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OBITUARY; Louis de Cazenave.

THEY will soon be memories, ghosts of history - those men they called Les Poilus, the hairy ones, because of their whiskers and beards, who fell in countless ranks defending their homeland.

Now only one is left of the 8.5m young Frenchmen mobilised to fight the Germans in the Great War, the war to end wars, which did no such thing.

His name is Lazare Ponticelli and he is 110. He has been told of the death of Louis de Cazenave, the second last.

President Sarkozy said it was an occasion to reflect on the 1.4m French soldiers killed and the 4.5m wounded during the war.

And he was able to refer to de Cazenave by name.

That had not been so in 1917, when General Robert Nivelle ordered a massive assault on Chemin des Dames, during the Second Battle of the Aisne.

Across that front, 40,000 French men fell on the first day. There were even reports of them bleating as they advanced, mocking their status as lambs to the slaughter.

De Cazenave, with the Fifth Senegalese Rifles, later spoke of how wounded boys cried out for their mothers, begging to be put out of their misery. During interludes in the slaughter, de Cazenave found German soldiers at a well. "We spoke to them.

They were just like us; they had had enough," he said.

A handsome man with a moustache and a steady, brown-eyed stare, de Cazenave became a pacifist, refusing any military decoration for his part in the war, though in 1999 he did accept inclusion into the Legion d'honneur. "Some of my comrades weren't even given a wooden cross," he said in an interview.

As far as he was concerned, patriotism was a means of making people "swallow anything". War was "absurd".

After the war, de Cazenave, who was brought up in St George-d'Aurac, in the Auvergne, married Marie, a post-mistress. He became a train driver. They had three sons. He was widowed 34 years ago.

During the '30s, he became politically active on the Left, campaigning for the Front Populaire, which united various factions into a Socialist government.

During the Second World War, he was briefly jailed after the fall of France by Petain's puppet administration for his political activities.

Louis de Cazenave, Great War veteran; born October 16, 1897, died January 20, 2008.
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Article Type:Obituary
Date:Jan 23, 2008
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