Who was Louis Rolland ?
You won’t find Louis Rolland on our family tree. Genetically speaking, he was not related. But in affairs of the heart, he’s important to our story. He was Celestine’s first fiance, who died in World War 1. We have a few of his letters to her, his bank book, military notebook, an official notification of his death, a photo from the Foret D’Argonne . Celestine kept all these fragments of his existence, mentioned his death frequently in her diaries, and, I have been told, wore a locket containing photos of both her husband Yves and Louis. She clearly loved him, so it seems right to record his existence and place in her life here.
Louis was born in St Gilles des Bois, Bretagne on 11 August, 1882. [Celestine remembers it as 15 August – source: CG diary 25/8/1960]At the time of Louis’ death, his father, Jean Marie Rolland (S: LR war diary) and brother (name unknown, S: letter Juin 1 1915) lived in Squiffiec, a tiny village near St Laurent (home territory to both the Goasdoué and Guegan families). He was 6 years older than Celestine. Our information about him comes from diary entries and some of his letters to Celestine.
We don’t know where or when they met, but Louis Rolland appears in the 1901 Guernsey census (line 133), working as a “granite quarryman”. He is 17 and a boarder a La Turquie in The Vale. Surprisingly Celestine does not appear with her family in the same census (in fact I can’t locate her in the 1901 Guernsey census at all!). This must be the connection between them, though in 1901, Celestine was only 13.
The earliest correspondence we have is a postcard to Celestine from Louis in March 1908. It’s stamped “Phoenix, BC” (British Columbia, Canada). C. was still in Guernsey at this time, living in the Grange. Therefore, he must have travelled to North America between 1901 and 1908.
We know that he ended up working in Greenwood, BC, at the time a bustling mining town. We think he and C. became engaged in about 1912. He was building a life in North America, having purchased some land in Washington State [S: solicitor’s letter regarding his estate ]. Presumably C. was going to join him there after they married.
However, world events were to have a devastating impact on their lives. His last letter from Canada was in 25 May 1914 – the call up for the war was in August 1914. Like so many of his countrymen, he returned to France to enlist. He enrolled in the infantry and became a Corporal in the 161 infantry regiment (161ème RI ). From his personal items it seems he was in the 3rd section, 9th squad.
Our only photo which might contain Louis, is of his squad, and was taken in the Argonne Forest, July 1915.
We must assume Louis is, in fact, in this photo, otherwise why would Celestine have kept it? As he was a Corporal we figure the only way to identify him would be by his uniform. Michel Goasdoue consulted military uniforms and discovered that Corporals have small stripes, about 3cm located above the cuffs of their coat sleeves. In this picture those men are: Front: standing next to tree, seated next to him, 2nd from right, crouching far right, man standing behind him. We can eliminate the crouching man, as a close up of the photo (too large to put here) revealed a wedding ring .
His regiment fought at Joppécourt; Cierge, and la Croix-sur-Meuse in 1914 and in 1915 in Argonne. [Source Historique du 161e regiment d’infanterie pendant la guerre 1914-1918 http://ddata.over-blog.com/xxxyyy/0/06/55/53/161-ri/ri-161.pdf]
One of the last letters he write to Celestine, on 1 June 1915 was from Moiremont, a little village where troops rested between bouts at the Front. In it he refuses her request to visit him there, believing it to be too difficult and dangerous. He reassures her he is well and that they will see each other, as the war will soon be over “now that Italy has intervened”.
That reunion never happened, as on the first day of the Champagne offensive on 25 Sept 1915, he was killed in action on the battlefield “St Hilaire le Grande”. It is near the little village of Mourmelon le Grand and where we find his grave today. [S: Letter from the Ministry of Defence].
Following is a summary of that campaign.
An even worse military failure was the joint offensive launched by the Allies on Sept. 25, 1915. While 27 French divisions with 850 heavy guns attacked on a front 18 miles long in Champagne, north and east of Reims, simultaneous blows were delivered in distant Artois by 14 French divisions with 420 heavy guns on a 12-mile front south of Lens and by six British divisions with only 117 guns at Loos north of Lens. All of these attacks were disappointing failures, partly because they were preceded by prolonged bombardments that gave away any chance of surprise and allowed time for German reserves to be sent forward to close up the gaps that had been opened in the trench defenders’ ranks by the artillery bombardment. At Loos the British use of chlorine gas was less effective than Haig had hoped, and his engagement of all his own available forces for his first assault came to nothing when his commander in chief, Sir John French, was too slow in sending up reserves; the French on both their fronts likewise lost, through lack of timely support, most of what they had won by their first attacks. In all, for a little ground, the Allies paid 242,000 men, against the defenders’ loss of 141,000
[S: Encyclopaedia Brittanica ]
It is timely here to remember that 1 million Breton men fought for France, and of those 300,000 never returned.
There is some mystery about the fate of his estate in the United States. A letter addressed to Celestine in 1918 informs her that this land in Spokane could be lost to the State if taxes are not paid, or inheritors found. Its’ worth was estimated at $2000. There is speculation that the estate was sold and with the money, the lease on Les Prevost was purchased. But we simply don’t know.
Late in her life, Celestine wrote ” I often wonder what might have been”. Indeed.