The Fraternal Bonds of War

By Caitlyn Basinski

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The Great War was one of the deadliest wars in human history. A fraternal bond with one another united those who fought in the brutal battles. Having experienced heavy shelling and fire from the enemy and surviving the conflict created a bond that would link many of the men together. Even those who died are forever linked, especially those who are buried next to the comrades at memorial cemeteries. In his journals, Louis Barthas, a French solider describes how one the frontlines of battles, soldiers from all nations are connected by a fraternal bond that is similar to that of a family.

After seeing the graves of those who fought in combat together, the notions of brotherhood and a fraternal bond where only reinforced in my opinion. While describing his time at Verdun, Barthas even commented how war was a  “ fraternity, which united all the martyrs of this disgusting war (114). ” Men were bonded because they not only suffered together, but they survived or died together.  The massive amount of shelling that they received at sights such as Verdun and the Somme region united the men. After a night of heavy German shelling, Barthas recounts how the soldiers  “sought out, in the protecting night, his comrades, his friends, his bosses…  greeted each other with emotion (45).” The men who fought in the Great War suffered through, as Barthas comments many times, hell together and only had the company of each other throughout the four long years of the war.

Yet it was not only the men within squads who were bonded by this horrible war, but even those from different nations became bonded. Barthas recounts how at one point, the soldiers fighting on both sides were forced to come out of their trenches to avoid drowning in them. As a result the “two enemy armies facing each other without firing a shot. [Their] common sufferings brought [their] hearts together, melted the hatreds, nurtured sympathy between strangers and adversaries (114).” All of men who partook in the Great War, both for the allies and central powers, were bonded. At one of the cemetery’s in Belgium, our guide told the story of how a German and a French veteran from the Great War met at the Last Post at the Menin Gate Memorial however instead of a hostel environment between two enemies of war, the old men shook hands as though linked by a common bond.

Barthas comments how after having suffered together, the squad became “like a little family, a center of affection where deep feelings prevail, of solidarity, mutual devotion (114).” Devotion such as risking one’s life for another was common during the Great War.  Barthas recounts how he once witnessed some a squadron of English attempting “ to rescue their comrade stuck in the tank”, even when the tank was engulfed in flames. At the end of his journals, Barthas explained how he often though about his fallen comrades, and how their death instilled the idea of “ peace and human fraternity” in him (384). Even after death, the bond of comradely forged in the sorrows of war cannot be broken. Most of those who fought in the Great War are buried next to their friends or brothers-in-arms at cemeteries such as Passchendaele or the American Cemetery at Verdun. These illustrate the idea that the fraternal bond between men extends after death

One of the saddest parts of the book is toward the end, when Barthas learns that after four long years of horrific fighting he will finally be allowed some sick leave. Upon telling his men, Bathas describes how the men became nostalgic.

 “I saw their eyes get moist, their voices trembled a little. Would we ever        see each other again? Had I really won a bit of esteem, of affection, from these gloomy Bretons, always aloof from those who aren’t of their race?”

After having forged a bond with many of these men, Barthas find it more difficult to leave them then he had anticipated.  Barthas find it especially difficult and emotional to leave his friend Sonnes, with whom he had forged a deep bond.

Barthas’s journals depict moving scenes of brotherhood throughout his four years of battle at the frontlines. The family like bond between soldiers of all nations is a bond like no other. Together through enemy artillery fire and death these men were able to create a bonds that would last a lifetime.

 

 

 

About Stephen Norris