The soldier who preferred flowers to guns

Pour lire cet article en français, cliquer ici : Le soldat qui préférait les fleurs aux fusils

(This article was originally written in french and then – very poorly – translated by myself after a couple of people asked for a translation. Sorry for the bad english. Feel free to suggest any correction..)

My father died almost two years ago. He was quite old – around 80.

It took days to clean his apartment – he lived there for the last 30 years and had accumulated literally tons of books, and a few things coming from his own father – my grand father, Clement.

I never met this grand father – I think he died a couple of months before I was born.

In my father basement, behind piles of book, I found this :

Herbier Clement 01

I don’t know the exact name of it (I mean : even in french). But it’s obvious that in this little box, made of wood, soldiers of WWI were able to carry some personal stuff. There’s a name on the box – my grandfather’s name – and even his complete reference as a soldier : « 10ième Régiment d’infanterie, 10ième Compagnie, soldier Clément F., Matricule 10223. »

I guess that when the war was over for them, they were returning home with it.

I always knew my grandfather was in WWI, but never had any details, except that he was wounded, captured and hold prisoner in Germany. I just remember my father saying that it was german doctors who cured his injury.

Opening the box, I found a lot of military documents, a few maps, coupons (…) and a couple of personal letters.

And something else :

Herbier Clement 02

A thick orange document holder

Herbier Clement 03

« Herbier de Papa – Guerre 1914 – 1918  » – Herbarium from dad, War 1914 – 1918

My grandfather Clement picked a flower or a plant on every battlefield he was involved during Word War I.

Herbier Clement 05

I imagine that if he had a mobile phone, as now, he would have taken pictures, instead. But he had none, of course. Then he picked flowers.

Herbier Clement 08

Of course the herbarium is in bad condition. But on the labels, page after page, you find names. Only names coming from the east of France. And only names corresponding to battlefields – those « fields » being, for once, correctly named here.

Herbier Clement 10

From these places of war and death – after of before the fights, I don’t know – he extracted those flowers. They were born between the tranches, in the middle of the assaults, the deaths, the dismembered bodies and the broken faces.

Herbier Clement 11

He saved these flowers exactly 100 years ago.

And today, they still represent the victory of life against barbarism.

Herbier Clement 09

There are a lot of pages in his herbarium, plants, leaves, flowers – and even some Lily of the valley (« Muguet » in French) dated May, 1915 (in France, offering Lily of the Valley on each May, 1st is still a very active tradition)

Then there is a long « pause » in the dates – probably corresponding to his injury and time in Germany.

Then, almost one year after, comes this last page,  with the words « Returning from Germany » :

Herbier Clement 12

At the very end of the herbarium come two additional pages, with these words – from the hand of my father, this time :

Herbier Clement 14

A « pilgrimage made with his father on the battlefields », almost 50 years after, in 1962.

and come these few roses, « in memory of the battle of the Somme river ».

Herbier Clement 15

My grandfather died almost 50 years ago. I wish I knew this soldier who preferred flowers to guns – and which came back from war with lily of the valley and roses.

Back to home page (and french !)

(If you wanna try your french :

Une esquisse américaine 

american-gothic-grant wood3

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4 réponses

  1. Wonderful and deeply moving, when soldiers collect flowers in this way there is hope for humanity, thank you.

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  3. février 18, 2015

    […] The images here are taken from the original post and you can read the original French version here  and the English translation here. […]

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