Remembering Bourdon Part 4: In the trenches

Fiona Hall writes about a recent discovery in the GSA Archives and Collections in the last post of the ‘Remembering Bourdon’ series.

A recent discovery within the correspondence is a notice advertised in the School on behalf of Bourdon requesting care packages for his men, and attached to the poster is an image of Bourdon taken in the trenches sometime during 1914-15.

Notice from Bourdon requesting 'comforts' for his men, dated November 1915. GSA Archives and Collections (archive reference GSA/SEC/1 BOURDON MEMORIAL)

Notice from Bourdon requesting ‘comforts’ for his men, Stamped 23rd November 1915. GSA Archives and Collections (archive reference GSA/SEC/31 BOURDON MEMORIAL)

Photograph of Captain Bourdon in the trenches, c1914-15, attached to the notice. GSA Archives and Collections (archive reference: GSAA/SEC/1 1916 BOURDON MEMORIAL)

Photograph of Captain Bourdon in the trenches, c1914-15, attached to the notice. GSA Archives and Collections (archive reference: GSAA/SEC/31 BOURDON MEMORIAL)

It is difficult to articulate how it felt opening this item and glancing down at Bourdon in his uniform! Again along with the letters, it helps to piece together Bourdon’s ‘war story’. Detailed in the letter below is a reply from Bourdon to Groundwater in 1916 informing him that he had received the care packages and that it was a ‘tactful idea to add to the woollen objects a few sweets, soap cakes’. Bourdon goes onto state that he has ‘arranged matters so that each company… Shall get something. Colonel Bablon (my … general ) feels himself much grateful of the many gifts sent to his men … He wishes to wish Mr Newbery a few words of thanks’.  

Letter from Bourdon to the Secretary thanking him for the comforts sent to him by the female staff at the school. GSA Archives and Collections (archive reference: GSAA/SEC/1 1916 BOURDON)

Letter from Bourdon to the Secretary thanking him for the comforts sent to him by the female staff at the school, dated February 9th 1916. GSA Archives and Collections (archive reference: GSAA/SEC/1 1916 BOURDON)

Second part of the thank you letter, sent on 9th February 1916. GSA Archives and Collections (archive reference: GSAA/SEC/1 1916 BOURDON)

Second part of letter thanking the School, dated February 9th 1916. GSA Archives and Collections (archive reference: GSAA/SEC/1 1916 BOURDON)

Pictured below, in handwriting clearer and neater than Bourdon (sorry Eugène!) is a letter from Bourdon’s Colonel, Pierre Bablon. He expresses his gratitude towards the female staff and students, the ‘donatrices’ for their generosity. It is clear that the actions of Bourdon and the School had a positive impact on the other soldiers.

Letter from Colonel Bablon to the Secretary, dated February 14th 1916. GSA Archives and Collections (archive reference: GSAA/SEC/1 1916 BOURDON)

Letter from Colonel Bablon to the Secretary, dated February 14th 1916. GSA Archives and Collections (archive reference: GSAA/SEC/1 1916)

We are fortunate to have one last insight into Bourdon’s experiences of war, and what is particularly engaging is the last sentence:

Letter from Bourdon to the Secretary dated April 16th 1916, writing from a dug hole. GSA Archives and Collections (archive reference: GSAA/SEC/1 1916 BOURDON)

Letter from Bourdon to the Secretary dated April 16th 1916, writing from a dug hole. GSA Archives and Collections (archive reference: GSAA/SEC/1 1916 BOURDON)

The letter above was written less than three months before Bourdon’s death on July 1st 1916 at the Battle of the Somme. Despite the sorrows and burden of war, the final sentence tells us that his passion for architecture didn’t leave him.

We first learn about Bourdon’s death in a letter – pictured below – from his uncle Felix Mignon.

Letter to Director Fra Newbery from Felix Mignon informing him of Bourdon's death. (archive reference: (archive reference: GSA/SEC/1 BOURDON MEMORIAL)

Letter to Director Fra Newbery from Felix Mignon informing him of Bourdon’s death. GSA Archives and Collections (archive reference: GSA/SEC/1 BOURDON MEMORIAL)

In the weeks following his death, letters of sympathy were sent to the School and to Madame Bourdon, his mother, by various colleagues, pupils and staff who were all deeply saddened by the news of his death.

From further research we know that Bourdon died from wounds he received whilst fighting at Hardecourt -aux-Bois, where ‘after having being wounded he would not leave his command before having watched everything was done to render stronger the position his company had conquered – and then he died’. Here again, is another example of Bourdon’s bravery and determination.

Letter to Newberry informing him of Bourdon's death and bravery in his final hours (archive reference: GSA/SEC/1 BOURDON MEMORIAL)

Letter to Newbery informing him of Bourdon’s death and bravery in his final hours. GSA Archives and Collections (archive reference: GSA/SEC/1 BOURDON MEMORIAL)

The large number of letters offering condolences, coupled with the recently discovered picture of Bourdon in the trenches, have given us a privileged insight into his life, his character and how he he was valued and admired by fellow colleagues, staff and pupils.

Bourdon remembered in military magazine the Bulletin, dated July 13th 1916. (archive reference: GSA/SEC/1 BOURDON MEMORIAL)

Bourdon remembered in military magazine the Bulletin, dated July 13th 1916. GSA Archives and Collections (archive reference: GSA/SEC/1 BOURDON MEMORIAL)

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