This little bundle of sheets, yellowed by time, slumbers today in an old chest of drawers. Twenty sheets of paper, written in small handwriting, tell about the most bloody weeks in stories France. Report on the very first days of the Battle of Verdun, such as they were experienced by a young man 23 years old, which no one was preparing for the role of the chronicler.
His name was René Prieur. He was born 10 August 1891, the son of a history professor from the Lyceum of Charlemagne in Paris. He was one of those three and a half million young Frenchmen who responded to the order of general mobilization in August 1914 of the year. A medical student at the time of the declaration of war, he had been in the Verdun sector for 8 for months, when at the dawn of 21 February 1916, the Germans launched Operation Justice (Gericht), the beginning of what was later called the Verdunas Battle.
When the offensive began, Rene Prier was in the Foss Forest near the village of Louvemont. Located a dozen kilometers north of Verdun and almost the same distance from German batteries, this small village sheltered one of the first aid points of the 29 reserve regiment, which was located right at the front line to receive and bandage the wounded. Being at the head of a small group of orderlies, he had to keep an accurate record of what was happening in his sector. On the first night of the offensive, he begins by drawing up a list of the wounded for the day, before summing up the first hours of the battle in a few lines.
Rene with a colleague and orderlies
“Today I had to do a lot of dressings, command the orderlies and choose the least sweep roads to collect the wounded, create a second first-aid station to the right of the one where I worked first. Today we got a lot of gas-lacrimator (Lacrimators (lat. Lacrima - tear), or tear substances - a group of toxic substances (S), irritating the mucous membranes of the eyes and causing uncontrollable tears. For example: bromoacetone - first used by the Germans in July 1915. The French also used gas-lubricant for the first time in August 1914 of the Year in Alsace in the form of hand grenades. Lane.) The bombardment does not stop and more and more incredible rumors spread.
In the photo, on the right: René Prier, against the background of the first aid station Foss Forest, mid February February 1916
For Rene Prier, the night from 21 to 22 February was short. A maximum of one hour of sleep, then the shelling resumed, the shelling was “more intense” than the day before, and now Louvemont was under direct enemy fire. The small village, completely destroyed in the following days and weeks, was never later rebuilt. A young doctor tells about the second day of the battle: “The dugout to the right of the entrance was destroyed by an 305-millimeter projectile, while I helped the Matoit medical attendant from the 165 regiment to stop the bleeding from a soldier wounded in the thigh, the dugout was overfilled, many dead were left to lie at the entrance, three of them are on their knees with luggage bags behind them. Many wounded were killed by this projectile next to me. ”
February 23: “The Germans are using more and more gas-lacrimator. It is impossible to specify the number of wounded. " February 24, this time: "The Germans are here." Very near. So close by that when night fell and Rene "collected the wounded lying in the snow," he came under direct fire from enemy sentries. During that one day: “I was buried four times in funnels,” the young man writes, mentioning for the first time that he thought about his own death: “Despite the fact that it was cold, dirty, and everything was covered with blood, and everything shook from the explosions, I fell asleep from tiredness, having thought about my mother, father and my little Henrietta ... I thought about possible death, about eternity, which is very close, my whole life flashed before my eyes, and I turned to God. - Lord, have mercy on me in my weakness, I beg you ... "
25 February 1916 of the year. “Night, snow falls and the ground is white-white,” writes Rene Pririer after his waking up at 7 in the morning. Abnormally quiet morning. “Nothing special,” only “waiting for a counterattack that can save us.” Alas, hope quickly dissipated, as in 10 in the morning a German patrol suddenly appeared from the forest hanging over Louvémont, who noticed a young medic. Further: “Throwing the knapsack behind my back and hiding the blanket in my bag over my shoulder, I went forward all alone, stretching my white handkerchief and my Red Cross bandage in front of me, shouting:“ We are giving up! ”. I was answered in French, taking me to the sight, about ten meters away:
- We are not barbarians, we will not harm you, how many people are with you?
- Approximately 25.
- Tell them to go out without weapons.
And I shouted: "Comrades, go out without a weapon, you will not do anything bad." My friends left, and I warned the German corporal that there were wounded there. He told me: "We will take them, they will be taken care of." So, the corporal and the four soldiers of the eighth regiment led us through the Fossky forest, completely destroyed by artillery fire. To the path where there was still a sign: Erbebua-Vavriy. Shot 75-millimetric, and the Germans fell. My friends followed me in order, jumping over tree trunks. A German corporal asked me if I wanted to eat. I took a piece of black bread from him, but I showed him that I still have supplies in my bag. In the middle of the ravine at Erbebua, we met an officer. He stopped us. He told me to stay and that later they would take me to a doctor. My friends left me and, passing by, one by one, they shook my hand, while violently beating 75-graph paper. I told them: “Goodbye and good luck! They will not enter Verdun, and we will make them! ”The German officer said:“ Glorious French, good soldiers. ”
February 25, 16 hours. Four hours Rene Prier in the hands of the enemy. After a short lull the battle resumed. Time from four to six in the evening was terrible. “75 millimeter shells mowed down everything: hands, heads, body parts flew in the air. I was spattered with blood. The ravine was filled with the dead, who piled on top of each other. And by quarter past four, when I got out of my trench and trees, I was walking dead. I did not know where I was going. I have never seen anything more like hell. I have heard all my life the metallic sounds of 75 millimeters, ominously rattling branches, the screams of the wounded, an incredible number of dead ones. ” The story resembles what happened in previous days, with the only difference that this time the slaughter, described by René Pririe, is caused by French shells. And now he provides first aid to enemy soldiers. “I tied up German soldiers,” writes a young medic, not without surprise, mentioning the quality of German bandages: “small and impractical.”
René Prier in a trench, near the village of Omon-pre-Samonyö, in 1915. Destroyed during the battle of Verdun, it was not restored after the war.
25 February. The night comes. It was then, near the huge funnel, Rene Prier stumbles upon two German officers. A conversation began. “Very polite, these officers talked to me about the war. They announced to me: Verdun will be taken to 27 (February), the Kaiser will be in Verdun 1 (March), showed me the cards (!!!), confirmed that everything is developing mathematically exactly. I replied that they would not pass, because I was sincerely convinced that the Germans could attack the first two days when they were held back, and now numerous reserves of soldiers, artillery, supplies are already there. So, already 6 days as the shelling does not stop, you see, I still have a day in my bag for 3 days. We, in spite of everything, have hot food! They smiled, saying: "Brave French!", But Verdun will soon be "Kaput!". And the conversation continued, while our guns continued to fire, but in the ravine the intensity of the shelling was already less. By seven o'clock the soldier, wounded in the thigh, took me to the first-aid station, following the white cord.
The orderlies carried the wounded into the tents, orienting themselves with the help of large maps of the Foz Forest. There were two doctors in the first-aid station: the officer who smoked and the non-commissioned officer who did the dressings, and I began to help him. I was offered coffee and canned liver pate.
Before the first-aid station, under fire, the Germans dug individual rifle trenches, laying in each tarpaulin, and the guns continued to grumble, and the shells exploded ominously, causing death. Numerous German wounded arrived at the first aid station. A cheerful light burned in the hearth, where coffee was heated in large kettles. The orderlies were very busy and worked without stopping, taking dressings, morphine and iodine in large baskets. I noticed that there was very little cotton and that preference was given to a material that looked like paper. Exhausted, I asked for permission to rest. I was offered a blanket. I wrapped my head around my bag and slept soundly until 10 hours of the morning, I slept so hard that I didn’t even move when the 75 millimeter projectile fell on the first-aid station. But when I woke up, it was empty, the German doctors evacuated their wounded. How, however, I slept, it was the first time I slept in 10 days.
On these words, written on 26 February 1916 of the year at the German first-aid station in front of the Foss Forest and to the right of Louvemont, Rene Prieur’s recording ends.
His last letter home from the front: “My dear father, this is already the 50 hour of shelling. It's horrible. We were hit by suffocating gas, gas-lacrimator, everything we could. Some of ours are crazy. All is well, but what a sea of fire, iron, destruction, the dead, the wounded. This is an unheard of carnage. But boshes will not pass to Ver ... (censorship!), They fire at him, and we keep them. I'm fine, I can eat, drink and sleep a few hours for the first time in three days. So faith and courage. I embrace you with all my heart: you, mother and sister. Rene. ”
A letter from Major Date, commander of his battalion, to Father René Prieur of 21 March: “I stayed with Monsieur Pririe, medical assistant, until the evening of February 24. I left him only in 16 30, when the remnants of my battalion were to leave Fossky forest under the threat of encirclement. Monsieur Priyer with the medical staff, who were in the shelter, had to stay with numerous wounded various units. He was supposed to fall into the hands of the enemy in the evening by the 17 watch. Perhaps you now have news about him from Germany, at least if he was not left in the occupied territory to treat non-transportable wounded. In this case, it will be much more difficult to receive news about him, since I know that the Germans do not give so easily the right to correspond with our compatriots who are in the occupied territories. Monsieur, accept the assurances of my sincere respect for you. ”
Later, René Prieur was taken by the Red Cross to Switzerland and was exchanged there for a captive German doctor. He returned to the Vedena sector in 1917 and was demobilized in 1919. He could not imagine that in 1939 he would be called again under the banner, already as the captain of the medical service.
In German captivity