Grave of French WW1 soldier killed on Nov 11 has wrong date

Augustin Trébuchon's grave read November 10, but in fact he died just minutes before the bugles sounded on November 11, 1918

9 November 2020
By Connexion journalist

The last French World War One soldier to die in France before the Armistice was killed just 10 minutes before bugles sounded – probably by a stray bullet.

Augustin Trébuchon, 40, was involved in a vicious fight around the village of Vrigne-Meuse, in the Ardennes.

'Having hot food on a cold November day was very important'

He was a messenger – and the message he was carrying was to tell front-line troops that the midday soup was ready.

“It sounds silly now, but at the time, it was the message the front line was most interested in,” said Carole Marquet-Morelle, director of the Musée de l’Ardenne in Charleville-Mézières.

Even as armistice terms were being discussed, French high command ordered his unit to cross the heavily defended Meuse river at Vrigne-Meuse, opening the way to the town of Sedan, symbol of the defeat to the Prussians in 1870 and the last part of occupied French territory.

Around 100 French soldiers and an unknown number of Germans died in the fighting around Charleville-Mézières, which began on November 10, north of Vrigne-Meuse, including Trébuchon, who died taking those written orders from command posts to the front line.

Trébuchon is one of 18 French soldiers killed at Vrigne-Meuse buried together in a military square in the village cemetery.

Crosses marking their graves have the date November 10, 1918, as does the war memorial erected in 1929 by the village, which was unveiled in a ceremony attended by surviving comrades.

'Too terrible to have people die so close to the end of the war'

Ms Marquet-Morelle said: “We do not know for sure why the government at the time decided that all soldiers killed on November 11 should have November 10 as the date of death on their memorials."

“It is probably because it was thought too terrible to have people die so close to the end of the war."

“For France, the most deadly days of the war, when tens of thousands died for weeks on end were right at the start, in August 1914, and they marked the public spirit in a profound way. It became intolerable to have so many soldiers die.”

The theory that changing the date would give widows a better pension has been discounted, she said. Historians have debated whether the dates on memorials of those who died on November 11 should be changed, with most coming down on the side of leaving them as they are, as a mark of the sensibilities of the time.

Generals who ordered the Battle of the Meuse were criticised for causing unnecessary loss of life when it was obvious that the war would soon be over.

They justified the decision by saying their policy was to make it obvious to the Germans that they had been defeated.

They claimed the advance had been ordered to counter rumours circulating among German soldiers that they had been betrayed by politicians.

Ms Marquet-Morelle said French soldiers continued to die after November 11, 1918, as fighting continued around Lebanon and also in the Balkans.

Vrigne-Meuse was chosen for a symbolic meeting between then-president Jacques Chirac and German chancellor Helmut Kohl in 1998 to mark the 80th anniversary of the end of the war.

The planned ceremony was cancelled when Mr Kohl was voted out of office.

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