In perusing the Oblate Necrology for the periods of the two World Wars of the 20thcentury, one learns that a number of Oblates – priests, Brothers, scholastics and even some novices – lost their lives on both sides of these conflicts. One hundred years ago, the “Great War” was raging in Europe. A newly ordained Oblate took part in the terrible Battle of Verdun, which lasted almost the entire year of 1916.
André MAURE (1887-1958) was in formation with the Oblates. Having been ordained a priest by the Bishop of Bayeux in 1916, the very next day he was sent to Verdun. His first letter tells of what was happening there:
“I don’t want to delay in telling you how I spent the first night of my priesthood at Verdun. I had barely joined my regiment when I already heard of a job to be done; I asked the favor of accompanying, as stretcher bearer, the team of brave men who, that very evening, were going into the Valley of Death, in front of Fort Vaux, in order to build up the bulwarks.
“We leave in the pouring rain. The shades of night envelop the region in a dead silence. From the surrounding peaks there are flashes of light that illumine with ominous rays the darkest of passages. Our weary eyes barely tolerate this succession of violent flashes and heavy darkness. It continues to rain and the trenches are turned into torrents or into stagnant pools. Finally, after a three hour walk, we arrive. A terrible bombardment welcomes us. Right away, there are two seriously wounded and one killed. We need to carry them to where they can be cared for. It’s far, far away; the trench that leads there is filled with obstacles. Sometimes we crawl on hands and knees; we crawl through mud. Sometimes, we climb onto embankments to avoid tree trunks lying in our path. The stretcher lies heavy on our shoulders; we stumble and we fall into huge holes filled with fetid water. The rain continues to pour down, as do the shells. Early in the morning, I get lost near the woods that are now only shredded and jumbled debris. On all sides, there lie dead bodies, animals and humans; gutted caissons; canons; automobiles; carriages abandoned in a pitiful state. This is war with its horrors. Artillery supplies pass me by in the downpour, speeding by with six horses. I cling to a caisson and I arrive at my starting point, which is unrecognizable, all mired in a liquid mud, but I am happy, a few moments later, to approach the holy altar.” http://www.oblatfrance.com/