Elie brought back two notebooks from Cilicia, two notebooks that were the companions of his captivity.
The descendants of Louis P. or Emile D., who were prisoners with Elie, told me they never heard about notebooks coming from their prisoners ancestors. Pierre P., against, left his own to his son. He too was anxious to his notebook. Thanks to Marc P. for having introduced me to his father's notebook, allowing me to photograph, and to authorize me to put some photo on this site!
The Pierre's notebook and Elie's one are the same production, with the same blue cover for one of the books Elie and that of Pierre (photo 1). They are written with the same blue ink. There is a great analogy in the presentation and calligraphy (photos 2, 6 and 7).
However, the contents of books are different. There are many songs of the time, and there is more at Elie, who had two notebooks, as in Pierre. In the book of Pierre, there is a description of the journey from Marseilles to Mersine in July 1919, with a stopover in Alexandria and then to Beirut. Elie had gone a little earlier and it appears to have stopped at Bizerte because he brought a collection of 21 postcards of very good quality (photos 11 and 12).
The notebooks of Pierre and Elie each contain epic songs describing the soldiers. These songs are different and complementary. Only Elie's notebook tells briefly Marache siege. The departure is mentioned in Cilicia with its political dimensions. It expressed great dismay (photos 3 and 4):
When we went to Cilicia
To go finish our time
We did not think that the homeland
Should abandon there her children
But we all see with rage
That if we came in these countries
It is to continue the carnage
Which recently was finished
We were said peace is made
Do not worry about anything there
It is finished the war of conquest
No more battle, no more fighting
Then one day in column
Soldiers are caught and attacked
Guns rattle, guns sound
There are dead and wounded
And there in the house
The mother is awaiting a few words
From his little guys that bayonet
As dead has left in the lurch
The surprise and dismay cause some anger, but no expression of hatred or guilt. The text reflects what was said to soldiers during training before departure. Among the officers, many have volunteered on this type of arguments, some dreaming of discovering Turkey, described by Pierre Loti very fashionable.
A long text is common to both notebooks, is the description of "Turkish town", so surprising for our young soldiers (photos 8,9, and 10)
At first glance at the bottom of a narrow valley between two steep-sided mountains a pile of grayish forms, equal heights dominated only by a few white towers, few trees around, no greenery, the valley is almost deserted , a river flowing through the rocks. By a road filled with ruts, made up of bumps and hollows sometimes impassable to cars you advance in a town of Turkey in Asia. This form blackish view from far is the set of houses, white towers are the minarets from the summit of which "Mioujik", Muslim priests, call Turks to prayer. You enter the town you can see only that low houses with walls covered with earth.
... you notice that the artisans of the same profession are grouped in the same street. Here you find the blacksmiths which you should see the rudimentary installation: an anvil a little lame put ashore in the middle of the shop, a forge, where burning charcoal is activated in its burning by a small bellows like that of our cookers....
The entire text is quite ironic and belittling for the Turks. It describes a country devastated by long years of war that have deprived it of its most dynamic people, that have destroyed economy, and put Armenians neighborhoods in ruins. It also expresses the feelings of superiority of young officers at the time, little bit aware and respectful of cultural differences. The documents found in Service History of Defence show that senior officers, a little older, trained in Morocco by Marshal Lyautey and General Gouraud, had a great respect and a certain admiration for Islam and Turkish culture.
Through the similarities and differences of these notebooks, as well as taking into account what the Commander Mesnil tells in his report, we can get an idea of what were these stories.
The prisoners received some money from the French army, the Turks agreed to distribute them. Turkish shopkeepers came to camp to offer their products at prices well above the market. Prisoners could sometimes buy a little food to supplement their meagre diet, sometimes objects to improve their comfort, sometimes notebooks, pens and door-ink. One of them has even found coloured pencils that Elie could use. It seems that everyone was free to have or not a notebook and fill it as he wanted. Our grand-fathers were poorly educated. How could they tell their relatives these so difficult events that they lived? Some texts circulated in the camp, written by young NCOs from a cultivated family. The soldiers who were close could copy them. The Company of Elie was in Marache, and one of the officers expressed the pain of the terrible siege ...
Nevertheless, Elie loved life and loved to sing. He copied the words of many songs.