François Torrent was 26 when he died in Luyghem, Belgium, on 9 November 1914. According to the diploma of his posthumous medal, this caporal in the French army went “missing” while going over the top alongside his section. François was born near Alger, in French Algeria, in a family that had emigrated at some point in the late 19th century from the Baleares islands. While a mason by trade, he was not new to the military: he had spent over a year in military service in Northern Morocco, during operations that his military leaflet qualifies, in the gruesome euphemism typical of colonial warfare, as “pacifying operations”. The regiment he was drafted in, the 1er régiment de marche des Zouaves, was a colonial regiment – François had most probably never set foot in metropolitan France before his mobilisation.
François Torrent was my great grandfather, a man caught in World War I like the immense majority of French men and women of his generation. In November 1918, France emerged from the war as a victorious yet diminished and profoundly scarred country. Entire regions of Northern France, towns, villages, forests and farmlands had been destroyed and rendered uninhabitable up to the present day. The economy and finances of the nation were in shambles: France, which was able to finance Russia’s infrastructure boost at the turn of the century, was now heavily indebted to its former allies. Its diplomatic alliances were soon to unravel during the long negotiations leading to a peace treaty.