The result of a lifetime spent collecting military objects gleaned from the fields around Bullecourt, the very moving Jean & Denise Letaille museum draws us into the personal stories behind the Battle of Arras. Here, History is made tangible through the personal effects on display, turning into strong emotion when presented with all those Australian and British soldiers who perished on Artois soil.
Prizes of war
A heavy machine gun, a tank turret, ripped open gas cylinders. These are what Jean Letaille happened upon one fine day, as he worked in his fields.
It is hard to imagine the scene, so surrealistic must it have seemed. What ensued was even more so. Because rather than scrapping these vestiges of the Great War, or weighing in the copper bullets for a prince’s ransom, Jean Letaille – who was also Mayor of Bullecourt – preserved them as valued prizes of war.
Today, they all find a home under the roof of his own barn, now a museum. The only source of natural light is the sunlight that filters through holes in an enormous door, which one might describe as… riddled with bullets.
On the “voice” of Jean Letaille
It is the golden voice of Jean Letaille himself that accompanies the visitor in this emotionally charged place.
An accumulation of shells, horse shoes, barbed wire, rifles and everything making up the kit of a soldier of the First World War. The staging is brutal. All around, display cases filled with personal effects, all neatly arranged like toy soldiers, stand in stark contrast to the disarray and confusion of the central pit. But perhaps this re-enacts the two battles of Bullecourt which, in the spring of 1917, left 17,000 dead from among the Australian and British ranks?
The Letaille museum is an enduring allegory: it explains by showing. A surgical saw says much about the role of the medical personnel, a cigarette case evokes a brief respite, a letter embodies the hope of seeing loved ones again. In addition, the visit ends with a series of faces which could almost be members of our own family.
Museum Jean & Denise Letaille, Bullecourt 1917, in practice
- Bullecourt 1917, museum Jean & Denise Letaille, 1 bis rue d’Arras – 62 128 Bullecourt. Tel: +33 (0)3 21 55 33 20
- Admission: €3/€1.5 (18-25 years), free for under-18s.
- Open from Tuesday to Sunday, 1.30pm to 5.30pm October to March and 10.00am to 12.30pm and 1.30pm to 6.00pm April to September.