Pierre Rouquet at Verdun
Pierre Rouquet, class of 1916, was born at Méru 3 September 1896. Rouquet reported for training in the spring of 1915 at Quimper, Brittany, where the 151 RI’s depot had transferred in the fall of 1914. He received specialist training first as a telephonist and then a radio telegrapher. After his training, he was assigned to the 6th Company, 2nd Battalion of the 151 RI. During the course of his service he would be wounded three times and would fight at Verdun and the Somme in 1916. In his interview, Rouquet described the grim conditions faced while fighting on Mort Homme at the beginning of May 1916. The one feature that dominated his memory was the brutal, unceasing shelling by German guns. The French positions had been so deluged with fire that the trenches had disappeared -- a defining aspect to the Battle of Verdun -- and the line the regiment held consisted of nothing but shell-holes that provided only the most minimal protection. Rouquet saw many of his comrades blown to pieces or else buried alive by shell bursts, and this was the fate he would nearly suffer. He recounted:
“You couldn't describe the deluge of fire that swept down on us. I was conscious of the danger of being killed every second. I had the luck to come through those first fifteen days. But I ended stupefied. I felt as though my brain was jumping around in my skull because of the guns. I was completely dazed by the severity of the noise. At the end of fifteen days we came back down, seven to eight kilometers from the front to Jouy-sous-Lomballe [Jouy-en-Argonne]. And that we thought was the end of our spell at Verdun as far as we were concerned. We had one quiet night’s sleep, just one, that’s all, then the next day the battalion that had relieved us was wiped out. They had lost as many killed as were taken prisoner. There were five or six left out of a whole battalion. No more.
We were sent up again in all haste to face another bombardment, one worse than ever. 210 [mm] shells were come coming over four at a time and we were being buried with every volley. Men were being completely entombed. Others dug them out. This lasted all day during the preparations for a German attack. My moment came on the stroke of 7 o’clock. It was my turn to be buried, and you must understand that I suffered greatly because I was unable to move. I could do absolutely nothing. I remember saying to myself, ‘Well, that’s it at last!’ and I lost consciousness. I was dead…And then I was being disinterred with picks and shovels and they pulled me out. [I was] totally exhausted. My captain [Captain Olivier] said, ‘Lie down over there’. Later he sent me to a first-aid post two kilometers back.
Night fell and I could see the red flashes of shells passing in front of me. At the first-aid post there was a major engaged in looking after a German whose leg had been badly smashed. The major put a dressing on him, and the German begged him, ‘Finish me off!’ [‘Finis-moi!’]. The major told me, ‘I don’t have the time to see to you. Go over there.’ I went over to where he pointed. I hadn't been there five minutes when a shell landed on the major and the German. That’s destiny. You’re marked by fate. [On est marquee.] After that we were sent down to the field kitchens. I was evacuated. I gather I stayed four days in a corner, exhausted, in total shock.”
Rouquet would in time recover. After surviving the Battle of the Somme, he wound find himself fighting with the regiment at Verdun again in 1917 during the French offensive there. He was gassed while in the Bois de Chaumes sector. Ultimately, Rouquet would survive the war and go on to have a long and productive life, before passing at the age of 93 in 1989.