Touraine - from then until now!

This blog is an attempt to show some of the vast history of Man's prescence in the Southern Touraine.... from first footfall to the present....
especially in and around le Grand Pressigny area.... with special emphasis on life at and around le Moulin de la Forge.
There will also be occasional entries about time before man was here and when the area was at the bottom of a warm, shallow sea...

Monday 13 March 2017

The circle of fire - part 2 - the debris from the hold

Le Havre - La "Touraine" leaving Port. From earlofcruise
On 4th April 1915, the day when our scrap of newsprint was published, Le Petit Journal's correspondent in Le Havre was making a unique record of the aftermath of the fire on board La Touraine. He saw for himself, piled up for forensic examination, the contents of her no. 2 hold, which was at the heart of the fire. His report appeared in Le Petit Journal on 5th April 1915. What he saw was so bizarre and so brilliantly described that any commentary will be superfluous. Unfortunately the Petit Journal was not in the habit of naming its correspondents, so we may never know who this journalist was.

Le Petit Journal, 5 April 1915

Visiting the débris
of the "Touraine " fire

Le Havre, 4 April 

M. Barnaud, the examining magistrate who is driving forward with extreme activity the enquiry into the fire on board the Touraine, an affair with which, for right or wrong,  has become entangled the name of Swoboda, has naturally brought to the forefront of the news everything that relates to the conflagration. This is why I was keen to browse around the warehouses of the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique, where the part of  la Touraine's cargo which suffered in the fire may be found.

The impression that emerges from this bizarre pile of chests, parcels, casks, drums, barrels more or less carbonised, is unreal. It is in hundreds of thousands of francs that the losses must be counted, and when one considers the nature of this cargo, one only has a single thought: that the fire was set deliberately, by a criminal hand, whomsoever's it was.

The wreckage of this ferocious fire extends in a double line more than 400 metres long. The scale is noticeable in following the sinister corridor which passes between the two ranks that form it; hardly anything is left but charred blocks, hard as rock, with a tarry appearance. Some pieces give the impression of grilled meat, and still give out a characteristic smell, a smell of burnt hair, as if you might be at the site of a fire where animals have been half carbonised. Chemical transformations have taken place. This is a matter of chests which have stayed intact or which were merely licked by the flames, and whose contents have been modified until they metamorphosed into a completely different substance.

Le Petit Journal, 5 April 1915

Boots or glue?

I am referring to the boots which are, inside their wooden container, coagulated, melted and of a material by turns hard and gelatinous, according to the temperature to which they have been exposed during the fire in the fragile retort which was nothing other than the chest that contained them. The pairs of boots, beside their fantastic number, are mutated, if I may use such a scientific term in the present situation, into glue.

M. Sanarens, the kindly director of the municipal laboratory of Le Havre, is eager to explain to me this transformation which took place during the extinguishing of the fire. It is in fact due to superheated water vapour in contact with the inferno which the hold was at that moment. The leather of the boots, freshly tanned, produced glue. Other boots, high-topped knee boots, have partially escaped the phases of the chemical phenomenon which was occurring. They therefore only suffered superficial changes which welded them together and stiffened them. Thus congealed, they resemble a troop of German soldiers ready to goose-step out on parade.

From certain caved-in casks a brown granular substance has flowed across the floor of the warehouse, giving off an acrid, penetrating smell. It's chicory. This substance has suffered too, in spite of its containers; at the least touch, the grains break up into a dust which soon vanishes into nothing.

Le Petit Journal, 5th April 1915

The expert's report

I asked M. Sanarens if it was true that his report would be submitted soon.

My operations, he replied, have hardly begun. However, while it might take a long time, so some little discovery might cut the inquest short. But as of now, and  I haven't told anyone this, I cannot say how long it will take me. Eight days? Three months? Goodness knows.

Listening to my eminent speaker, I recalled to mind the well known response of Racine who, when asked "When will your play be published", replied "It's finished! All I have to do now is to write it". - (from our correspondant).

1 comment:

Tim said...

I can see why you left this to speak for itself...
great read.