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1914: the war-time death of French writer Charles Péguy, my great grandfather


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1914: the war-time death of French writer Charles Péguy, my great grandfather

A hundred years ago, at the beginning of World War I, French writer Charles Péguy was shot dead by a German bullet. He left behind a pregnant wife and three children, as well as a rich portfolio of work showing surprising modernity of thought.

Euronews journalist Olivier Péguy is his great grandson. Here he gives an insight into the the writer, his career and his legacy.

As well as being a famous writer, Charles Péguy was a polemicist, socialist, Dreyfusard and a poet.

He was a creative man, who joined up because he believed that waging war was the path to peace. “I leave a soldier of the Republic (of France), to fight for general disarmament, for the war to end all wars,” the reserve lieutenant would say until the end of his life.


From left to right: Peter, Marcel and Germaine, three of Péguy’s four children / © Centre Charles Peguy Orléans

When the war broke out, Péguy and his family were living in Bourg-la-Reine, just south of Paris. He managed and produced a twice-monthly journal called Les Cahiers de la Quinzaine, which he also wrote for, edited and published. He published his own work, but also the work of others such as Daniel Halévy, Georges Sorel, Romain Rolland and Julien Benda.


Charles Péguy in the ‘Fortnightly Review’ shop / © Centre Charles Péguy Orléans

In August 1914, at the age of 41, Péguy and millions of other French men answered the call to join the armed forces. He said farewell to his family and joined his unit. With his comrades in arms he witnessed the movement of troops on the eastern border of France and faced the advancing German troops head on.


Re-enactment of the Battle of Villeroy, September 2011 / Photo: Olivier Péguy

By early September the French troops were preparing a counter-offensive, now known as the First Battle of the Marne, which took place approximately 64 kilometres from Paris.

On the afternoon of September 5, 1914, Reserve Lieutenant Péguy ordered his men to shoot during fighting near to the town of Villeroy. He was subsequently killed by an enemy bullet to the head.

The testimony of Victor Boudon, who was one of the soldiers of Charles Peguy’s regiment

Péguy was buried alongside dozens of his fellow fallen soldiers, in a large tomb in the middle of the battlefield.


Annual memorial service at the large tomb where Péguy is buried, September 2008 / Photo: Olivier Péguy

Every year, a memorial service is held at the site. Members of his family attend as well as members of Charles Péguy Friendship, a literary association, which keeps the memory of the writer alive.

The ceremony will be of particular significance in this centenary year.

Every story can be told in many ways: see the perspectives from Euronews journalists in our other language teams.

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