French village brings lost soldiers back to life 100 years after World War I
British artist Guy Denning created 112 life-size drawings to commemorate the 112 soldiers from La Feuillee who never returned home. (ABC News: Tim Stevens)
La Feuillee, a small town in Brittany in the north-west of France, was devastated by war just as so many villages were.
A small war memorial — a statue of a soldier — stands in the main square, just as it does in so many towns across France.
If you stop and study each name, it becomes clear that La Feuillee lost a lot a hundred years ago.
Fathers, husbands, uncles and sons — 112 men, mainly young adults, that never came home from World War I.
It was 10 per cent of the tiny village’s population at the time.
On this bitterly cold autumn morning, as a freezing wind whips through La Feuillee’s main square, it is bleak and empty.
The buildings and surrounding housing are likely the same on the outside as they were in 1918. The church spire stands tall above the town.
Since the end of The Great War the population has continued to fall.
Only about 400 people live here now.
British artist Guy Denning has called it home for just over a decade.
With a bucket full of glue and a paint brush, he has arrived early to paste life-size drawings of the soldiers who never came home around the square.
All 112 charcoal images on brown wrapping paper are cut out and stuck up one-by-one, feet touching the ground.
Mr Denning’s knuckles bleed as he accidently scrapes them against the rough surface.
“It’s not about educating people but it’s just about taking the focus away from the random number or just a list of names and actually trying to visualise it,” Mr Denning says.
“It’s to present to people my age and younger and to say this is what it would have looked like in this village if all of those people had come back.”
One by one, the soldiers return. On this wall, then that one, and before long the square is full.
There are no large crowds watching on, but every so often a member of the community stops to look.
Anne Crepillon begins to cry.
La Feuillee local Anne Crepillon shed a tear at the sight of the portraits. (ABC News: Tim Stevens)
“It’s like they are standing there and watching us,” she says as she approaches the images.
“They’re present, it’s a message.”
It took Mr Denning a year to draw the 112 soldiers.
With few photographs from the area at that time there are no exact portraits, but each drawing is powerful in its own way.
British artist Guy Denning created all of the portraits at his home studio in La Feuillee. (ABC News: Tim Stevens)
Patricia Paulus, whose family has lived in the village for generations, has brought along an old blue shirt to use as a smock.
She sings an old French war song I Have a Friend, I Have a Brother, as she works to help unveil the images.
Her husband Andrea watches on, contemplating the past.
“They said it was the war to end all wars and it’s important for the memory of the people in this village to know war hasn’t ended, more people have died.”