Marcelle Cinq-Mars, éd., Thomas Louis Tremblay, Journal de guerre (1915-1918) (Outremont, QC: Le Musée du Royal 22e Régiment/Athena Editions, 2006). 329 pages.
Reviewed by Catherine MacLeod (Goderich, ON)
Contemporary historian Marcelle Cinq-Mars is the archivist at the Musée du Royal 22e Régiment at the Citadelle de Québec. In choosing to write an introduction, as well as providing illuminating notes and raising difficult questions, Cinq-Mars has resurrected this previously unpublished journal and managed to strike a balance between mythmaking and muckraking. In a monumental act of restorative justice, she suggests that Tremblay was a determined and responsible man of action, a military hero who has been subjected to injustice. Her interpretation is based on the words of the late Québécois soldier from Chicoutimi, where Tremblay was born in 1886.
The publication is significant because it accepts that Tremblay’s perceptions are those of only one of many human beings affected by war, in this instance of a French-Canadian military officer who joined the 22nd Battalion. Her point of view is buttressed by entrancing maps, photos, and text boxes. For example, one map shows French farmlands overlaid by military trench maps; one photo presents an image of a farm worker and soldier; numerous text boxes clarify Tremblay’s words with excerpts from other sources, some contradictory. For his part, Tremblay kept his war journal for over three years and lived to reinvent himself in the Second World War and in civilian life. The publication is also significant in that any evocative French-Canadian stories have emerged from “la Premi re Guerre Mondiale.” For example, Tremblay’s written account of 15 September 1916 indicates that he, with members of the 22nd Battalion, proved that “Canayens” were not “slackers.” The still exuberant twenty-eight-year-old Tremblay had the bravado to note the following day that there was no time to lose in taking the fields of Courcelette. As this entry and many other existing documents illustrate, Tremblay had no idea who would live and who would die. Three days later, however, he was able to record the names of the casualties. Those who did not survive were Signal Officer Lieutenant Lavoi, Major Renaud, Captains Bauset and Lefebvre, and Lieutenants Binet and Beudry. Tremblay also noted that Captain Languedoc and Lieutenants Legare, Falarduau, Greffard, Routier, and Filiatraulat were wounded. Mental casualties included Adjunct Major Gingras, a man called Godbing, who suffered “shell shock,” and a Captain Brault who was “lost.” A number of other survivors were executed as “deserters” later, in order to restore “discipline” among 22nd Battalion troops after the battle. The executions still vibrate as one of the possible “silences or omissions” in the Tremblay journals.
In his journal Tremblay documents in great detail how a wartime medical intervention removed him from the front lines. Although the procedure to unblock his rectum took less time than his original operation, the soapy water and castor oil enemas were easier on him than the oral dose of castor oil that followed.
The journals provide an opportunity to evaluate action under war pressure. Cinq-Mars successfully navigates the impulse to judge the past by the present by simply acknowledging the human right to a story that is more complex than myth or shame. She signals directions for further thought and raises healing questions like why the journal has languished in the archives for so long.