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First World War - mail from the front lines

 

Excerpts from mail received at the Carmel of Lisieux

from soldiers of the First World War

 

1ere-croix-tombe-TH

Aubert, Pierre / Sergeant

1915 July   During a month of convalescence that I was able to spend with one of my bosses in Deauville, the latter insisted on driving me to Lisieux, where I made a pilgrimage to the Buissonnets, the Carmel and Little Sister Thérèse’s grave. My two sisters … had once spoken to me about the devotion to the little Saint and I will admit that quite frankly I was very skeptical… But I was profoundly touched and truly moved by this mystic little figure, and by her immense gentleness and beauty, and her great faith and admirable trust in God. And right beside her, I myself felt so confident, and so inclined to take refuge near her that I left a letter on her grave together with a photograph of my wife… and myself. I then left the cemetery of Lisieux, with absolute trust in the future, as if little Sister Thérèse herself had told me that from that moment on, our destinies were linked. I recommended all my intentions to the Little Saint on the Carmel register, having promised her I would dedicate myself to her devotion, especially after the war… I am nigh to returning to the front for a second time.

Gérard, Charles / Caporal

1916 February  Drawn from the depths of the abyss of disbelief, I’m slowly journeying towards faith. Intensely aware of my own indigence, I one day came across Story of a Soul, which the chaplain at our camp lent to me. And there I read that there is one road, and one joy, which is called holy joy, and that even simple souls can follow it and won’t go astray. Sister Thérèse, the humble wildflower, emboldened me and made me see that Jesus loved the humble in a very special way. She instills courage within me and, with her, I wait and hope… she has completed my conversion. When I have the honour of going to fight, I would like Sister Thérèse – henceforth my patron saint – to accompany me. I will take her with me in my heart and in my head but I would like a flower from her grave to be placed in my wallet, against my heart.

Photos of soldiers placed on the grave of Sr Therese - sometimes by the mother

soldats deposes tombe TH

Bellois, Henri /Caporal

1916 March   A letter from his wife had informed him that his two little daughters were ill.

Bellois lt

Please excuse me for asking you to kindly unite your prayers with mine in honour of Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus for the complete healing of my little girls. In my mind, I cannot find a better doctor than my Little Sister Thérèse, in whom my heart has unforgettable trust. I would like to possess all her works and spend my time reading them in moments of rest from my surveillance duties.  For me she is a support, a guarantee, and a friend in combat. I also remember her each day by saying a prayer to her when I awake in the morning, and a rosary each night.

1916 June   I have the great joy of addressing you this letter and thanking you with all my heart… I was overjoyed at the sight of the striking little photographs [of Thérèse]. I experienced a feeling that uplifted my morale. But I wasn’t alone: one of my men with me was struck likewise, and he found the little photo so lovely that he eagerly asked me whether I had any others. Seeing him so touched and so happy to make Little Sister Thérèse’s acquaintance, I gave him a cardboard-backed photo, and he couldn’t help eyeing the medallion upon it. Soon, a man from my squadron, who wasn’t sitting far from us, heard I was circulating these little medallions and came to find me, asking me whether I had any more. I immediately gave him the last one. The 3 medallions are therefore in my squadron, placed in hands of good faith, and the trust of these men is wholeheartedly fixed on this Little Saint alone. Several comrades have come at one time or another to ask whether I have any medallions. Saying I hadn’t, their smiling faces clouded over, but they begged me to procure some for them right away. I myself am glad to be able to bring people happiness, and bring their hitherto misplaced trust closer to Little Sister Thérèse. Dear Mother, I’m sending you a 5 franc note with this letter… I beg you to be good enough to send me some medallions right away, so that I can satisfy several of my friends’ ardent desires… I thank you with all my heart in advance; my comrades do likewise.

1916 November During leave, I took a moment to go to my Little Thérèse’s grave. [In] times of trouble, I remember this little pilgrimage and it restores my strength and helps me forget these harrowing days.

1917 Maydeco-pr-bellois  In this little parcel, I’m sending you the reward [medal] that I obtained a few days ago. I won it in a small attack that I voluntarily participated in. I came out of it without a single scratch. I owe thanksgiving to my Little Thérèse… This War Cross belongs to her more than to me, in the medal display case that is exhibited in her honour. And I thank her from the bottom of my heart: thank you my Little Thérèse! Thank you! Thank you!

1918 June / July 

On 4th June, while on reconnaissance between French and German lines, we came under rather heavy fire, and there I had proof that I benefit from a limitless protection. A bullet from a revolver pierced my jacket, squadron diary and wallet, and also my vest, over my heart. But the bullet deviated from its path without reaching my shirt thanks to Sister Thérèse’s little medallion, which was there like a shield. It was only the next morning, in daylight, that I realized. On this occasion I simply made a very deep bow to my little Thérèse. And I thank her with all my heart, and remain confident that she will always be my support in times of trouble…  July: [A] bullet slipped before reaching the medallion, which saved my life, since this bullet would have hit me square in the heart.

Boucaud, Ch. / Sergeant  

1916 April  I feel the need to tell you that, for the duration of this horrendous war, I’ve put special trust in your Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus… I left for the front, carrying with me a picture and a relic of the little saint, as a guarantee of survival and my safe return home.  I have in mind a large philosophical work, only been published in drafts. In one chapter of the work relating to life in beauty and the moral beauty of action, Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus would be its best illustration, and I propose to contribute to her intellectual glorification in this way.  Lastly, the virtue of providential surrender and spiritual childhood that this little saint expressly practiced predestined me, by contrast, to place myself under her special protection. And this is because my soul, worn down by a succession of trials and tribulations, exhausted, weakened by chronic distress, and eaten away at length by spiritual anguish, is unable to surrender itself like a child to fatherly providence. My soul, which was accustomed to suffering and anguish, and to which the war brought yet more anguish, took refuge in little Sister Thérèse, whose smiling and gracious protection corresponded well to this frightful time, and who took pleasure in letting fall ‘a shower of roses’.

Brouquier, F. / Téléphoniste 29e d’Infanteriebrouquier

1916 August  The poilus love Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus and never tire of saying it. Consequently, they fulfil the sweet duty of gratitude towards ‘the little Queen’, who in turn makes them love the Great King. And like them, I want to pay my debt to Her. Life at the front is not always happy: deep sadness invades us at times and very real dangers threaten us. I’ve felt this sadness, and I’ve experienced these dangers. But, upon reading the beautiful pages of “Story of a Soul”, courage and faith, resignation and trust came back to me with greater force and a more unshakable drive. Oh!!! I can tell you the means by which I was able to find my lost energy, for it’s simple: I followed as best I could the “delightful Way of spiritual childhood,” for it is the way that leads to happiness through the spontaneous fulfilling of all our duties. And I express all my gratitude to the amiable Servant of God. 


brouquier roses 1917 June  Here, flowers present themselves to me. In memory of Sister Thérèse, I unpetal a rose in all its splendour, and address a few petals to you [enclosed!]. Accept them as thanks for the good you have done to everyone, and particularly soldiers, by raising the little queen up before them, to be the comforter and support of those under strain.

 

clouet

Clouet, Julien / Compagnie du Génie

 1915 May  Sister Thérèse silently visited the garden of my dreams… One day I read the little booklet “Shower of Roses” and, being a non-believer, I disputed it, without paying heed to the fact that a Rose had nevertheless fallen into my heart and would work its charm. Then came the war; the horrific war. Before leaving, my dear Wife gave me a relic of our Saint. I went to Mass once, then twice, then more often and, upon surrendering myself to Sister Thérèse, I felt an immense happiness as Trust took root inside me. I loved to pray, and, in the long visits I paid to God, I felt my soul sublimate more and more. I prayed everywhere the war took me… and everywhere, I journeyed towards God... dreaming of the new path that Sister Thérèse had outlined for me.

Dayras, J. / Aide major

1918 August   I’ve made it my duty to tell you how much trust I have in the power of little Sister Thérèse, to whom I owe the protection I received last April in the Somme… Amidst the danger of combat, against which you can do nothing on your own, you feel like a tiny child. You need to blindly entrust yourself to the Father’s protection and from this point of view, the little way of trust and surrender is very natural for a soldier. Faced with the war so close to home, you regret having so little time to acquire merits, and Sister Thérèse’s example is precious; it shows all those you can draw from simply offering the  humblest of actions to Jesus… Consequently, by following this easy path, I was able to bear all the trials God sent me with faith and resignation. I was able to entrust my life’s destiny into His hands through the intermediary of Sr. Thérèse. And as He saw fit to preserve my life, I’ve come today to pay homage to his powerful intermediary.

Mme Louis Delormedelorme

June 1916  This dear little Saint is watching over his protégé, my husband, who has a lot to fight in Verdun and he came out unharmed from the furnace! After the first fight, he returned again and came out on June 18 very tired but uninjured. He told me that it is a miracle. [Attached is a photo of our family].

Esnou, J. /Maréchal des Logis

1918 March  I request the alms of your prayers so as to obtain the grace to follow the way of ‘trust, surrender and love’ that your little Saint taught by example. I also recommend my wife and little girl to your prayers. Little Sister Thérèse’s grave was the destination of our honeymoon in 1914. I placed our union under her protection. For the duration of this war, I entrust all my perilous missions to her. She protects me and fills my heart with courage.

1918 May  It was on the front line that I read her books... The life of our most amiable little Saint is right at home in the lonely trenches. She is able to instruct hearts so well!

Gaillot, Gabriel / Sergent-Major - Zouaves

1915 October  Your Sister Thérèse, I’m sure, will bring us victory. She will grant our armies the bravery of crusaders, and will help them accomplish the most heroic deeds, just as she herself said.

De la Vaissière / Capitaine de Vaisseau

de la vaissiere

1915 March  You would like a few details about the graces that the holy Soul has obtained for me. First and foremost, there’s been a persistently benevolent protection since I’ve known and prayed to her. I feel her near me and near my life, helping me in times of difficulty and giving me full confidence… Added to this temporal help is a spiritual protection that inspires me to serve God better, and think about the treasures in heaven and my sanctification. And you’ll have some idea of the fraternal and ever so permanent help that the Saint of the Carmel provides. She is wholly accessible, all charity, and she envelops, as it were, her protégé with an atmosphere of piety, gentleness and extraordinary strength. This captain, an old sea dog, has at present entrusted her with navigating his poor boat. The captain is powerless, but the pilot directs, reassures and delights him.

Nef, Maurice / Caporal

rose effeuillee

1915  A while before the war, my very Catholic wife pushed me to attend a conference on Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus in Somain (Nord). The parish priest of Somain distributed little booklets on Sister Thérèse and I kept one on me, treasuring it. Although Catholic myself, I used to neglect many of my Christian duties… But since, I’ve often invoked Sister Thérèse for certain small graces, and have always received them. One day I felt pushed by an irresistible force to go to confession and take Communion, and as God does all things well, he made me meet a chaplain, whom we still have here now, and I went to confession and took Communion. That was when a great transformation took place within me. I no longer recognize myself; I live in perfect peace of mind, despite the shells and bullets raining down around me. I attribute this to a miracle on the part of Sister Thérèse. 

Bal, Elie / Lieutenant

1918 May  I  had the opportunity to read and benefit from the wonderful life of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus [photo of his edition to the right ]. Having the grace to read pages as beautiful as these is so consolatory that I thought my two dear little daughters should read the book, convinced that our great saint would watch over them. “I want to spend my heaven in doing good on earth,” she said. This sublime sentence, which is a very great act of love in itself, is also a source of profound joy for those who, like myself, believe in God and in his infinite mercy. I will admit to you, Mother, that I myself, an old career soldier with 19 years of service behind me, shed tears of joy at reading this immensely beautiful life and before such simplicity. How petty the joys of this world appear! Little unpetalled rose, Little Queen, Blessed Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus, deign to accept the respectful homage of an old soldier of the great war and pray to Jesus whom you loved so much: pray for all little soldiers.

Vanlaethem, Pierre / Sergent Belge au Camp d’Auvours

1915, July  I few days ago, a comrade gave me a little booklet about the life of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, and reading it brought me right back to the path I had had the misfortune of forgetting. I began praying to Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus that very day and I find I’ve changed a great deal. But I’m missing something, which is the reason for me coming to solicit your kindness. I’m soon returning to the front. Before going where duty and God calls me, I’m soliciting your kindness for a medallion of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, and this shall be my pride and joy.

 

 

premieres medailles TH lt

Due to the numerous requests from solders, Rome allowed the minting of medals before the beatification of Thérèse.


See the rest on page 2

Anglade J. / territorial téléphoniste

1917 nov

  Employez à la plus grande gloire de Soeur Thérèse de l’Enfant-Jésus la petite attestation que voici : Le 15 novembre courant, j’eus le malheur de donner au remords l’occasion de torturer mon âme. Pour sortir de cet affreux état, je recourus à notre chère Sainte. Vers 6 heures du soir, dans l’Eglise d’E…., banlieue de Nancy, je lui criai du fond de ma misère : « O chère Ste Thérèse de l’Enfant-Jésus, faites-moi trouver un confesseur, ce soir même ! » 

  Aussitôt j’eus l’intuition, la conviction que ma prière était exaucée. Où ? comment ? Qu’importait ! Je quitte l’Eglise « allant, courant » au-devant du confesseur qui ‘venait’ à ma rencontre.  En effet, à 500 mètres de là, l’envoyé de Sr Thérèse se présentait à moi dans la personne du Curé du village voisin, et ce grand et bon vieillard rendait bientôt à mon âme la paix avec la grâce de Dieu.

Remarquez que depuis le 28 octobre, je passe là tous les soirs et à peu près à la même heure ; mais, ni avant, ni après le 15 novembre, je n’y ai plus rencontré l’envoyé de ma bienfaitrice. Gloire à vous ! ô chère Ste Thérèse de l’Enfant-Jésus, et merci pour votre si opportune bonté à l’égard d’un pauvre soldat !

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