German burial for Napoleon's troops

16th June 2004, Comments 0 comments

ERFURT, Germany, June 16 (AFP) - The remains of 120 French soldiers from the Napoleonic era were finally laid to rest with military honours Wednesday in eastern Germany almost two centuries after their deaths.

ERFURT, Germany, June 16 (AFP) - The remains of 120 French soldiers from the Napoleonic era were finally laid to rest with military honours Wednesday in eastern Germany almost two centuries after their deaths.

The troops, who died between 1806 and 1813, were interred in Erfurt cemetery in an area reserved for prisoners of war who died in the 1870-71 war and World Wars I and II.

The ceremony was attended by Major General Josef Priller, commander of Germany's third military region, reserve troops from the state of Thuringia, and the head of the French military mission in Germany, General Gilles Mantel.

"Today we live in another world than that of the war. I would like to thank today the city of Erfurt. Each of us has the right to rest in peace, wherever that may be," Mantel said.

The remains, packed in cardboard, were buried to the sound of "Sonnerie aux morts", the French equivalent of Taps or the Last Post, the traditional, haunting melody played out of respect to soldiers who have died.

"After Napoleon, the 1870 war and the two world wars, these soldiers are now, finally, reunited in death," said Joachim Kaiser, senior culture official for the city of Erfurt.

The remains were discovered by archaeologists in an Erfurt suburb at the beginning of April. The skeletons of the men, aged from 17 to 25, were stacked up in the demolished cellar of a building near the Berg river.

"We are almost certain the dead were quickly put into the cellar of a house on the banks of the Berg in 1813. The houses around the area were destroyed at the time of Napoleon's occupation," said archaeologist Karin Szech.

Scientists believe the soldiers died when a typhoid epidemic swept through the region in the early 19th century, further demoralising an army already routed by the Russians.

Napoleon Bonaparte's army occupied the area between 1806 and 1813 until a coalition of countries allied against him defeated his army in Leipzig, in the so-called Battle of Nations, that led to the liberation of Germany.

Extracts of a diary kept by then town councillor Constantin Beyer, given to AFP by a Thuringia state official, described in sympathetic tones the heinous conditions the French soldiers lived in at the time, despite being invaders.

"The misery of the sick and wounded French is beyond any imagination. They are treated no better than dogs," Beyer wrote.

"Hundreds were laid out on the cobblestones in damp and inclement weather and they remained there for days without being cared for, before they were ever sent to a hospital."

"The typhoid fever started to become an epidemic and the death rate rose so high that last week 17 people were buried in one day," he went on.

"Some days, 36 to 40 patients died at the hospital and we had to add on an extra carriage to transport all the bodies."

© AFP

Subject: French news

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