Europe

French World War One bedroom of soldier who never returned

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Media captionLucy Williamson takes a look around the bedroom

The bedroom of a World War One soldier, killed on the battlefield almost a century ago, has been kept virtually untouched by successive owners of the house up to the present day.

The first thing that strikes you is the bed: too small for an adult, its old-fashioned crochet coverlet is something a mother would tuck in around her child.

Next to it, a bookshelf holds dozens of school textbooks - among them French literary classics and a schoolboy's book of grammar.

This small, sunny room, at the end of a sloping wood corridor, captures the moment in a young man's life just before he died; still surrounded by the memorabilia of childhood, yet already fighting - and dying - in a war.

Hubert Rochereau was 21 when he died on the battlefields of Flanders, an officer with the 15th Dragoons Regiment, killed in one of the last battles of World War One.

Propped on his pillow, memorial photo-cards show the young faces of him and his fallen comrades - one of them just 19 years old.

His parents, grieving for their only son, kept his room almost exactly as he had left it. Their only addition was a small bottle of soil from the Belgian field where he died.

Successive custodians of this intimate museum have kept the tradition and, almost a century after Hubert was killed, his personal possessions are still laid out on his desk: two guns, two knives, and an opium pipe.

A metal tub of English cigarettes sits among them, the slim white cylinders still smelling vaguely of tobacco.

"I tried to smoke one," the current owner of the house, Daniel Fabre, tells me. "It wasn't very nice."

Image caption The current owner of the house says he feels no real connection to Hubert Rochereau

Mr Fabre has kept the room exactly as it was when he took it over, but says he has little idea about the man whose memory he's preserving.

"I like to say I live in his house, but not with him," he told me. "I don't feel any kinship with him. He was young, a military officer, and I imagine him to be quite provincial, perhaps even narrow-minded. But it's part of the history of the house, so I keep it."

The creaking piles of books reflect the life of a young man just embarking on the world: pot-boiler novels with lurid covers are stacked alongside German language books, and a slim pamphlet, covered in brown paper, preaching the evils of alcohol.

After almost a century, Hubert's blue uniform jacket, propped on a clothes-stand by the window, is falling apart. the sleeves almost totally eaten away. Black and white photographs pepper his desk, but no one at the house now remembers their faces.

A contract was written into the deeds of this old French manor house, stipulating that its future owners keep Hubert's room as it is for 500 years.

The contract is not legally binding, and Mr Fabre says he's not sure whether the room will survive another 400 years, but his little grand-daughter, giggling over an ashtray fashioned out of a horse's hoof, tells us she for one would never change it.

Image caption The soldier's personal possessions are laid out on his desk

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