La mariée était en noir. The bride wore black.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
My great-uncle Julien Prodault? Maybe. I met him only once in the early sixties.
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.
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.
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: