault (Piré-sur-Seiche, 1890- Rennes, 1969). The picture was posed at a professional photographer’s studio. The year is probably 1918. The three stripes on his sleeves indicate a corporal. I had the same stripes on my sleeve, many, many years later. In peace time. Those photographs were printed as postcards, to be sent to the family. This one was addressed to his parents. The handwriting, in dip pen (I learned to write with a dip pen, a “plume Sergent Major”), is hard to read, almost washed away by time. “To Mr and Mrs Prodault Pierre. Village of Piré. From your son Louis… All is well.” My grandfather always was an optimist.

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My grandmother, Augustine Després. Picture was taken around 1918. She was 26. She died in Rennes in 1944, before the end of WWII, of a heart condition. The war’s privations and poor medical treatment most likely plaid a role.

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The bride is dressed in black, as are all the women. A typical peasant-farmer wedding in Brittany, c. 1916. My grandftaher is on the second row from the back, 7th from the left. Note how few young men there are. Only three. All in uniform, except for the groom.

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My grandfather, Louis Prodault.

I wish I knew more about the people in the photograph. I think my mother told me once who was who. I didn’t take notes. A shame. Some I can only guess:

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My great-uncle Julien Prodault? Maybe. I met him only once in the early sixties.

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The groom and bride I have no idea. The bride’s father to the right may be my great-grandfather, but I’m stretching. Word of advice: write all names on your photo albums.

And the war went on and on. Many more young men fell. I have found three more Prodault: Jean-Baptiste, “Tué à l’ennemi”, in june 1915, at the age of 23; Jean-Marie, in September 1915, age 26; Prodault Marie, Joseph, fallen in May 1918, age 35. Not too sure if they were brothers or cousins. As I mentioned in a previous post: the Monument aux morts (Monument to the fallen) of the little village of Piré-sur-Seiche has at least one side full of my relations.

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Prodault Marie, Joseph, private, 136th Regiment of Infantry; Died for France on May 30th, 1918, at Roclincourt, Pas-de-Calais (North of France); killed in combat.

Yet, despite the losses, the dead, the war, I never, ever, heard my grandfather complain about the war. They just did… their duty. No whining.

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In my brother Richard’s den, in Paris, around the corner from Impasse Satan. On the left, my grandfather, c.1960, as I knew him, with his customary blue-collar jacket and cap. To the right: Françoise Hardy, in her prime, about the same year. I’m sure my grandfather enjoys the company.

All text and photos (c) me.

This post is dedicated to all those who fought bravely in WWI. All sides. This is an equal-opportunity blog.

If you have relations who fell in WWI: you can look for them in this amazing site:

http://www.memoiredeshommes.sga.defense.gouv.fr/fr/arkotheque/client/mdh/base_morts_pour_la_france_premiere_guerre/

 

 

 

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100 thoughts on “1916. The bride wore black.

    • Thank you Jenny. 🙂 As I post those and other posts, I am beginning to wonder how to put together Brittany, Pakistan, Africa, Alabama, South America. I really am a cultural mongrel. 😉

      • Haha! At the end of the day I am a Frog (as the Brits call us), but a Frog of the chameleon variety. I adapt my dials (language, ac-cint, behaviour, etc.) to my surroundings. In London I speak posh. In Kenya, swahili. Just a bit. South of the Mason-Dixon line, ah speak sudern. Yes ma’am. Praise the Lord. 🙂 What plans for the week-end? Regards to Hubby and Doggie.

      • Well, I am photographing an outdoor wedding in the heat tomorrow afternoon and evening. Sunday morning I am attending a wedding of a young friend of the family. Then before I know it Monday will be here.

      • I hope to make you very excited. I have a hole pile of Paris posts in the queue headed your way over the next month +. I hope I can tide you over until your next trip to Paris.

      • That is great. I’m really curious to hear more about your trip. And it is always very exciting to see how someone else looks at the same things. The angles, the points of view, the details I always find fascinating. (So you have already done the posts and scheduled them?) Wow.

      • Well, I have done some of them. I had a spur today and got a bunch of them done. I have been working on them incrementally. I usually start by editing the photos and using my favorites. And then I kind of group them together. And then I read the posts from there. In this case I had already written a couple of the posts. And was just waiting for the photos. I also have several very short posts. Wordless Wednesdays. We’re posts with just one or two pictures of something that I found interesting were pretty. So those were pretty easy to put together.

      • Good. Preparation is the most tedious. I generally make a first selection. Put everything in one folder. Then pick a dozen for one post, and then edit (cropping, cleaning, light, etc.) Look forward to your posts. Take care.

    • Thank you Kim. It is strange how you and many readers have read the sadness. Not my intention, maybe because I’ve known that story all my life. Time erases pain. Now my purpose was also to convey that this was the fare of most families at that time. And, above all, despite the sadness, everyone went on, and did their duty. Like I said: no whining. In that sense my grandfather was a lesson to me. 🙂 Be good my friend.

      • I used to wear black, went with my Mohawk so nicely…..mom knew for Christmas, clothes wise, if it wasn’t black, it was going back….it was an excellent rich tale of life as many of us will never know. You’ve lived a blessed life Brisn, but I think you know that already😉

      • Yes seriously, about the Mohawk haircut, had many crazy styles in the fun days of my youth…I behave much better now, am even in bed by nine most nights too😊

      • Like on a farm? Somewhere around Kansas or Oklahoma? And get up “when the rooster crows at the break of dawn”? (You’re likely too young to remember the song)

      • Not sure what song you refer to, but I’m not on a farm, just got to get up at the crack of dawn so that we can walk the dogs by seven or earlier before it gets too hot. We go a few miles and it takes about an hour….exercise is good😊

      • I remember you mentioned taking the dogs out in the morning. The song is an old Dylan number: “Don’t think twice it’s all right”. 🙂

      • It ain’t me babe….know the one you’re talking ’bout….dogs out for an hour every am for an hour walk….for them and us….lost almost twenty five pounds so it must be working, kayaked today, kayaking tomorrow…gonna be a long week of fitness….I think my arms and legs are gonna fall off….argh!

      • 25 pounds? Wow. That is (probably) good and must make you feel nice. Now, having a Doctor daughter, I am compelled to ask you, strike that, tell you: you must check in with a doc regularly. Just basic follow-up. you know: blood pressure, ecg, and how your blood analysis is stabilizing. I mean, congrats, especially as it seems to be due to exercise, which is great, but do check with a doc. once a month, or whatever frequency s/he tells you. 🙂

      • Hell, thats why the change, I’m on blood pressure meds from before the move, lowering the blood sugar and cholesterol, reasons and purposes….I’m just pissed my last test, they kept me on all of it….still more to go, but eating healthy and exercise are only part…..the wine doesn’t help much, even cut that to full glass of ice, half diet ginger ale, half wine….pisses me off….but I’m still smiling and working towards the end goal…outlive the world and take it over….evil laugh inserted here…..yet my blood pressure is good now….I hate any kinds of meds….I expected the cholesterol….family history, but the rest? I think she’s just watching her butt because she is my new doc and didn’t prescribe them…..watch the carbs….well if they mean breads….pizza only once a week now…you want to see suffering? That’s a painful thing for me but I’m doing it….not a big sweet eater, so must be the drinking…..not giving up without a fight! I’m so glad you said that, appreciate your concern….feel like Sally Field…you must really like me….or you’re not ready to see me hang up the pen….haha…more chuckles. Have a most excellent evening in your warm land my friend☀️😊 peace and all good things, K

      • I do like you. And your spirit. <3. Yours is a very good goal. Plenty of exercise, a bit of diet. Do follow Doctor's orders. Eventually, as your body stabilizes, some of the meds will go. Now, wine? A glass a day keeps the doctor away. (Or was it an apple?) 😉

      • If i could keep it to a glass, well then I think I’d be off of these meds…alas, at least two…it is hot here after all, and the ice and diet soda, although sacrilegious helps too 🙂

    • Thank you my friend. Though… I’ve know those stories for half a century, so I am sort of “accustomed”. The fact is, that family story is just one in millions. Most families in France lost one, two, three or more sons. You can see that reading the names on the monuments to the fallen in every little village. The same surnames over and over again. I think of my great-grandmother, and all the mothers of that time seeing the postman coming to their house to hand a dreaded telegram from the War Office. And crossing themselves. 😦

    • My dear friend Dragos. Sorry of this post “upset” you. It all happened a century ago. And… all we can do (and that was the purpose of this post) is to maintain the memory. That alone can avoid the next bloodshed.
      On another matter entirely, Friday’s first Euro game is France-Romania. May the best win. 🙂

      • Mon dieu, did I put a smiley face instead of a sad one? I must’ve been absent-minded, too disturbed about my cat missing for the whole day (he’s back now, BTW). Sorry about that. And please, do not ever apologyze for reminding people what war does: it kills human beings for the benefit of a few criminals. It’s not this particular war I’m angry about but all of them in the entire history of the human nation. We never learn. First of all we never learn to stop obeying stupid/malicious/dangerous/etc orders. We never learn when to say ‘NO’ and when to hang by the neck those that send us to kill each-other for their own pleasure and gain.

        For what it’s worth I’m not at all a soccer fan so I won’t shed a tear when my country’s team will go home beaten to death by the French team. But then again, isn’t this sport some kind of a war too…?

        I’m sorry for your family’s loss, hopefully everybody is at peace. May peace prevail, always!

      • Hehe! You and I are probably the only 2 people left on this planet totally indifferent to soccer.
        Thank you for your kind thoughts. The family is at peace. And to keep it that way, “NO” is the only word.
        (Got me in enough trouble in the Army but that is another story) 😉
        Bon week-end mon ami.
        PS. I’m glad Mr. Cat came back.

      • Hm, are we that “many” soccer-indifferent people in the world? Well, judging by how things go lately we may soon become the norm. ‘Trend-openers’ – how does that sound? 😛 😀

        The unfortunate thing is that young people that were/are drafted and sent to war do not have their ideas clear, do not have their minds set to resist orders in group and then there’s the “laws” made exactly how those few want so there’s little escape unless entire nation(s) rise against war. Oh, this is a long and complicate talk. Let the departed rest in peace.

        Oh and by the way, cat’s name is Mr. PAM (which does not come from Pamela, duh! 🙂 )

        Merçi et bon weekend a vous aussi, cher Brieuc!

      • I had a lot of trouble with my officers in the Army. My point was: I am drafted, so this is an amy of the people. Now an order is an order. If I thought an order was stupid, I would say so AND execute the order. Didn’t go very well with 99% of officers and non-commissioned. 🙂

      • What’s the point in saying it ain’t right if you still do it? “It ain’t right to kill a person but I’m still gonna kill a bunch of them because my officer said so.” Oh, I have a problem with authority. A big problem. 😉
        But let’s leave it at that. 🙂

      • Me too. That’s why I had so much trouble in the Army. (Me and my big mouth). Now it is useful to understand the mechanisms of submission to defeat it. Do look up Stanley Milgram. Worth the read.

      • Thanks for the heads up. Can’t promise I’ll manage to read it – you know how it is: so many things to do, so little time. 🙂

  1. Thank you for this wonderful tribute! A word about the ‘morons’ – thanks to the leaders like them people don’t learn from the history and repeat the same mistakes all over again.

  2. “equal opportunity” blog. 🙂 I have no relations to WWI, but the last one we had turned my life upside down. Tu es donc un Breton! Brian, thank you for sharing photos of your ancestors. It gives us more context.

    • Hmm. Close. Non ho l’etta (I don’t have the age) is by Gigliola Cinquetti. By Françoise Hardy, surely you must remember: “Tous les garçons et les filles…” See the link:

    • Ha, The Captain beat me to it. 🙂 It is indeed Gigliola Cinquetti that sings ‘Non ho l’età’. However she does have a French version of the song, called ‘Je suis à toi’. Maybe that is what you remember, Jo…?
      Anyway, enjoy Gigliola in Italian and French.

      • I didn’t know the french version of Non ho l’etta. I remember how a major hit it was in its time. Eurovision I think. And it was her only hit. Gigliola still sings it. 🙂

      • PS. Thank you for both versions. She was quite young, 16 I think. The french version is a roar: no relationship with the italian lyrics at all! 🙂

      • There is indeed something to that song (the original).
        I didn’t know about that other version either until it just popped up in a search the other day. No idea who or what drove artists to release such “alternate language” versions, maybe there were certain protocols at the time that would not allow the original lyrics or maybe they wanted something closer to the respective culture.
        I noticed too the difference between the lyrics but hey, it’s still Gigliola. 🙂

        ABBA sang in Spanish too, Laura Pausini did Spanish and maybe French and one could dig many more artists that did alternate language versions through time. 😉

      • There was a lot (more) proximity between France and Italy in the sixties. Many french singers/actors were or Italian origin, many Itaian artists spoke French. So many songs were translated back and forth. Piccoli, Reggiani played in Italian movies. mastroiani, Claudia Cardinale, etc. played in French movies. 🙂 Now, “Je suis à toi” has no relationship with “Non ho l’etta”. Producers and publishers. Tsss. It’s like Claude François’ “Comme d’habitude” which turned into “My way”. 😉

      • Yes, it does feel like nations were closer to each other back then. I’ll always regard the sixties and the seventies as the best years of the (modern) humanity.

      • I do too. There was such a sweep of freedom. Everywhere. Independence of the colonial “empires”, civil rights in the US, women’s freedom. Music! I never understood how this gave way to possibly the most materialistic period of history.

      • Unfortunately everything in the Universe follows a sine path, including the evolution of the human civilisation. We just happened to witness one of its descending curves, that’s all. 😉

      • Bottom? Probably not, that would be a major war or a natural cataclism.
        Question is: are we gonna live through better, ascending times or are those reserved for our (grand)children?

      • I don’t know my friend. I wish I did, but again, until we reach “bottom” (which could be a major war) I am concerned for the future of our grandchildren…
        (Let’s hope for the best)

      • Hope is a bitch, we both know it. Our children and grandchildren must firmly say ‘no’ to war and act accordingly or they may not live to see the ascending sine of this life.

  3. What a great post. I love old portraits and your stories really brought the photos alive. Your grandmother at 26 was beautiful. Hard to imagine myself in her shoes when I think that she had to experience two World Wars in her short-ish life. Imagine those who died, the children they would have had who never got to be born… I like how the soldiers’ death certificate is so carefully written out with beautiful penmanship. Such a sad place this world is, that we keep doing these things to each other, unnecessary wars just to satisfy one ruling man’s ego and greed. No wonder the solemn looks in the first photo.

    • Thank you. I’ve heard so much BS about the recent “celebration” of the battle of Verdun, that I felt the need to give “a voice” to the real people, some of whom I was lucky to know. Now, the solemn looks? The men were on leave. They knew where they were going back to. Now, if you look at old photos, it’s only recently that people have started smiling in photographs. 🙂 Thank you for stopping by and for your comments. Take care.

  4. Ah. Yes. Memory and family. The Grandpa Joe I wrote in another comment was the youngest child in his family. Before the Civil War, the census lists several men in the family. After the war, he’s the only one in a house full of women.

  5. A touching post indeed Brian. We have a gorgeous old family wedding photograph, 1910, Lancashire – two of the young men are listed as killed in the war. Through family talk down the generations we seem to know so much more about their short lives, through letters from the front and war records, than we know about so many others in the group who survived to become distant relatives.

    As for the rap concert in Verdun, who even thought that was ever a good idea? Verdun as a place is still so raw with war wounds.

    • Blackburn, Lancashire? 🙂 (and though the holes were rather small they had to count them all?) Absolutely. The story I tell, bits and pieces really, of my family can be repeated a million times, british, canadian, australian, indian, gupta, and german… I know from a post that churches in Austria have the same plaques as ours in France and surely in the UK to the fallen. And again one sees the same family names. Those memories have to be preserved. Mayeb you can post the weeding photograph one day? Concert in Verdun? French Socialists think everything has to be turned into something “festive”. Tss. Thank you for your comment Patti. All is well in the Big Apple?

  6. Lovely and fascinating post, Brian. I read it a few days ago and have been mulling over it, it popped back into my mind with the commemoration of the Somme offensive (the Somme and Verdun were intimately interwoven parts of the whole), and the utter senselessness of the enormous losses involved in both. As British WWI veteran Harry Patch said, “the politicians who took us to war should have been given the guns and told to settle their differences themselves, instead of organising nothing better than legalised mass murder”.

    • Indeed Paul. I find it interesting that I wrote this post before Brexit, and before the… Strange anniversary of the battle of the Somme. What irritates me most is the shortsightedness and bad manners of so many who disregard the strong ties with Britain. You alluded to that on your Joan of Arc posts… After all a thousand years squabble between britain and france do create some links don’t they? Take care my friend

  7. Hey, I have a question. This post is very personal. It struck me deeply. I recently have done some images of the devastation of WW1, images from a field hospital and others. I bookmarked this post. I also saved some of the images. I am wondering if I have your permission to try to draw them. You can email me at ted.giffin@yahoo.com I understand if you say no. Thank for your consideration.

    • Hi Ted. I would be delighted. (An apology for the delay, just came back from a trip to San Francisco). I like your work. So I am curious as to the result. I’m sure my grandfather would love the idea. Go ahead and let me know. I will copy this text in a mail to your yahoo address. Brilliant.

  8. Pingback: “La mariée était en noir (the bride wore black)” mixed media on paper, 6″ x 8″ – Artist- Ted Giffin – Musician

  9. A very thoughtful piece, full of heart and memories. Let our memory make us stronger and stop repeating the same mistakes.. We should all feel related to those who fell in WWI and in all the wars that followed and keep following. Thanks for sharing!

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