For this week I made it my task to read the Preface of the book, the Foreward, as well as the translators notes. Interestingly, I found the authors of all three texts continuously expressing their admiration and feelings of affection towards Barthas. He came across as somewhat of a hidden gem – someone who’s stories I absolutely had to read.
From the very get go Louis Barthas seems to have a somewhat rough time of it. When called up to fight in 1914, Barthas had a serious infection of the skin on his face, and could hardly walk. The army would have none of this though and it was only from the help of one of the areas politicians that he was able to postpone his departure by a few days. After arriving in the town of Narbonne, still in poor health, unable to digest anything but milk, he was denied medical treatment along with many of the other French soldiers who desperately needed it.
He also accounts the town of Narbonne’s reaction when the first trainload of French wounded soldiers arrived in the station. A massive crowd had gathered to see the soliders – “something like twenty thousand people massed round the station”. The crowd wept and cheered as the soldiers left the train.
Within a week however, the hospitals were overflowing and trains were unloading the wounded and billeting them right there at the station. No crowds continued to gather and the population started to become indifferent to the wounder men flooding into the town. “They were becoming bothersome”.
The excitement and encouraged mood of the troops changes to one of depression and a lingering anxiety of what is to come.
Before heading to the front, many of the men rushed to request a 24-hour pass to see their families, but were denied such privileges. Barthas compares the men’s situation to worse than that of a condemned man.
“A condemned man is granted the opportunity to see his loved ones, one last time. But we didn’t get that. We weren’t supposed to get all soft in the heart, right before were were heading out.”
This didn’t stop Louis Barthas however…
“But nothing could stop me. With a couple of comrades, scorning the warnings of Manival, we headed out of Narbonne on foot and caught the outbound train at the next station, Macorignan, and so I had the pleasure of spending the next day in the midst of my family.”
1st Notebook Page 6
1st Notebook Page 18