The Living Unknown Soldier
Anthelme Mangin. Octave Monjoin. Two French names but who are they? To those who know the answer the question is, Who is he?
They are the same person, though he spent nearly half his life as each one and didn’t even know it.
Anthelme Mangin was a French soldier in World War I. Captured by the Germans he had a fractured leg and was sent to a POW camp in Germany. on January 31, 1918(before the war ended) he was repatriated to France with other prisoners who were no longer capable of fighting. Anthelme Mangin was discovered at a railway station in Lyon. He had suffered amnesia and did not know who he was. To make things worse his information had been lost and they did not know who he was. The authorities questioning him at Lyon thought he mumbled the name Anthelme Mangin and that is the name they gave him.
Mangin would spend the next 24 years without knowing who he was, though thousands of other French people thought they knew who he was. France suffered 1.4 million casualties during WWI. 400,000 soldiers were reported as missing. The chaos of trench warfare and the havoc of no-mans land left many poor fellows trapped in the earth. Some would emerge over time, other never. Primitive tracking of soldiers was made completely ineffectual by the battlefield.
For many of those who lived, life was no better than before. The experiences of the trenches could haunt them forever. For Mangin he could not be haunted. Through the dedicated work of the director of the Rodez asylum, A. Fenayrou, all efforts were made to find out who Mangin was.
From shortly after his return up until his death many families thought he was their son, brother, and father. To many of the 400,000 families of missing soldiers he was theirs. Many never thought he was, and many still knew he wasn’t when they discovered some difference between the two.
Still Mangin represents a strange event in history. Several families vehemently claimed him as their own. Some had very close arguments but were wrong, others weren’t close at all but simply wanted their sons back.
In the end the proper family was found through accident. Years after Mangins ordeal had started his father had filed for his sons soldiers pension. Through a roundabout set of events and keen work by Fenayrou it was soon learned that Mangin was in fact the missing soldier Monjoin. The physical descriptions were closer than ever and finally the stories matched up with the help of a German document on Monjoin being in their prison with onsetting amnesia. Perhaps most amazing is that when returned to his boyhood village and left to wander he showed the ability to remember certain things if not really knowing what they were.
Through finally deciding to accept his sons death after nearly 15 years, the elder Monjoin found his son. However due to the other families refusing to drop their claims, by teaming up for an appeal, Monjoin was never officially able to rejoin his family before his fathers and brothers deaths. However his identity had been discovered and he was himself again, even if he still did not know who that was.
Thus we see the names Anthelme Mangin and Octave Monjoin, when muttered(with your best french accent) sound very similar. Octave Monjoin died in 1942. In 1948 a French businessman from Reims, Marcel Boucton, heard of Monjoins passing paid to have him interred in his hometown of Saint-Maur from his unmarked grave outside Paris.
Octave Monjoin had returned to his home and the mystery of Anthelme Mangin had been solved. However Lucie Lemays granddaughter was still fighting the case in 2003 when she wanted Monjoin exhumed for a DNA test. Long past the time of personal mourning it was a matter of family pride for the Lemays.
Fortunately Monjoin was allowed to remain undisturbed. It’s the least he deserves.
Details on this case can be found in the book The Living Unknown Soldier by Jean-Yves Le Naour.
Posted on March 18, 2013, in The Life of Man and tagged amnesia, anthelme mangin, france, missing person, octave monjoin, pow, the living unknown soldier, world war 1. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.