11 November

The war of 1914–18 was seen from the beginning as a terrible catastrophe, Our father, who was born in 1906, had a vivid memory of how the call came. The bells began to toll at an unheard tempo on the first of August 1914. He was eight. The family was beginning to cut the harvest in the fields surrounding the farm in the Tregor area of Breton-speaking Brittany. The wiki tells me that approximately 3,8 million French reservists were to join about 800 000 soldiers on active duty. He remembered that the unusual tolling of the bells came as they were cutting the grain with sickles and scythes. All work stopped. Then, one of the workers, in an unprecedented gesture, threw his sickle far from him towards an embankment and started to walk home to join his regiment. Tools were highly personalized even though they were to be shared when a task needed to be taken up by someone else. Pitchforks’ handles were shaped by every farmer and journeyman in a special way. The blades of a sickle or a scythe were forged locally, fitted with handles at the smith’s or at home, and sharpened by the worker before any important task by hammering the edge on a small anvil sunk in the hard clay of a barn. Tools were extensions of a person. Throwing one’s sickle was a never seen gesture of great anger at the world as well as a figuration of one’s own absurd death; perhaps also a kind of political demonstration and revulsion before the human autodafe that so many workers saw coming.