French Soldiers Tell How St. Thérèse Helped and Protected Them in World War I
With the spirit of St. Joan of Arc, St. Thérèse of Lisieux appeared to, and helped, French soldiers on the World War I battlefields
When France entered into World War I in 1914, Thérèse of Lisieux had yet to be officially declared Blessed. She had died in 1897, but there she was among the French troops — fighting with them, protecting their lives and renewing their faith. After all, she admired Joan of Arc.
Soldiers flooded the Carmel in Lisieux with letters about their devotion to her. How she saved them. How she even appeared to them!
Sgt. Henri Lamielle told the nuns that on Sept. 27, 1915, in the attack at Champagne, as a stretcher-bearer his mission was to rescue the wounded and transport them to the regimental station 500 yards from the front line. For two days he had worked non-stop without food, “the only thing sustaining me was remembering the little Sister,” he wrote, using the affectionate way he spoke of St. Thérèse.
That Sept. 27 morning, after a terrible attack the previous evening, he “went to the front line to see about rescuing the wounded. I came to a crest battered with bullets and at that moment I felt my courage fail me.
“And then all of a sudden, the little Sister took me by the hand, and said to me very distinctly: ‘Come along now, my friend. There are souls to save and they’re waiting for you.’ I looked up and what did I see? The little Sister. Thinking my mind was playing tricks on me, I crouched down on the ground and waited, but the call came again, more urgently. I stood up and after having said a prayer to God, without daring to look at who was accompanying me, I went over the top (at that moment, the enemy saw me but no bullet was fired). I reached several wounded men who were waiting for me, the first of which had a special devotion to Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus.”
Cpl. Henri Bellois was certainly grateful to Thérèse several times, from the healing of his two young daughters to the day of June 4, 1918 when on reconnaissance between French and German lines.
“We came under rather heavy fire, and there I had proof that I benefit from a limitless protection,” he affirmed for one incident. “A bullet from a revolver pierced my jacket, squadron diary and wallet, and also my vest, over my heart. But the bullet deviated from its path without reaching my shirt thanks to Sister Thérèse’s little medallion, which was there like a shield. It was only the next morning, in daylight, that I realized. On this occasion I simply made a very deep bow to my little Thérèse. And I thank her with all my heart, and remain confident that she will always be my support in times of trouble.”
The in July his “little Thérèse” saved him again from another bullet.
Cpl. Jean-Charles Atger described how during the 1915 campaign the men under him all sewed “the relic that works so many miracles onto their helmets,” he told the sisters. He described how the company had a post only 50 feet from the German trenches manned by two squadrons rotating every 48 hours. During four days every squadron assigned to it suffered deaths and casualties.
“When it was our turn, I went there very calmly, placing all my confidence in God, and during those two dangerous days, my men and I prayed very fervently, reciting amongst other things little Sister Thérèse’s prayer,” he wrote. “Well! Not a single bomb or grenade fell on us. We had scarcely left the post when the horrific hail of bullets resumed, raining down on those replacing us. Good Christians as we are, we all feel that a protection from above was extended to us.”
Then he continued, “Often in the evenings, in the bivouac, we gather together to read a bit of the Life of Sister Thérèse, and it’s the best part of our day in this frightful torment… Several of my comrades have been pestering me for a medallion of our saint, and I’m enclosing their names, which they would happily sign a hundred times, as a token of their gratitude.” The letter carried 23 soldiers’ signatures.
Constantly French soldiers wrote the nuns at the Lisieux Carmel asking for medals of St. Thérèse. They would send to the nuns many badges, insignia, epaulets, loads of medals they won — all offered to Sister Thérèse in gratitude.
Soldiers’ wives write to the nuns too. Louise Delormedelorme told them, “This dear little Saint is watching over her protégé, my husband, who has a lot to fight in Verdun and he came out unharmed from the furnace! After the first fight, he returned again and came out on June 18 very tired but uninjured. He told me that it is a miracle.”
Testimony to Her Warrior Quality
During St. Thérèse’s beatification process, nuns from the Carmel gave their testimonies. From parts we see the natural affinity she would have for helping the soldiers.
Mother Agnes de Jesus testified to much that Thérèse told her, such as this: “I fell asleep for a second during prayers. I dreamt that they needed soldiers for a war. You said, ‘You must send Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus.’ I replied that I would have preferred the war to be a holy one. I went just the same. Oh, Mother, how happily I would have left to fight against the heretics during the time of the Crusades, for example. I would not have been afraid to take a bullet! I wouldn’t have been afraid of gunfire. Is it possible that I should die in a bed?”
In the infirmary, Mother Agnes said to Thérèse, “Our warrior is down.” Thérèse answered, “I’m not a warrior who has fought with earthly arms but with ‘the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God.’ (Eph. 6:17) And this sickness hasn’t been able to break me, and no later than yesterday evening, I made use of my sword with a novice. I told her, ‘I’ll die with my weapons in my hands.’”
As she was interceding in so many places in Europe and elsewhere, St. Thérèse was busy on the battlefields, and already known as a saint, even before her beatification in 1923 and canonization in 1925 that took place five years and a day after heroine Joan of Arc was canonized.
She even acted the role of Joan of Arc in a play namedJoan of Arc Fulfills Her Missionwhich she herself wrote and the nuns staged.
More Great Testimonies
The Carmel in Lisieux’s archives have many ex-votos of banners honoring St. Thérèse from various military units in France, Canada, Italy, Belgium. Several paintings capture her helping the soldiers. One shows her appearing to a soldier in the trenches after his prayer. The vision of her encourages him. Returning home, he takes up the path of the church that he had abandoned.
Then there’s St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus Battery where she protects of an artilleryman.
He carried a holy card of Sr. Thérèse with confidence and even named the Battery he was in charge of after her. During a maneuver the cannon drives over his leg without hurting him in any way.
She appears to a sergeant during an attack, points out a forest he must take, encourages him and gives him back his faith. In another she appears to a soldier, carrying a cross. She lifts him up, encourages him. He can run to the aid station and soon he is healed.
Let’s look at a few more of the letter soldiers sent of their little Sister Thérèse. She saved and supported them not only physically but spiritually as well.
Major’s Aide J. Dayras is one of many examples. In 1918 he wrote to the Carmel, “Faced with the war so close to home, you regret having so little time to acquire merits, and Sister Thérèse’s example is precious; it shows all those you can draw from simply offering the humblest of actions to Jesus… Consequently, by following this easy path, I was able to bear all the trials God sent me with faith and resignation. I was able to entrust my life’s destiny into His hands through the intermediary of Sr. Thérèse. And as He saw fit to preserve my life, I’ve come today to pay homage to his powerful intermediary.”
Cpl. Maurice Nef was saved spiritually. Before the war his “very Catholic wife pushed” him to attend a conference on Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus. He used to neglect many of (his) Christian duties.” In the church he received a booklet on her which he treasured.
Since then, he wrote, “I’ve often invoked Sister Thérèse for certain small graces, and have always received them. One day I felt pushed by an irresistible force to go to confession and take Communion, and as God does all things well, he made me meet a chaplain, whom we still have here now, and I went to confession and took Communion. That was when a great transformation took place within me. I no longer recognize myself; I live in perfect peace of mind, despite the shells and bullets raining down around me. I attribute this to a miracle on the part of Sister Thérèse.”
Cpl. Henri Bellois wanted to spend his time from duties reading her works. He prayed to her in the morning and said a Rosary each night.
Father Léon Rifflaud who also acted as a stretcher bearer sent the nuns a little offering for Thérèse’s beatification. He said he owed he a great deal because of the many times she protected him at the front. “How many times, as I pulled the cart carrying the wounded or gone for supplies along roads perpetually being bombed by large-caliber shells, did I ask her: ‘Dear little Sister Thérèse, pray for me, protect me, save me.’ And also, every evening, I would recite some Litanies I wrote in her honor.”
In the horrendous Somme battle, Sgt. Emile Jutard “was fortunate enough to come out of the inferno yesterday safe and sound,” he wrote. “Oh! I can’t tell you how many times I invoked her, Sister Thérèse. It was as if she was beside me, guiding me. After a few hours of rest, we are going to go back into battle, and it is with the same courage and same trust that I do so, because beside me, my little Sister Thérèse is watching over me.”
Any Roses in Battle Zone?
Let’s see what happened to Sgt. Henri Lamielle again, this time in 1916.
In June he replaced his sergeant having in an exceptionally dangerous aid station. After a strenuous day, in the evening they learned several soldiers in the front lines need help but it was impossible to get them. Then at nightfall Henri and the sergeant general went to find the several seriously wounded soldiers. They bandaged them and had them transported behind the lines.
“Our task completed, we begun to retrace our steps back to the central aid station under a rain of iron and fire,” Henri wrote. Several stretcher-bearers were wounded. He “took the lead, no longer knowing which way to go; there were Krauts everywhere! I pressed my crucifix against my heart and prepared myself for certain death, while around me, dead bodies were newly torn to shreds by shells. Then at that moment, my relic of Sister Thérèse joined my crucifix. I had an idea, what if I asked her to show me the way? Was I worthy to do so? Then I remembered what had happened on 27th September; would she help me?”
The thought barely crossed his mind when he “felt someone pulling me along by the hand,” he said. “I looked to see who was leading me; there was nothing there. Pressing my crucifix and my relic against my heart, I whispered this prayer: ‘Sister Thérèse, protect us!’ After having run across the perilous zone, we reached the aid station, and it was then that I saw the little Sister. She was unpetalling a bright red rose.”
“Was it a dream? I don’t know,” Henri added. “But the dear Saint was certainly there and it wasn’t my mind playing tricks on me. She had guided us. For several days, the perfume of newly blossomed roses lingered in the station.”
St Thérèse’s Prayer inspired by the sight of a statue of Joan of Arc
O Lord God of Hosts, who hast said in Thy Gospel: “I am not come
to bring peace but a sword,” arm me for the combat. I burn to
do battle for Thy Glory, but I pray Thee to enliven my
courage. . . . Then with holy David I shall be able to exclaim:
“Thou alone art my shield; it is Thou, O Lord Who teachest my
hands to fight.”
O my Beloved, I know the warfare in which I am to engage; it is
not on the open field I shall fight … I am a prisoner held
captive by Thy Love; of my own free will I have riveted the
fetters which bind me to Thee, and cut me off for ever from the
world. My sword is Love! with it–like Joan of Arc — “I will drive
the strangers from the land, and I will have Thee proclaimed
King” — over the Kingdom of souls.
Of a truth Thou hast no need of so weak an instrument as I, but
Joan, thy chaste and valiant Spouse, has said: “We must do battle
before God gives the victory.” O my Jesus! I will do battle, then,
for Thy love, until the evening of my life. As Thou didst not will
to enjoy rest upon earth, I wish to follow Thy example; and then
this promise which came from thy Sacred Lips will be fulfilled in
me: “If any man minister to me, let him follow Me, and where I am
there also shall My servant be, and … him will My Father
honour.” To be with Thee, to be in Thee, that is my one
desire; this promise of fulfilment, which Thou dost give, helps me
to bear with my exile as I wait the joyous Eternal Day when I
shall see Thee face to face.