The Dead Soldier’s Room

The parents of lieutenant Hubert Rochereau built a memorial for their son, fallen on 26 April 1918 in Belgium. They did it right in their house of Bélâbre, France, where he was born on 10 October 1896 and where he grew up. It is a sort of time capsule with his studio and bedroom left untouched since the fateful day they saw him leaving, for a last time, to the war. They just added his uniform, which is now falling into pieces, his medals, his plumed hat and some photographs. All is still there unchanged, ready for his return from the front as a young and victorious hero. It is a poignant remainder of the folly of war and a monument to the vanity of all human passions. A lace bedspread is laid on the bed, and there is a vial of glass with some soil in it, with the words: ‘The earth of Flanders in which our dear child fell and which has kept his remains for four years”. All his objects are still visible: the spurs of a cavalry officer, his sword and a fencing helmet, pistols, his pipe and a French flag, his books covered with dust.

Soldier's room
The bedroom of Hubert Rochereau in Bélâbre, France. 

That was certainly his parents’ way to bear the unbearable grief which had stricken them. People who lose their beloved ones sometimes wait for their return for the rest of their lives; they keep their shoes shining and dust their jackets every few days.  Hubert Rochereau’s parents decided to leave his rooms exactly as they were, and when they moved out of that house in 1935, they put down in the sale contract – certainly in exchange for a large discount – that Rochereau’s room should remain unchanged for 5 centuries. “This clause had no legal basis,” points out the current owner, Daniel Fabre, who showed the room to the Nouvelle République newspaper. On inheriting the house from the grandparents, he respected the wishes of the Rochereau and will continue to do so.

The words of a poem written in 1897 by Rudyard Kipling come to mind. Kipling’s only son was also killed in Flanders, in 1917 by a German bullet that went through his head while jumping out of a trench. 580,000 soldiers died on the battlefields of Flanders.

Far-called, our navies melt away;
   On dune and headland sinks the fire:   
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
   Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!   
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,   
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
A book recently published in the USA is also exploring the same heart-breaking sensations. The title is Bedrooms of the Fallen by Ashley Gilbertson, it is a collection of photographs of the rooms of 40 American soldiers fallen in Afghanistan and Iraq, with short interviews with their parents. Also there we find pictures of their rooms, they objects, all left untouched by their mothers and fathers. Grief’s rituals remain the same throughout the ages.



Soldier's room
The dead soldier’s desk.



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