Memorial to executed soldiers at Vingré
The memorial to executed soldiers at Vingré (20 km north-west of Soissons) was erected on the site where six French soldiers were shot by firing squad, as an example to others, on 4th December 1914. It honours the memory of a corporal and five privates:
Corporal Paul Henry Floch, Pte Jean Blanchard, Pte Francisque Durantet, Pte Pierre Gay, Pte Claude Pettelet
and Pte Jean Quinault.
The events took place on 27th November 1914. 24 men were accused of desertion in the face of the enemy. They explained that they had been following orders from their second lieutenant, but he denied this and blamed the 24 soldiers. On 3rd December 1914 lots were drawn and the war council condemned six of them to death. The Vingré Martyrs, as they came to be known, were rehabilitated by the Court of Cassation on 29th January 1921.
Opposite the memorial in their honour stands the cellar where they waited to be shot. On the walls of houses in the hamlet photographs of the executed soldiers and extracts from their last letters are displayed.
Here is (a translation of) the final letter from Corporal Henry Floch to his wife, Lucie:
“My darling Lucie,
By the time you receive this letter I shall be dead by firing squad. This is why: on 27th November, around 5pm, after 2 hours of heavy shelling in a trench on the front line, just as we were finishing our supper, Germans got into the trench. They captured me and two other comrades. In the crush I was able to escape from the Germans. I followed my comrades and then I was accused of desertion in the face of the enemy.
Twenty-four of us went before the War Council last night. Six were condemned to death and one of them was me. I am no more guilty than the others, but they want to make an example of us. My wallet will be sent home to you along with its contents. In haste I say my last farewell to you, with tears in my eyes and a heavy heart. I humbly beg your forgiveness for all the grief that I will cause you and the difficulties that you will have to face because of me…
Dear Lucie, again, please forgive me. I’m going to Confession now and I hope to see you again in a better place. I shall die innocent of the crime of desertion of which I stand accused. If, instead of escaping from the Germans, I had remained a prisoner, my life would have been spared. It must be fate.
My last thoughts are for you, right to the end.