In this week’s post Fiona Hall continues with the story of Eugene Bourdon who was killed at the Battle of the Somme.
‘I trust, therefore, that you will have no further disquietude… but rest contented that although you are absent in body your spirit rules over the school which is at once your creation and your monument’. Secretary John M. Groundwater to Bourdon, July 1916.
This second instalment of Bourdon’s story will focus on his experience of war on the Western Front; through letters dating from 1914 to 1916, we are given an insight into Bourdon’s life at the front, his bravery and his modesty.
In a letter dated February 22nd 1915 Groundwater writes: ‘we are all delighted to hear from you and many are the enquiries made on your behalf. We sincerely trust that this terrible struggle will soon give way to a permanent peace… wishing you every success and that you may soon be in Glasgow safe and sound’.
What becomes apparent throughout the correspondence is the admiration and fondness felt for Bourdon by the staff and students, as the extract above illustrates.
Pictured below is one of several Carte de Franchise Militaire that Bourdon sent to the Secretary of GSA John M. Groundwater. The majority of the correspondence about Bourdon in our collections is between him and Groundwater, although Bourdon did correspond directly with Director Fra Newbery as well.
1914: Declaration of war, and leaving Glasgow behind.
‘Begin the session without me. Register the marks given. I will come after the War. Bourdon’
The above telegram to the School, dated 13th September 1914, marks the beginning of Bourdon’s role in the Great War. Following the outbreak of war in July 1914 Bourdon, like several other colleagues, felt a duty to fight for his nation. Upon his request, he was granted a leave of absence by the School.
Following his return to France, Bourdon, who had previously served with the French Army Reserve as a Staff Captain, re-joined and was allocated to the 78e Brigade. From two letters, one from Bourdon and his mother to the School respectively, we know that he had the opportunity to visit his home near Versailles before returning to the front.
In the Archives and Collections are a number of letters that narrate Captain Bourdon’s experience of war. There are no lengthy paragraphs full of detailed descriptions; instead the letters are filled with queries regarding his salary and income tax, coupled with references to the events taking place around him. Scattered throughout the correspondence, these snippets of his experience highlight to the reader the reality of his situation and also the possibility of his death.
For example, in a letter dated 19th January 1915, regarding his affairs Bourdon writes:
‘before leaving tonight for perhaps a rather dangerous mission. I have 999 chances of coming back safe, but for the 1/1000 chance I prefer to be quite in good order’.
This concludes this week’s post. More details about his military service from 1915-1916 will be covered in our next and penultimate blog post about Bourdon, “Remembering Bourdon Part 3: Bravery and Life at the Front”. Until next time!