Seen on a stretcher
The letter dated May 17, 1915 is signed by Élise Billières. His son Pierre Billières was reported missing on February 17, 1915 at Perthes-les-Hurlus in the Marne. He was then 23 years, 4 months and 29 days old. More than a century later, his mother’s letters, in despair, were dug up by her grandson, Alain Billières, 92, the nephew of the missing soldier.
“He wrote all over the world! », sighed the last boss of Galeries Billières (now Muy Mucho) whose magical world of toys left some indelible memories in Agenais. Lieutenant-colonel in the Army ( he was in military intelligence in Colonial Africa) in another life, Alain Billières finds dozens of letters that go back to the futile searches his grandmother Élise made to find Pierre, one of his three son, who was lost during the Great War. “I discovered these letters in an old briefcase. It was heartbreaking to see the efforts he made, driven as ever by the hope of finding his lost son”.
tragedy of loved ones
“Life and Nothing Else” by Bertrand Tavernier, “A Long Engagement Sunday” by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (based on the novel of the same name by Sébastien Japrisot), cinema and literature have dealt with the tragedy of soldiers lost during the First World War , whose bodies were almost crushed, scattered, buried in haste with no possible identification if they were not simply swallowed whole in the mud of the trenches.
According to some figures given, over 670,000 soldiers of all nationalities were lost and their remains never found. Figures that do not tell the tragedy of loved ones who cling, facing the unknown, like a thin thread in the meager hope of reemergence. There are letters for that.
The missives of Élise Billières testify to the Stations of the Cross of the founder of the Galeries, boulevard de la République in Agen, who hoped as much as she could, to see her son Pierre, listed in 7e IR, 10e company. Some responses to these letters have fueled hope amid uncertainty. Three weeks after the disappearance of Sergeant Billières, his captain replied to his mother on March 7: “ […] I have read the various letters you sent to the commandant, to Private Marcadet and to the sergeant-major and unfortunately I cannot give you more accurate information than what you have given. Your son was injured, everyone saw it. But what happened next, no one can tell me. He was about to be relieved, it seemed, by the stretcher-bearers of 11e. Where was he taken? I do not know. In the match, I didn’t realize it. »
hope and despair
On April 26, 1915, Comptroller General Bossut, head of the intelligence office, wrote to him these words: “This non-commissioned officer (Pierre Billières) was reported to me, in fact, to be in the southern trench of the rectangular wood, (Perthes-les-Hurlus). So far, I have not received any indication of the nature of the injury, the place of hospitalization or the possible capture of this non-commissioned officer”.
On May 7 of the same year, the head of the accounting office of 7e RI gives him the results of his investigations conducted with the missing sergeant: “In the infirmary, no one remembers that your son was brought. Perhaps he fell between the lines and was captured, seriously wounded? »
On February 6, 1916, almost a year after Pierre’s disappearance, his mother received a letter from Roger Ruffier des Aimes, a friend of her son at the École des Hautes Etudes Commerciales: “We feel your anxiety. […] but we share with you the hope of seeing him again, we have twice received news from comrades who, wounded and prisoners, have long been prevented from answering their families”. Thus, Elise Billières multiplied the letters.
He even wrote to the King of Spain
Her grandson only has a record of the returns made by their recipients (two of Élise’s letters were passed on to her, from which the words at the beginning of this article are taken) but their number says something about the activity of Agenaise. He sends his letters to hospitals, directly to concentration camps in Germany whose orders (Kommandantur Kriegsgefangene) say they have no trace of his son; a chaplain visited both camps, without results.
Élise Billières does not leave either pen or hope and writes to international organizations: the Catholic Mission of Bern in Switzerland, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Union of Families of the Disappeared, the International Prisoners of War Agencies, Ministries etc. He wrote to Belgium, Italy and even to the King of Spain, Alphonse XIII (the Royal Palace of Madrid responded to him).