Thursday, April 7, 2011

The French Connection - Photographs of World War 1



I am a rabid genealogist. When I'm researching my family tree online I’m like a dog with a bone. I can search for hours. Thanks to Ancestry.com and the Latter Day Saints, I’ve been able to trace my family back to the medieval swamps of Kent circa 1500.

So you can imagine how excited I was to become the owner of photographs of French soldiers taken during World War 1.

We regularly attended an
antique auction that featured pieces that had been shipped from France and sold in Oakville, about 30 minutes west of of where we live in Toronto.

Andrew Zegers was the collector, gathering all manner of antiques from the French countryside. Jon Medley was his capable auctioneer. Over the years, before the secret of this great sale got around, we managed enough courage to put up our hands to buy a plate, our dining room chairs and a carpet that the cat had a strange affection for. One sale Andrew held was basically for “seconds”; items he didn’t know what to do with.

It was there where we bought the contents of a drawer for about $40. We found silver knives, spoons and forks. About 200 “prayers” from the 1850s to the 1950s, a collection of postcards and about 8 photographs of World War 1 soldiers.

The photos had a main subject; a roly-poly mustachioed little guy of about 35. He looked 50, but they all looked older back then. There’s a picture of him on his horse; a picture of him and a Dr. Gaucherand in a trench; a picture of him at a dinner party; and a couple of photos of him larking about with his compatriots.

In the photo included above my hero has been dressed up as a German prisoner; a Boches, complete with the pointy Kaiser-style helmet. It's a pretty convincing tableau and it took me a while to figure it out.

In one of the light-hearted photos he is standing with 3 of his friends in the village of Chuignolles, apparently after lunch, laughing and pointing at one another. All the names are included but the handwriting is bad and I can’t tell if my man is Duvoy or Duroy.

 Thanks to the French Ministère de la Defénse and the website 

 http://www.memoiredeshommes.sga.defense.gouv.fr, I was able to track down a couple of the soldiers listed, and unfortunately, their dates of death and where they are buried. But Duvoy or Duroy, I can't find him in the records. He might have made it through the War.

The novel by
Sebastien Japrisot, A Very Long Engagement, relates how a young woman is unable to believe that her fiancé died during World War 1 and how she jumps through hoops to find him. Japrisot’s story has been turned into a movie of the same name. There's such a similarity between the images in this movie and the images I own as photographs that every time I watch the movie, I’m am further inspired to dig just a little deeper into the soldiers on my postcards. 

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