Original text in French here


You will soon understand that these low and dirty insignificant material things are much more important to you than the whole superior spirit of combat. Brutally, in the midst of a battle that seemed to be taking place for legitimate spiritual needs, you feel that in reality you have been illegally forced into a simple debate between yourself and pain, yourself and the necessity to live, yourself and the will to live, that everything is there; that if, simply you die, there is no more battle, nor homeland, nor right, nor reason, nor victory, nor defeat, and as such they made you strive painfully towards nothingness. There is no epic so glorious that the respect of its glory can pass before the needs of a digestive track. The one who built the epic with the suffering of his body knowns that during these so-called moments of glory, in fact, baseness occupies the sky.

Under Verdun's iron, soldiers are holding. For a spot I know, we hold because the gendarme prevents us from leaving. They placed stations even in the middle of the battlefield, in the support trenches, above the Tavannes' tunnel. If we want to get out of there we need an exit ticket. Stupid but exact; no, not stupid, horrific. During the beginning of the battle, some soup carriers still manage to pass through the artillery barrage, once there they need to search in their bandolier and show to the gendarmes the ticket signed by the captain. The heroism of the official press release must be controlled carefully here. We can, in good faith, say that we are staying on this battlefield because they are carefully preventing us from escaping. Regardless, here we are, here we stay, so we fight? We look like fierce attackers, but the truth is that we are running away on all sides. We are between the hospital's battery, a small fort, and the fort of Vaux, which we are tasked with reconquering. This has been going on for ten days. Every day, at the battery of the hospital' between two rows of dirt bags, they execute those they call deserters on the spot, without any trial. We can't leave the battlefield, so now we hide in it. You dig a hole, you bury yourself, you stay there. If you are found, you are dragged to the battery and, between two rows of dirt bags, your brains are blown out. Soon, every man will have to be followed by a gendarme. The general says "They hold". In Paris there is a historian who will soon conjugate the verb "to hold in Verdun" at every tense and for every pronoun, including his own. They hold, but general, I wouldn't get rid of the gendarme nor advise clemency to this colonel of the 52nd infantry regiment staying at the hospital's battery. This has been going on for fifteen days.

For the last eight days the soup carriers are not returning. They leave in the evening in the darkest of the night and it's over, they melt like sugar in coffee. Not a man returned. They were all killed, absolutely all, every time, every day, with no exception. We don't go anymore. We are hungry. We are thirsty. We see over there a dead laying on the ground, rotten and full of flies, but whose belt is still holding canteens and balls of bread held by an iron thread. We wait. For the bombing to calm. We crawl to him. We detach from his body the balls of bread. We take the canteens that are full. Some have been pierced by bullets. The bread is flabby. One just has to cut away the part touching his body. That's what we do all day. This has been going on for twenty-five days. For a long time, there are no more of these pantry-corpses. We eat whatever. I chew the strap of a water tank. Around the evening a buddy came with a rat. Once skinned, its flesh is white like paper. However, with my bit in hand, I still wait for the darkest part of the night to eat. We have an opportunity for tomorrow: a machinegun that was coming as reinforcement was pulped with its four servants twenty meters behind us. Later we will go pick up the haversacks of these four men. They came from the battery. They must have brought food for themselves. But we have to be careful not to let the ones on our right go there before us. They must be watching too from inside their hole. We watch. What matters is that the four of them are dead. They are. It's for the best. This has been going on for thirty days.

It's the great battle of Verdun. The whole world has its eyes riveted on us. We have terrible worries. Win? resist? hold? do our duty? No. Relieve ourselves. Outside, it's an iron storm. It's very simple, a shell of each caliber lands every minute on every square meter of land. We are nine survivors in a hole. It's not a shelter but the forty centimeters of dirt and logs above our head are in front of our eyes like an eyeshade against horror. Nothing in the world would make us go out of here anymore. But what we ate, what we eat, wakes up multiple times a day in our belly. We need to relieve ourselves. The first among us who couldn't contain himself anymore went out; for the last two days he has been there, three meters in front of us, dead pantless. We do in paper and we throw it there in front of us. We did in old letters we kept. We are nine in a space in which normally we would barely fit three tightly. We are somewhat tighter. Our legs and arms are tangled. Even when one wants to only bend his knee, we are all forced to move in a way that will allow him. The earth of our shelter shakes around us constantly. Relentlessly the gravel, the dust and the splinters blow in the side that is open to the outside. The one who is closest to this kind of door has his hands and his face flayed with thousands of small cuts. After some time we stop hearing the shells exploding; we only hear the loud hit when they land. It's an uninterrupted hammering. We have been there without moving for five days. Neither of us has any paper left. So we do in our haversacks and we throw them outside. One has to untangle his arms from other arms, remove his pants, and go in his haversack that is pressed against a friend's belly. When we are done we pass our dirty deed to the one in front of us, who passes it to the other who throws it outside. Seventh day. The battle of Verdun carries on. More and more heroic. We still don't leave our hole. We are only eight left. The one who was in front of the door has been killed by a large splinter that cut his throat and bled him to death. We tried to cover the door with his body. We were right to do so. A sort of grazing shot that has focused on our area for the last few hours makes splinter rain on us. We hear them hit the body blocking the door. Even though he was bled like a pig with his open carotid, he keeps bleeding with each wound he receives after his death. I forgot to say that for more than ten days none of us has had a rifle, nor ammunitions, nor knife, nor bayonet. But more and more, we have this terrible, never ending need, tearing at us. Particularly since we tried to swallow little balls of dirt to calm our hunger, and also because this night it rained and because we had not drunk for four days we also licked the rain water filtering through the logs and also the one coming from outside dripping along the corpse blocking the door. We go in our hand. It's a dysentery flowing through our fingers. We can't throw that outside. The ones in the back wipe their hands against the dirt near them, the three closest to the door wipe themselves against the dead's clothes. That's how we realize that we are doing blood. Thick blood, absolutely ruby colored. Beautiful. This one thought that it was the dead, against whom he wiped his hands, who was bleeding. But the beauty of the blood made him wonder.

The corpse has been blocking the door for four days and we are now August 9th, and we see well that it is rotting. This one had relieved himself in his righthand, so he passed his left hand against his rear; it came covered in fresh blood. During that day, we realize one by one that we are defecating blood. So we just do on the spot, there, under us. I said that we haven't got have weapons anymore, not for a long time; but we all have our cup passed in a belt because we are at all times consumed by a burning thirst and, once in a while, we drink our urine. It's the admirable battle of Verdun.

Two years later, in the Chemin des Dames, we would revolt (at this point I would be the only survivor of these last eight) for similar ignominies. Not at all for great motivations, not at all against the war, not at all to give peace to Earth, not at all due to great commandments, simply because we can't take going in our hand and drinking our urine anymore. Simply because deep in the army, the individual became filth.

Jean Giono, extract from "Search of Purity", Pacifists writings, 1939