They were called Berthe Stéphan, Marie Alphonsine Iehly-Voiturier and Marie Fernande Brunet-Taupin. These three nurses treated wounded soldiers at the Paul-Guiraud hospital in Villejuif (Val-de-Marne) during the First World War. They were contaminated there by the Spanish flu and died in 1918, cut down in their youth.
Their death certificate officially recognizes them as “dead for France”. However, their name did not appear until now on the monument to the dead of Villejuif, where is registered the patronym of all the natives who paid with their lives their commitment to the nation during the war.
Their graves soon to be restored?
A century later, this oversight has just been repaired. Their three names have just been added to the monument and a tribute is paid to them this Monday, on the occasion of International Women’s Day.
“Is it because they” only “wielded a scalpel and a scalpel in place of the rifle and bayonet that they do not deserve to appear on the war memorial? Or because the sacrifice of women does not compare to that of the male sex? “Asks the local section of the League of Human Rights, at the origin of these steps.
One thing is certain: all three are buried in the communal cemetery, in the 2nd division, “just to the right when entering”, describes Claude Richard, of the League. But their graves have fallen into disuse and are currently in a sorry state. “I alerted the city, which immediately contacted the Ministry of Defense. This one is studying the assumption of responsibility for the renovation of their tombs. “
Little is known about the lives of these three women. All from the provinces, they came to settle in Villejuif to work in the asylum as volunteer nurses during the war of 14-18. “At the time, nurses were nicknamed the white angels,” recalls Yves Bonnet, of the National Union of Combatants of Villejuif.
All killed by the flu before the age of 30
Marie Alphonsine Iehly, daughter of a carpenter, was married in 1916 to Georges Voiturier. She lived for a time at Paul-Guiraud with her colleagues then moved to 5, rue du Moutier in Villejuif. The couple had a baby girl, Luce. Then Marie was carried away by influenza pneumonia in November 1918, at the age of 24, two days after the Armistice. Her husband, a nurse, died much later, in 1981 in Amiens (Somme).
Marie Fernande Brunet, daughter of a mason, was married to Albert Taupin, originally from Orne like her. The latter was a soldier in the 301st Infantry Regiment and died in 1915 at the age of 31, in the Meuse. She too lived in the hospital, where she died in October 1918, at the age of 29. The two Marys received the Medal of Honor for Epidemics in 1919 posthumously.
Finally, Berthe Stéphan, daughter of a roadmender and a housewife, was single. After having been a housewife in the provinces, then employed at the Ivry-sur-Seine hospital in 1916, she was hired by Paul-Guiraud. She lived in the hospital, at 54, avenue de la République. She died there in October 1918 from the Spanish flu epidemic that was raging in the hospital. She was only 21 years old.
Jean-François, a resident of Brest (Finistère), is moved by the unexpected tribute paid to his grandmother on Monday. His grandmother was Berthe Stéphan’s sister. “I have found letters from the time sent by Berthe to her sister. We take the measure of his commitment and dedication. She truly felt sorry for her patients and gave them all the comfort she could. She treated them like patients, not like “crazy people”. But she also made a difference when she told for example “the swear words” and “the slaps received by certain aggressive patients. “
Jean-François even got his hands on a correspondence written on October 18, 1918: “She spoke of her Spanish flu but did not complain about it, explaining that she had been lucky not to have been too bedridden until now. The young nurse died ten days later.
Lack of recognition for the effort made by women
Dr Henri Colin, chief medical officer of the military section of Paul-Guiraud at the time, wrote in his annual report in 1918: “I cannot stress enough the great services which were rendered by the female personnel in this district. assimilated, in short, to an ordinary hospital service; the main forms of delirium of war, melancholy and mental confusion require, in order to develop favorably, constant care that only women are able to give. “
Later, he returns to the “serious flu epidemic, especially for the staff.” […] In the nursing staff, the great mortality must be attributed to the fatigue caused by four years of uninterrupted work in a very busy service where the responsibility is heavy, by a less good diet than before the war, finally by the big extra work. and worries brought about by the flu epidemic. “
“Very few women have their names inscribed on war memorials. Is it a voluntary forgetting? Why then did we not want to put women alongside the names of all these men? “Asks Jean-Louis Giraudou, president of the local committee of the Republican Association of Veterans (Arac).
“Without the work of women, the army would not have been supplied with ammunition, food or clothing,” recalls Pierre Garzon, the mayor (PCF) of Villejuif. They mobilized in the fields, factories, administrations, services and hospitals. One hundred years later, it is high time to recognize their place in combatant memory. “
A story that echoes the current health crisis
The elected representative does not hesitate to make a link with the current crisis of the public hospital and the Covid-19 pandemic: “This tribute should not make us forget that, more than a hundred years later, they still have not equal pay which they then demanded. It is a work of memory which is essential in view of the crisis we are experiencing today, which puts the nursing staff, who constantly demand the recognition and the means necessary for their missions, to the test. “
Each year, schoolchildren from the town go to the monument and choose a name. “It is then up to me to help them in class to work on who they were, on the war, etc.”, says Jean-Louis Giraudou. From now on, the pupils will be able to examine the shortened life of Berthe, Marie Alphonsine and Marie Fernande.