remembrance sunday

by Sharon Santoni


remembrance sunday, french soldiers in WW1

Today is Remembrance Sunday, and  a hundred years after that terrible war came to an end, here in Normandy, every village has its own memorial with the list of young men who never came home carefully carved into the stone monuments or plaques on the wall of the church.

A while ago, I was buying on an antique fair when I noticed some documents lying on the ground beside the vendor.  They looked interesting  and I bent down to  retrieve them from the dust.      The antique dealer gave them to me, clearly seeing no value in the documents.

french conscription register WW1

When I got home, I carefully unfolded the fragile sheets of paper and discovered that the documents were actually conscription papers dating from 1914 and 1915, at the start of the WW1.     These large forms were filled in by hand, in a beautiful meticulous script, and they list young men who at the turn of the century lived not far from here in Normandy.

It is tragic to think that so many of these boys certainly never came home.    But what I find the most poignant are the personal details that tell us so much about life at that time in the quiet green valleys of Normandy.

french conscription register WW1

Most of the future soldiers listed on the documents were 20 years old.    Besides their age, their profession, the names of their parents, their height and weight (all very lightweight) and any distinguishing physical features, they were also asked a series of questions.

french conscription register WW1

Their level of education was graded from 0 – 5, according to whether they knew how to read and write and whether they had any higher education.  They were also asked what else they could do, and I find the questions fascinating:

Is he a musician

Which instrument does he play?

Can he ride a horse

Can he handle horses?

Does he know how to drive  a car?

Can he ride a bike?

Can he handle pigeons?

Can he handle a hot air balloon?

Can he swim?

Has he won any prizes for shooting?

Has he won any prizes for gymnastics?

Does he have a driving licence?

You may be shocked to know that although most candidates could read and write,  very many of the young men replied ‘Non’ to all of the questions.    Can you imagine the contrast to our generation of twenty year olds today?    These were quiet and lonely times, when people had little opportunity to educate themselves or learn new skills.    Once this form was completed and signed,  these young men kissed their parents goodbye and went off to a war , where eight million of them would die, very many in the middle of a cold muddy field with nobody to comfort them.

remembrance sunday, french soldiers in WW1

On a more personal note, I had a great uncle Harry, who I never met, and who died aged twenty at the Battle of the Somme.   His body was not found, although his name is carved into the big monument there.   Small comfort to his mother and sister who spent years trekking from one military hospital to another in the hope of finding young Harry, but without success.

Let us honour the soldiers of the first world war today.   Be grateful for the sacrifice they made, but also hope that our own children and grandchildren would never experience the horror and butchery of that terrible First World War.


And if you’d like to read a short love story that takes place during the first World Warn then click here

young french girl


Victoria Savu November 11, 2018 - 1:01 pm

Thank you for this beautiful and thoughtful post. Today is Veterans Day in the US and yesterday I went to a Church service to remember all that gave so much so that we would have our feedoms. Many gave their lives. It was very moving. I also like you hope that we will never have another Workd War. I pray like I have since a young girl for Peace on earth. Fondly Victoria

Victoria Savu November 11, 2018 - 1:13 pm

PS. Concerning your last post. I have followed you for years and i know you have previously shared a line of clothing that you liked. I was surprised by the comments.
I don’t remember any reactions the previous times. I may never be able to afford those clothes but the post gives me style ideas. I like that. And if the post helps you keeps your blog running then I am real happy. Victoria

Carrie November 11, 2018 - 8:27 pm

I’m relatively new here but agree with you Victoria. What I love about Sharon’s blog is that it takes me out of my own life, which is difficult, and opens the world of France up to me in a way I will likely never experience. The style tips are adaptable at any price range but I still enjoy learning of other stores.

Given the state of the world today, anything provoking dreams is welcome. During the wars, despite all the trauma all around them, women clamoured for silk stockings and butter to bake sweets. Anything bright and beyond today’s sorrows is a true gift.

It’s a beautiful respite here. Reading and seeing the personal touch of living in and appreciating France is soothing and enchanting. Also the women friends and Sharon are so inspiring, I love that a lot. Please keep expressing yourself as you are Sharon. It’s why I enjoy your blog and subscribe to the box.

Nina Singh November 11, 2018 - 3:49 pm

Your story is a touching and and moving tribute to these young men and the sacrifices they made.Thank you for bringing it to us in a moving and vivid manner and sharing the priceless details in these documents.

Jeanne November 11, 2018 - 3:54 pm

Thank you for such a beautiful post Sharon. My father fought in WWII and was in the 4th wave to come in to Omaha Beach. He never talked about it until my husband and I made a trip to Normandy. I took pictures of the beach as it is now and also the hill that he climbed and saw things that one should never see. It gave him great comfort to know how different it looked and to see the children playing on the beach.

Freddie Ann November 11, 2018 - 4:37 pm

100 years. I will always remember an older gentleman who walked with crutches daily through the school yard when I was in grade school, in the 60s. A veteran who had lost a leg in WWI, I was told by my parents and teachers. He always smiled and waved at all of his, we had no idea what he had gone through.
Thank you for the story about Aurelie.

joie November 11, 2018 - 6:44 pm

Merci beaucoup.

Marianne November 12, 2018 - 1:54 pm

What a wonderful find to remind us of those who are lost. It hurts me to think of these beautiful boys who had to go off to war never to return.
I like you wish there were no wars again ever.

Janice @ curtains in my tree November 13, 2018 - 10:20 pm

Oh to find such wonderful old papers as you found.I have hopes someday of finding wonderful papers.
What a sad sad time in our history, war is terrible I pray for world peace everyday


Leave a Comment