Anne Penketh in Paris. Tuesday 14 October 2014 08.15 EDT
Parents kept room as it was the day he left, and stipulated when they moved that it should not be changed for 500 years
The name of dragoons officer Hubert Rochereau is commemorated on a war memorial in Bélâbre, his native village in central France, along with those of other young men who lost their lives in the first world war.
But Rochereau also has a much more poignant and exceptional memorial: his room in a large family house in the village has been preserved with his belongings for almost 100 years since his death in Belgium.
A lace bedspread is still on the bed, adorned with photographs and Rochereau’s feathered helmet. His moth-eaten military jacket hangs limply on a hanger. His chair, tucked under his desk, faces the window in the room where he was born on 10 October 1896.
He died in an English field ambulance on 26 April 1918, a day after being wounded during fighting for control of the village of Loker, in Belgium. The village was in allied hands for much of the war but changed hands several times between 25 and 30 April, and was finally recaptured by French forces four days after Rochereau’s death.
The parents of the young officer kept his room exactly as it was the day he left for the battlefront. When they decided to move in 1935, they stipulated in the sale that Rochereau’s room should not be changed for 500 years.
“This clause had no legal basis,” said the current owner, retired local official Daniel Fabre, who showed the room to the Nouvelle République newspaper. But nevertheless he and his wife, who inherited the house from her grandparents, have respected the wishes of Rochereau’s parents and will continue to do so.
The room contains the spurs of the cavalry officer, his sword and a fencing helmet, and a collection of pistols. A flag is propped up beside the wall. His pipes are on his desk and the stale smell of English tobacco comes from a cigarette packet.
Rochereau, a second lieutenant with the 15th Dragoons Regiment based in Libourne, outside Bordeaux, received a posthumous croix de guerre, the French equivalent of being mentioned in dispatches, and the Legion of Honour for his extreme bravery on the battlefield.
As well as being commemorated at the local war memorial, his name is also on the monument to the fallen in Libourne. The regiment’s history recounts how Rochereau’s commander was killed by a bullet to the head after giving the “heroic” order to counterattack in Loker.
On Rochereau’s desk is a vial on which, in keeping with tradition, a label records that it contains “the soil of Flanders on which our dear child fell and which has kept his remains for four years”.
The battlefields of Flanders, which stretched from north-east France into Belgium, saw some of the fiercest fighting of the 1914-18 war. To commemorate the 580,000 soldiers who died on that part of the western front, a memorial by the architect Philippe Prost is due to be inaugurated by the French president, François Hollande, on 11 November.
The soldiers who died there came not only from the UK, France, Belgium and Germany but also from as far afield as Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and India. The memorial at Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, France’s biggest national war cemetery, where the remains of 40,000 French soldiers are interred, is a giant ring of gilded metal bearing the names of the dead. Prost says he intended the Ring of Memory to symbolise unity and eternity.
The Great War opened a space for new ways of expression. Previously, we mentioned the use of propaganda as the vehicle used by different governments to increase the participation of citizens in the war. Music was also used as a way of propaganda, but musicians that were enlisted such as Ivor Gurney, Arthur Bliss, Herbert Howells, George Butterworth, F S Kelly, William Denis Browne, Ernest Farrar, and Willie Manson compose songs to narrate the actions in the frontline, but mainly, to raise the spirit of the soldiers.
If you are interested in the music of this period, there are some extraordinary websites:
“The red poppy is a symbol of remembrance for a reason: In Western Europe, it is the first wildflower to appear when soil is churned up. So after a war, fields where soldiers fell become vast expanses of crimson blooms.”
Wake Up America! is a book that talks about the use of propaganda by the US during World War I.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word propaganda stands for: 1. Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view; 2. Dissemination of propaganda as a political strategy. Of course, its connotation is negative, implying the manipulation of information, but during a war the sense of nationalism gets stronger and it becomes an issue controlled by the State. For example, according to an article published in the Smithsonian magazine, “To merge this popular form of advertising with key messages about the war, the U.S. government’s public information committee formed a Division of Pictorial Publicity in 1917. The chairman, George Creel, asked Charles Dana Gibson, one of most famous American illustrators of the period, to be his partner in the effort. Gibson, who was president of the Society of Illustrators, reached out to the country’s best illustrators and encouraged them to volunteer their creativity to the war effort.”
During World War I propaganda was used, mainly, to convince citizens to support the war and to try to recruit soldiers to fight for their countries. The United States, Germany, France, and Great Britain built a whole industry around the production of this kind of advertising. Actually, the famous portrayal of “Uncle Sam” first appeared during World War I. In some sense, propaganda was used as a weapon. In response, some people such as Aldous Huxley declared that “a really efficient propaganda could reduce most human beings to the condition of abject slavery.” Some of his ideas about this issue were included in the revised edition of “Brave new world”.
World War I officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. The treaty was signed on June 28th 1919 after months of negotiation amongst Great Britain, France and United States. Over twenty-seven countries signed the Treaty of Versailles, including:
Austria-Hungary: Austria-Hungary initiated World War I by declaring war on Serbia in July 1914.
Belgium: Though initially neutral, Belgium joined World War I to offer stiff resistance against German invasion.
Brazil: Brazil joined World War I in 1917 on the side of the Allies, and was the only Latin American country to participate in the Great War.
British Empire: Britain and British colonies including Australia, Canada, India, and New Zealand formed part of the Allied camp. The spread of the British colonies across the globe brought World War I to Africa and Asia.
Bulgaria: The Kingdom of Bulgaria joined the Central Powers in 1915 and fought until September 1918.
China: China entered World War I in 1917 following U.S. entry into the war.
France and Colonies: One of the major Allied nations, France declared war with the German declaration of war against France on August 3, 1914.
German Empire: Germany was a major Central Power. Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war was heavily influenced by Germany’s assurance of support.
Greece: Following the U.S. entry into World War I, Greece entered the war on the side of the Allies on June 27, 1917.
Italy: Initially reluctant to join the war despite an alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary, Italy sided with the allies in 1915.
Japan: Japan’s entry into World War I in August 1914 followed Britain’s request to combat raids of the Kaiserliche Marine (German Imperial Navy).
Liberia: Liberian trade was adversely affected by World War I, and the country joined the Allied Powers in 1917.
Montenegro: Linked closely with Serbia, Montenegro joined the Allied cause in August 1914.
Ottoman Empire: The Ottoman Empire joined World War I in November 1914, on the side of the Central Powers, due to its close ties with Germany.
Portugal: Despite the rivalry between Portugal and Germany, Portugal remained neutral until March 1915, when Germany declared war. Portugal then joined the Allies.
Romania: Romania joined the Allies in August 1916.
Russia: Russia, along with Britain and France, was one of the major Allied Powers, and first among the nations to mobilize troops against Germany.
Serbia: The outbreak of World War I was triggered by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary in Sarajevo, Serbia. Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia in July 1914.
United States of America: The United States declared neutrality in 1914. In 1917, the United States associated with the Allied nations thereby changing the course of World War I.
Other countries such as Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, San Marino, and Siam were also involved in the Great War.
The History channel has an interesting website that includes some videos and extra information: