'a Boy Hero of the Midi'
Translated from the Diary of Eugene Escloupie by Frederik Lees

the Lad from Monaco

from a French children's comic - a youngster joins the colors


A remarkable human document — the diary of a fourteen-year-old French boy, who when his father was called up, ran away from home and managed to smuggle himself to the front, where he took part in some hot fighting.


I — Story of a Fourteen-Year-Old Boy

HISTORIANS of the Great War will have difficulty in finding a more striking example of juvenile patriotism and ardor than that of Eugene Escloupie, the fourteen-year-old author of the following pages. Born and educated in the Principality of Monaco, he disappeared from his home on the Boulevard de l’Ouest in the early days of the mobilization of the French army and, hidden among the soldiers, found his way in a military train to Belfort. His plan was to fight side by side with his father, a soldier in the 125th Regiment of Territorial Infantry. Though he did not succeed, he did indeed attain one of his many ambitions — that of reaching the Front and witnessing the conflict. He was present at one of the most terrible episodes of the first period of the war — the Mulhouse affair, which cost the lives of more than twenty-five thousand Frenchmen. There, upon the field of battle, he assisted his adult comrades amidst the dead and wounded.

The literary skill with which this human document is penned is often as extraordinary as the patriotic spirit which shines out from almost every line of the narrative. Eventually Eugene Escloupie returned home. But not for long did he find it possible to resist the call of battle which still sounded in his heart. After completing his diary — at my earnest request — he once more turned his footsteps towards military life in the north, where the authorities, despite the tender years and child-like physique of this heroic boy of the Midi, have granted his wish "to do his duty on behalf of la patrie."

II — "How I Went to War"

When the general mobilization of the French army began I was in the employment of a contractor. Without a moment's delay I hurried to the Monaco railway station, and was able to witness the departure of several trainloads of soldiers. These ceremonies, the touching farewells, and the joyous songs of the conscripts, made a deep impression upon me, so that on returning home I passed a very restless night.

On awakening on Sunday morning several ideas occurred to me, but the one which filled my mind the most was that of following a convoy of soldiers as far as Belfort, the town where, it seemed to me, hostilities were likely to begin. Once more I proceeded to the railway station, spending the whole morning there. In the afternoon I went for a walk, in the course of which I saw several horses requisitioned by men of the _th Battalion of Alpine Chasseurs.

Returning home, I found my brother-in-law ready to leave. His departure made my desire all the stronger, and on retiring to bed I determined to carry out my plan the very next day.

The morrow arrived. After breakfast I left the house, on the pretence of going to my work, and went to the railway station. But entrance there was forbidden. Every time an opportunity offered, I slipped through on to the platform, but two minutes before the arrival of each train it was cleared of people and, willy-nilly, I had to leave. Eleven o'clock struck. Half-past eleven and noon came without my being able to bolt into a train. Returning home for the midday meal, it was hardly over before I was again back at the station, filled with the hope of having better luck this time. Thrice they turned me off the platform and thrice I returned until, at last, about half-past four, a train drew up and I found myself in front of it. In less time than it takes me to record the fact I dashed towards the first open door and entered an unoccupied compartment. Ten minutes later the train set off — and there I was, en route for the Front!

The train was quiet, and few conscripts occupied it until we reached the suburbs of Toulon; but from that place fresh bodies of troops began to join at every station, whether big or little. Ah! what a sound of singing all along the way! At every station there was a distribution of food and drink — bread, apples, pears, and wine; everybody gave what he or she could. At a place near Marseilles, during a wait of an hour and a half, a delegation of twenty young girls of sixteen to eighteen visited every carriage. Not a soldier went without a gift; not one continued on his way unkissed.

We reached Lyons the next day at seven in the evening. Many reservists got out here, but more joined the train than left it. There was a wait of an hour and a half; then off we went again. My companions in my compartment included an Alpine chasseur, a chauffeur, and a dog-catcher of the city of Lyons. They fell into conversation — the dog-catcher being the first to speak.

"That sale tete de Boche William has committed an infamous action! Here am I forced to go to the war — I who have four children, and the eldest only seven But since we must defend our native country, let us do so cheerfully."

"You are right," replied the Alpine chasseur. "Only a fortnight ago I got back from Morocco, where I caught a fever and was two months convalescent. And yet I'm going to set off like the others."

Conversations on those lines enabled us to while away the time until we reached Dijon at half- past ten. Jumping out of the train, I saw a notice-board bearing the words, "Belfort direction, 12.12 a. m. Platform No. 3." I proceeded to the trottoir mentioned, and waited for the hour of the train's departure. At half-past eleven the employés got together a long string of cattle trucks. , I was at a loss what to do, whether to get into one of them or ask the men if that was really the train for Belfort. In the midst of my speculation, and as though they had understood my dilemma, the railway officials put up five or six notices similar to the one I had seen on arriving. So I entered the nearest truck I could find. It was supplied with four seats, made of planks. I stretched myself upon one of them and was quickly asleep.

Ill — "I Followed the French Army"

When I awoke the sun had already risen. Looking through an opening in one of the sides of the truck, my gaze encountered an immense plain, neither the beginning nor the end of which I could distinguish. I asked a man who was next to me where we were, and he told me not far from Besancon. Half an hour later we entered that place. It was there that I saw a convoy of automobiles about a hundred — pass by. The train set off once more, and an hour's travelling brought us within sight of the first forts of Belfort. An hour and a half later we reached our destination.

Unperceived I was able to slip through the exit on to the square in front of the railway station. An ambulance was drawn up there. Drawing near, I raised the covering and saw a number of soldiers stretched at full length. In answer to my question as to what was the matter, they replied that they were ill and had just left the hospital; they were being "evacuated" to other towns. Thereupon I wandered forth to make a tour of the town and discover the object of my search.

The first corps I .encountered was the 8th Regiment of Territorial Infantry. I followed it and found it was quartered on the ground floor of an hotel in the Rue Thiers. At the end of the day, which I spent with the men, a sergeant said to me :

"Eh! young man, you don't belong here ?"

"No, sir," I replied.

"Where do you come from?"


"Why did you leave Monaco for Belfort ?"

"To go on campaign."

"But where are your parents — your father?"

"Father is mobilized."


"I don't know."

"And your mother?"

"She's at Monaco, with my sisters."

"And why did you leave them?"

"As I've already told you, to go on campaign."

"What's your name?"

"Eugene Escloupie."



"Have you had your dinner?"

"No, sir."

"Well, come with me. I dare say there's a drop of soup left, and if there is any meat you shall have it." I followed the good-hearted sergeant to the kitchen where, for the first time, I ate out of a French soldier's gamelle. When I had finished the non. com. said to me:

"You shall remain with us. Go sit outside a bit and then get off to bed. But it's on straw, not on feathers you'll sleep, my boy. However, since you want to go to battle, you must accustom yourself to our life, and if we leave, you shall come with us."

"Oui, mon sergent."

"Good! I'm pleased to see that you're beginning to accustom yourself to the military life."

And with those words he left me.

Acquaintance with the soldiers was quickly made, but there was one in particular with whom I became friendly. When the sergeant had gone he took me aside and said:

"Have you eaten?"

"Yes; the sergeant saw to that." .

"Well, if you're still hungry, don't hesitate to say so. I've got some bread and meat I was unable to finish. Come now, will you have some?"

"No, thanks, I'm no longer hungry."

"Then you must be thirsty, and you won't refuse a drop of wine. One moment, whilst I fetch my canteen."

He was back in two minutes with his canteen and poured me out a good quartern. Then we sat on the edge of the pavement and began to talk about one thing and another.

As a fine rain began to fall about half-past eight, everybody went inside to go to bed. Unlacing my boots, I stretched myself out in the straw by the side of my new comrade. At the door of our quarters stood a sentinel, and although we slept with the door open and without blankets we were not in the least cold, for there were thirty-six in our room, which measured but twelve metres by nine. A terrible storm raged outside. About one o'clock in the morning a deafening noise awakened us. Everybody asked what had happened. One said it was thunder, another the cannon. The sentry, declared he had seen the flash and the smoke; he was certain it was the cannon. But no one was sure. It was not until daylight came that we learnt through an officer that it was indeed the guns. Thus, for the first time, I heard the roar of cannon. .

IV — "My First Day in the Army"

On waking up at about half-past six the storm had abated a little; it was still raining, but in an ordinary manner. The distribution of "juice" (coffee) began. A milkman happened to be passing down the street and my chamber-fellow called to him and made me drink two quarterns of milk,, for which he paid the modest sum of one penny.

We spent the morning in visiting the town. I saw the Place Quand Meme, the Lion of Belfort, and the aviation ground, where new airships were being built. It was rare to find a street in which there were not one or two houses bearing marble plaques on which were such inscriptions as this: "Here was born General — . Appointed general on such and such a date. Fought in the following campaigns — Died in such and such a year." In the afternoon we went to a fort, where my comrades received their equipment — a rifle and bayonet, a knapsack, a cartridge-pouch, a canteen, a blanket, a pair of leggings, and a covering for the képi. On returning to the cantonment a captain delivered the following speech;

"My lads, I wish to inform you that one of these days we are going into action. It may be to- morrow or the day afterwards — I cannot say exactly. But I would ask this of you: to behave like brave men and follow your leader, for all the time you follow and obey me I will undertake to lead you along the path of honor and victory. Remember the words of your chief. You must not say, 'I shall not be frightened,' for I myself shall be one of the first, on the first bullet whistling past my ear, to duck my head and be scared. But I shall salute it and overcome my fear and never fail you. Therefore recollect that and say to yourself, continually, 'Yes, I am frightened, but I shall overcome my fear;' and in that way you will succeed."

This little discourse was heartily applauded by the conscripts, and it was not until the captain had shaken all of them by the hand that he left.

We breathed the fresh air for half an hour longer before retiring to rest. The night passed without incident. I did not awaken until dawn. The weather was fine. After taking our coffee we were about to go out when the order came that no one was to leave. At half-past nine we learnt that we were to go into action — a happy piece of news which filled all the reservists with joy. Preparations were made. I had been provided with a rifle, a pouch, a canteen, and a kepi. At the thought of seeing the Boches fighting and being overcome I was filled with joy. But not for long, for at half-past two, before setting out, the company was passed in review. It was then that an officer caught sight of me and cried out:

"What's that boy doing there?"

"He is following us, captain," replied my friend.

"Where does he come from ?"

"Monaco. He left because his father was mobilized and he was without a parent."

"What's your name?" demanded the officer.

"Eugene Escloupie," I replied.

"Have you any papers to prove your identity?"

"Non, man capitaine."

"Are you French ?"

"Oui, man capitaine."

"It's a pity, but as you cannot prove your identity I cannot keep you. A strict order has just been given against allowing any foreign person with the soldiers."

"But I'm not a foreigner, mon capitaine."

"I dare say not, but you must prove to me who you are."

There was nothing more to be said. I had to abandon my equipment and flee. Before leaving, however, my comrade said to me: "Don't be discouraged. Go to the Bureau de la Place — military headquarters — and tell them that, being an orphan, you left Monaco to follow a regiment, and see what they say. Bonne chance."

Having embraced him, I set off and went straight to headquarters. Entering the first office I came to, I saw four or five officers, including a doctor, in conversation. Hardly had I crossed the threshold than one of them exclaimed :

"What do you want here, boy?"

"Let me tell you, please, that I was at Monaco — ..."

"And now you're at Belfort!"

" — — at the beginning of the war. My father had left to join his corps, and being alone I left in a train to come here and go on campaign with the soldiers."

"You've come here, then, to enlist ?"

"No, I cannot do that; I'm not old enough."

"Ah, bon! Why are you here then?"

"To see if you can pass me into some regiment or ambulance."

All the officers had listened attentively during this examination. The doctor then spoke.

"Since you wish to enter an ambulance, it's to work there ?" he asked.

"Yes, sir."

"In that case I'll take you."

"Thank you, sir."

"Go downstairs and wait for me at the door, and when I come you shall go with me to the ambulance."

I descended the staircase more joyfully than I had mounted it, and waited at the appointed spot. It was not long before the doctor followed and took me off with him to the military hospital.

V — "We Fight on Soil of Alsace"

I had already been two days at the ambulance when, at half-past five on the morning of the third day, the reveille sounded and we were informed that we were to leave for Alsace. Preparations were made immediately, and at seven o'clock we set off. The cavalry marched away first; then the infantry, whilst we others formed the rearguard. The Red Cross section including myself, were in the lead, followed by the ambulances and motor-buses containing the ladies of the Red Cross and the doctors.

We set foot on the annexed soil of Alsace at nine o'clock. What a sight it was to see the frontier posts overthrown and the Alsatians cheering our troops! Our soldiers had already passed that way, for tricolor flags were to be seen everywhere. The sight touched our men and filled their hearts with courage.

We camped in a village, and it was not until five o'clock in the evening that we set off again. After marching for twelve kilometres, we began to hear the cannon, from which we concluded that our comrades could not be far distant. I have forgotten to say that we were not in the first line, but on our way to join our comrades, who were in need of reinforcements. At nine o'clock we camped, sleeping in a cornfield. No sooner had I stretched myself out on a favorable spot than I fell asleep, not to awaken until dawn, when several detonations aroused me. I found that we were only eight kilometres away from the Germans. So, at last, we were to see the Boches — to fire upon them and to bring them down!

When we reached the second village the enemy were not far away. They had already bombarded several farms, but our "75's" had opened fire and succeeded in silencing the German guns. All this was splendid, but sad. Moreover, we had not yet seen one of the enemy. Still marching forward, we came up with our comrades. The ambulance was installed in the neighboring village, three kilometres distant from where the battle was being waged. Campbeds having been set up at the Mairie and in the school, the Red Cross men proceeded to the scene of the fight, and some of them ventured forth, under the shower of bullets and shells, to bring in the wounded.

We still kept a sharp lookout for the Boches, but they were well concealed and invisible. Suddenly, everybody cried, "There they are!" and we beheld a green, grass-colored mass, about seven hundred yards to our left, issue forth from cover. They were received on all sides with volleys from our infantry. The duel lasted for about half an hour; then the enemy broke into flight and our soldiers went in pursuit.

From that time we began to pick up the wounded. It was terrible work. There were dead men, lying face downwards, some of them half-buried by shells. Other poor fellows lay with shattered arms and legs shot off. It took two hours to bring in our wounded. We carried them to the motor- buses and the. ambulances, which transported them to the village, where they received first aid. After that we advanced to the spot where we had first seen the Germans, for in their retreat they had abandoned their wounded. There the sight was no less sickening. The number of wounded was about the same as on our side, but the dead greatly outnumbered ours. By the time we had carried in all the wounded it was about five o'clock and we had had nothing to eat since the morning, for circumstances had not permitted us to return to the village.

Four in our section of Red Cross men were missing; two had been killed by stray bullets and two others were slightly wounded. We did not reach the village until six o'clock. The soup was got ready, and we ate with a good appetite. The revictualling department was very well managed; we ate fresh meat. Having taken our fill, we stretched ourselves out in the buildings requisitioned by our troops, and a quarter of an hour later were fast asleep.

We were awakened at four o'clock in the morning to join the regiment and collect the soldiers who had been wounded since the previous evening. Leaving the ambulance in the village, we set off at half-past five and at about six reached the scene of the fight of the day before. We then followed in the footsteps of our troops, in the direction taken by the retreating Germans. It was easy to distinguish the road, for it was littered with dead and wounded. Here and there, too, were dead horses, with their legs sticking straight up in the air. The first wounded we met with were about fifteen hundred yards from the scene of the battle. Doubtless the Germans had stopped and a second fight had taken place, but, judging by the small number of dead and wounded, it could not have lasted long. However, those few must have suffered terribly. The poor fellows had been lying there for fifteen to sixteen hours without assistance, and several of them were unconscious through loss of blood.

Our soldiers had advanced six kilometres, and we came up with them about eight o'clock. They were camped in a wheat-field, not far from a fairly important village to which the Germans had retreated and which they were busy fortifying. Our cavalry discovered this on a reconnaisance, during which our brave piou-pious fortified themselves — first of all their stomachs, and then the ground.

On seeing this camp in the open country, I likened it to a cinema scene representing American cow-boys. At one spot was a group of men, sitting on the ground, resting, joking, and smoking. Near them were their piled arms, with knapsacks all around. Here and there were officers walking up and down. The horses were in a corner, cropping the beautiful green grass of Alsace.

In the midst of this peaceful scene there was heard a humming noise, followed by a few rifle- shots. An aeroplane appeared, evidently sent by the enemy to discover our positions. After having dropped seven or eight bombs, which missed their mark, it wheeled round and disappeared.

Whilst the soldiers were encamped their chiefs had telephoned to the ambulance to join us as soon as all the wounded had been sent to the rear.


French soldiers ambushed in Mulhouse


VI — The Story of a Lieutenant

It was thus that, little by little, in the midst of fighting, we passed beyond Altkirch and reached the neighborhood of Mulhouse.

Our front was very extended. After the capture of Altkirch, the order was received to march on Mulhouse, distant about twenty-five kilometres. We had covered about half that distance when 'we came across thirty wounded, including a lieutenant, who told us the following story:

"We numbered about two hundred and were advancing without the support of artillery when, suddenly, we found ourselves face to face with four German guns. They were so well hidden that we got within about six hundred yards before we saw them. I ordered my men to take cover, and hardly had they thrown themselves to the ground than the four guns were fired. None of us were hit. Making a bound forward, I got my men to take cover again, whereupon the four cannon spoke once more. This time eight of my men were hit, including a sub-lieutenant, two sergeants, and a corporal. Thus we progressed until we were within eighty yards of the guns.

“Just as I was about to order a bayonet charge, sure of capturing the battery, four detonations rang out afresh and I was thrown to the ground. I must have fainted, though not for long — a quarter of an hour, perhaps — for when I came to I saw my men retiring. They were quite right in doing that, all the officers, with the exception of a few corporals, having fallen. . . . Whilst I was examining my wound, I heard the sound of marching behind me. It was the German infantry, and as it swept by a soldier stopped and bent over me. I feigned to be dead. He began by tearing my sword and revolver from me, then he undid my puttees, and finally took off my boots. I was boiling over with anger, uncertain as to what to do, whether to keep up the pretence or show that I was merely wounded. When he had robbed me of half my possessions, he decamped to rejoin his regiment. Heaving a sigh of relief, I closed my eyes and tried to sleep, but in vain. Three hours later I heard a sharp fusillade. I sat up and beheld the Germans in retreat. My soldiers had found reinforcements and beaten the Boches back. Several bullets fell near me. I thought that my last hour had come when the Germans once more passed over me. But what a pleasure it was to see them fleeing before our men! . . . Night began to come on; I closed my eyes, and this time I slept."

The officer had been wounded by a shrapnel bullet, which had entered his shoulder and descended almost to his elbow. He had fallen about two in the afternoon. It was nine o'clock in the morning when we found him, so he had remained without help on the field of battle for fully nineteen hours.

Wounded men were picked up all along the way. We reached the walls of Mulhouse without encountering any serious resistance. Cavalry was sent on in advance to reconnoitre the town, and returned with the information that Mulhouse was defenceless. We accordingly entered the town, headed by the regimental band and cheered by the crowd. Our troops encamped on the Place de la Mairie and other squares. Just as they were about to requisition quarters for the night a sharp fusillade came from several windows. It was thought, at first, that a number of inhabitants had revolted, but the trouble spread and shots poured from all the windows surrounding the squares where our men were stationed. It was then discovered that the Germans were there in hiding, with machine-guns and rifles. It was a veritable death-trap, and our men were compelled to beat a hasty retreat, but not before more than twenty-five thousand of them had fallen. The stretcher-men succeeded in collecting a few of the wounded, but they had to abandon large numbers, for the enemy was at hand and had already captured several ambulances.

This defeat did not succeed in demoralizing our brave soldiers, who reformed a few kilometres from Mulhouse. Though they had to retreat, they occasioned heavy losses to the Germans.

VII — "Father — I Wish to Fight by Your Side"

We retired to Altkirch. Here reinforcements arrived, and it was whilst marching to counter-attack Mulhouse, after a small fight in a village we had already passed, that I was wounded. "Wounded" is perhaps hardly the word, but this is how I received my injury. After a heavy bombardment by the enemy of the place we occupied, we had to evacuate it somewhat rapidly. Whilst getting out of the way of a shell I climbed over a wall about six feet high and rolled to the ground. I picked myself up immediately, thinking nothing was the matter, but a sharp pain in my left arm soon convinced me that I had sprained it severely. It was, indeed, so badly hurt that I could not get over the wall again and had to call a Red Cross man to my assistance. Subsequently I was sent with the wounded to the ambulance, where the doctor who had taken me under his protection at Belfort massaged my injured limb with camphorated oil and dressed it. He decided that it was better I should no longer remain with the ambulance, so he sent me in a Red Cross train to Lyons, where I was in Auxiliary Ambulance No. 37.

My duties there, as an assistant, were to carry food to the wounded, read the newspapers to them, write their letters, and do any other necessary light work. I remained there a month, and when my arm was no longer painful they sent me to Tournon to complete my convalescence. It was whilst there that I wrote the following letter to my father:


"Tournon, November 10th, 1914.

"DEAR FATHER — At the present time I am at Tournon, in the Ardeche, and I have just received a visit from mother, who has left for Narbonne, where she hopes to see you. You will doubtless have learnt from her that I went to Belfort and served with an ambulance, but that, owing to there being too many Red Cross employés, I was sent with others to Tournon, where I am in convalescence, after spraining my arm, which is-now well again.

"As you know, my desire is to enlist and follow the army to the battlefield. Mother tells me that one of these days you will be leaving for the front. A ray of hope flashes to my brain. My dream may at last be realized. That depends on the kindness of one man, your captain, and his kindness will consist in accepting me for his regiment, to fight side by side with you. If he is willing, he can only accept with your consent, but I do not doubt for a moment that you are ready to give your signature. I implore you, therefore, to speak to your captain, for if he is a true patriot he will understand the reason why your son of fourteen begs him to accept me in his company to go on campaign with you, even though it be only to raise up the poor wounded who have fallen gloriously for France, and who, as I have already seen, remain eighteen to twenty hours on the field of battle, exhausted through loss of blood. But my desire does not end there. I wish to fight by your side, and even to avenge the name of Escloupie if, unfortunately, you are seriously wounded. I promise you that if that happens in a bayonet charge and I am by your side, the Boche who is the author of your wound will pass to the other world — and quickly, too. If your captain is a good patriot and possesses a good heart, I repeat he will not refuse to relieve a poor little French heart which laments to find itself useless, when, at fourteen years of age, one can render service, especially when the honor of the country is at stake.

"I shall not say much more, for my heart beats too quickly. That ray of hope revives me. I beg you to make this request for me. Speak to your captain — to your commandant, if the captain will not suffice — or to the general if that is necessary. And if my wish is granted, I swear on my honor that I will fight, not as a boy of fourteen, but as a soldier of the 125th Territorial Regiment.

"Farewell! My hand trembles. I cannot say more; if I could, it would not be a letter I should write, but a book.

"Farewell! Farewell!

"Whilst awaiting your reply, receive from your son — strong-headed but patriotic — a loving kiss arid a vigorous handshake, which will give you courage and sufficient strength to do your duty as a good Frenchman. If you obtain what I ask of you, write me immediately and I will join my new regiment as soon as possible. Send your reply to Eugene Escloupie, Evacué des Places de Guerre, Maison Cross, Rue Aimée Dumaine."


I awaited the reply. On receiving it, my father told me that the captain could not accept me, but he would authorize me to follow his regiment when it was called to the front.

I still impatiently await his departure for the field of battle.


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